In Memoriam

Elizabeth "Betsy" Walsh

Betsy Walsh, our beloved head of reader services at the Folger Shakespeare Library, passed away on Friday, September 22, 2017. She was 64.
Betsy was an inseparable part of the Folger. She worked in the Folger reading rooms for 43 years—about half of the Folger's existence since it opened in 1932. During that time, she was a guide and friend to many readers, high school English teachers, exhibition curators, colleagues, and a long line of directors. Her knowledge of the Folger was unparalleled, as was her tactful, humorous way of recounting the history of this place and its people. 
Betsy was born and raised in Washington, DC. In 2009, when she contributed to The Curatorial Eye: Discoveries from the Folger Vault exhibition, she shared some of her early recollections of the Folger. As a child, she would go to Woolworth's, swing by the Folger to see the Puck statue at the fountain, and proceed to her mother's office. Her school brought her to the Folger for field trips and student matinees, and she volunteered at the Folger in high school. 
Betsy graduated from Trinity College in Washington, DC, in 1975, majoring in English with a focus on American literature. While at Trinity, she took a summer job as a circulation page at the Folger in 1974, before her senior year. She seems to have been at home immediately. "I liked it," she recalled. "I liked the people and the work." She worked part-time at the Folger as she earned a masters degree in library science at the University of Maryland. She then became a full-time reference assistant at the Folger. She was appointed Head of Reader Services in 1986. 
Betsy was a contributor to Shakespeare Magazine and was co-editor with Thomas Gravell of American Watermarks, 1690–1835 (Oak Knoll Press, 2002). She co-curated several Folger exhibitions, including Yesterday's News: Seventeenth-Century English Broadsides and Newsbooks (1995), The Reader Revealed (2001), Voices for Tolerance in an Age of Persecution (2004), and The Curatorial Eye: Discoveries from the Folger Vault (2009). She also served as a consultant for Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper (2008) and Open City: London, 1500–1700 (2012), among other projects. Some of these exhibitions included early modern newsbooks, which she especially liked—illustrated pamphlets on topics ranging from the weather and spectacular crimes to the Great Fire of London. 
Betsy often gave tours to special groups, from librarians, doctors, and lawyers to the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Jewish National Theater, always with books that reflected their interests. Among her favorite tours, however, were "Aunt Tillie tours," groups of people from a wide range of backgrounds. She found that rare books on nonacademic topics, from cooking to curing tonsillitis, appealed to almost anyone.
For The Curatorial Eye, which showcased works chosen by members of the Folger staff, Betsy selected books offering practical advice. "I enjoy books that relate directly to early modern readers, that provide insight into how people used books and what interested them," she said. One of her favorites was a fairly basic early manual on swimming, which "came to my attention when a reader called for it,” she said. "And it really appealed to me. The writer instructs the reader on all aspects of swimming—like how to enter the water, by running, jumping, or flopping. And buoyancy—if you put your feet up, you may drink a lot of water.”
Read more about Betsy and share your stories and memories on The Collation, a Folger blog.

There will be a funeral service this Saturday, September 30, at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church at 206 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001. Visitation is from 10 to 11am and the funeral service begins at 11am.

The Folger reading rooms will be closed on this day. 
For those wishing to make a gift in memory of Betsy, please click here