The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

First Folger Director: William Adams Slade, Part II

A guest post by Stephen Grant

Part I of the William Adams Slade saga was largely deltiological, that is having to do with picture postcards. Part II will be deltiological in one instance. Let’s now pick up with chronological references linking Folgers and Slades.

It’s interesting to note that in the 1930s two Shakespeare scholars are presidents of two of the Seven Sisters: Henry N. MacCracken at Vassar and William A. Neilson at Smith. On Nov. 29, 1930, President MacCracken writes Emily Folger:

My dear Mrs. Folger, yesterday Mr. Slade offered a delightful luncheon with the staff of the Library of Congress, very kindly spent an hour giving me a pre-glimpse of the wonderful Folger Library. If ever superlatives were justified, it was yesterday. Nowhere in the world can I recall anything like it. Rodin Museum, Goethe houses, what can compare with the tribute to Shakespeare? I was so happy to learn that the plan contemplates a “living museum” in the form of a small Elizabethan theater. Its influence may become incalculable, for true acting, good speech, and graceful carriage, in the service of drama. Mr. Slade seems to me a wise, cautious, well-trained executive. How much better to choose a librarian to run a library, than anyone else.

Once more, let me add my line of congratulations to all the rest, and say how glad we are that you are spared to help carry forward your joint enterprise. We all regret so deeply that Mr. Folger was not spared to see the completed memorial. (Folger Archives Box 28)

Impressed by Slade, MacCracken especially lauds his background as a librarian to warrant being named to lead the Folger.

Seven months later, on June 23, 1931, Alexander Welsh—Mr. Folger’s personal secretary from 1910 to 1930—writes a bookseller, Edward Rogers:

I am in touch with Mrs. Folger quite often. I think she plans to use my services in connection with the establishment of the collection in the Library building in Washington, when completed. (I understand that it will be finished in Aug. or Sept.) The reason no purchases are being considered is that the whole Estate and the collection with building is in process of being turned over to Amherst College, who are the Trustees of the collection (under the will). They are the ones to spend the money for additions to the Library, if there is any to spend. They have appointed Wm. A. Slade as Librarian (he was formerly connected with the Library of Congress at Washington). Of course, he was Mrs. Folger’s choice. Joseph Q. Adams was appointed Director of Research. I do not know Mr. Adams, but will probably meet him. I know Mr. Slade, and like him. (Folger Archives Box 28)

When Welsh writes “of course, he was Mrs. Folger’s choice,” he knew a lot more than we do in 2020, trying to piece together the story! Note that in the middle of 1931 Welsh specifies that Slade would be Librarian, not that he would be Director.

Three months later, on Sept. 23, 1931, William Slade sends his first letter to Mrs. Folger from the Folger Shakespeare Library:

Fig. 1 First mail from Mr. Slade to Mrs. Folger from the Folger Shakespeare Library

In the enclosed letter, Slade notes “This is my first letter written from the Folger Shakespeare Library, and between the lines you will read much more than the fact that my first letter from here is to you. Yesterday the inspection of the building took place, and today I moved in” (Folger Archives Box 58).

Alas, we will probably never know what he means by “between the lines.”

Fig. 2 Second mail from Mr. Slade to Mrs. Folger from the Folger

Again three months later, on Dec. 2, 1931, Mr. Slade sends a second piece of mail to Mrs. Folger in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York. When you compare the two envelopes in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2, you will discern that on Sept. 23, 1931 the return address is manually typed; on the Dec. 2, 1931 envelope the return address has been industrially printed. (The writing in pen is by Mrs. Folger in her inimitable scrawly hand.)

Between the two dates the Folger has had its first letterhead stationery and envelopes printed containing the title, OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR. This is a biggie. Two days later, Mr. Slade has a letter typed by the first executive secretary in the Folger’s history whose initials are KM—Karen Martin, later Karen Martin Storey. This is the earliest indication I have found of when William Adams Slade performs his administrative function at the Folger as director.

Fig. 3 Letter from Mr. Slade, as Folger Director, to Mrs. Folger

Some readers will be surprised by two lines in the Folger letterhead, “Administered by the Trustees of Amherst College, Amherst Massachusetts.” But they will not have forgotten the information about Henry Folger’s will divulged by Alexander Welsh above. I do not know exactly when the Folger decided to remove this affiliation from the letterhead, but it was there for at least a decade. Nevertheless, the legal claim has not changed, and to this day, the Folger is under the administrative auspices of Amherst College.

Right off the bat, what is Slade’s concern in this early (Dec. 4, 1931) letter to Mrs. Folger? I see it as apprehension and unease regarding decision-making at the Folger. He must have been uncomfortable, just as he was feeling his way in the early months of his directorship, not knowing what authority he truly had. The personification of impending change is mentioned in the first sentence: “S. A. King.”

Stanley King is at the time the president of Amherst College. He is the first president who is not a preacher or a teacher since the founding of the liberal arts college in 1821. He is an experienced businessman (in shoe manufacturing) with a Harvard law degree. King becomes an Amherst trustee in 1922 and is elected college president in 1932, serving until 1946. Would you care to look him in the eye?

Fig. 4 Stanley King, Amherst College Trustee and President
Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

Keep in mind, good reader, that Apr. 23, 1932, only four months away from Slade’s letter above, has already been identified as the date for the dedication of the Folger that will bring to the library the president of the United States and the academic and cultural cream of the country. Stanley King’s personality will make a huge difference for Slade.

Following the mail trail between Slade and Folger, we jump ahead to three weeks after the dedication of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Director Slade has exciting news to convey to Mrs. Folger. In the middle of May 1932, the Board of Review of the Architects’ Advisory Council of Washington, DC announces that it considers the Folger Shakespeare Library “outstanding among buildings of its type, and awards it the rating of Distinguished Architecture, the highest award made by the Council for private buildings in the national capital.”

Fig. 5 Letter from Mr. Slade informing Mrs. Folger of architectural award

This news would overjoy Mrs. Folger to the core. Two days later, Slade again writes Mrs. Folger and conveys news about his Folger talks and concerning two ladies of whom Mrs. Folger was very fond, dating back to their Vassar days.

Fig. 6 Mr. Slade informs Mrs. Folger of his activities and her friends

May 18, 1932 is less than a month following the dedication of the Folger Library. Slade reports to Mrs. Folger a past and a future opportunity he has seized upon to talk to a women’s group and a library association about the new cultural attraction on the block. In closing he evokes the whereabouts of a “Queene” and a “Mrs. Wing.” Queene Ferry Coonley and Lucy Madeira Wing graduated from Vassar in 1896. Recall that in my February post I mentioned that Slade’s wife Gertrude MacArthur Slade also graduated from Vassar in 1896. Slade’s rapport with Mrs. Folger was not only professional but social.

And what is Slade’s directorial concern in this fall (Sept. 29, 1932) letter to Mrs. Folger? POSTCARDS!

Fig. 7 Mr. Slade is pleased with Mrs. Folger’s interest in postcards

The postcards that Slade was likely to have been referencing are the first picture postcards produced of the Folger Shakespeare Library, its outside and inside. You who sent Mrs. Folger three postcards from Stratford a month ago (August 1932), you now realize that a whole new deltiological window is opening concerning the new institution of which you are the head. Yay, William! I knew you were a deltiologist at heart.

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