Sometime after 1910, the Folgers began to think about establishing a library in Washington, DC, to house their collection. They eventually selected the block of East Capitol Street adjacent to the Library of Congress as the ideal site, but it took them nine years to quietly purchase the properties then standing on that block.
Meanwhile, the Library of Congress, unaware of their project, independently planned to expand onto the site. In 1928, with the full support of the Library of Congress, Congress passed a resolution granting the Folgers use of the plot for their library.
The Folgers’ acquaintance Alexander Trowbridge recommended the well-known Philadelphia architect Paul Philippe Cret for the project; Trowbridge then became the consulting architect. At every step, the Folgers worked closely with the architects. No part of the design was too small for their consideration.
In 1930, with the work underway, Henry Folger entered the hospital for an operation and unexpectedly died on June 11. About a week later the New York Times made public the provisions of his will. Only then did the trustees of Amherst College learn that they were to administer the bulk of Henry Folger’s fortune as a trust for the new Folger Shakespeare Library. Because of the stock market crash of 1929, Henry Folger’s assets were depleted, but work on the library continued through careful planning by the trustees and the generosity of Emily Folger, who contributed millions of dollars in Standard Oil securities to the project.
The Folger Shakespeare Library was dedicated on April 23, 1932, at a ceremony attended by President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover and the ambassadors of Great Britain, France, and Germany. With a graceful speech, Emily Folger presented the key to the Folger to George Arthur Plimpton, head of the Amherst board. She remained active in organizing the administration and contents of the Folger until her death in 1936 at seventy-seven.
The ashes of both Folgers are interred behind a memorial plaque in the Old Reading Room of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
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