History

The Folger Shakespeare Library's founders, Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger, established the Folger in 1932 as a gift to the American people. Emily Folger later wrote of Henry Folger’s belief that “the poet is one of our best sources, one of the wells from which we Americans draw our national thought, our faith and our hope.” This belief in the deep connection between Shakespeare and America is the reason the Folger is located in the nation’s capital. Throughout a long career in the oil industry, Henry Folger, with his wife’s assistance, built the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials. Together, Henry and Emily Folger then planned the library that would house their collection.

The Folgers worked closely with architect Paul Philippe Cret to create a marble building which reads like a book, and whose placement testified to the hope that Washington, DC, would become the nation’s civic and cultural capital.

In 1930, the library was placed in trust of Amherst College. The Folger Shakespeare Library and its independent Board of Governors remain proud of the continuing connection to Amherst College, whose Trustees manage the endowment of the institution.

After it opened in 1932, the Folger Shakespeare Library steadily expanded its holdings to become a world-class research center on the early modern age in the West, while remaining the premier center for Shakespeare studies and resources outside of England. Its public outreach programs, beginning in the library’s early decades with exhibitions, lectures, and publications, have also grown over time. Today they include Folger Theatre productions, early-music concerts by the Folger Consort, the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series, the Folger Shakespeare Library editions in their various forms, and a lively array of education offerings for teachers, students, and families.

Visit Folgerpedia for a timeline of the Folger Shakespeare Library's history through 2011.