The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

First Folger Director: William Adams Slade, Part III

A guest post by Stephen Grant

Similar to First Folger Director William Adams Slade, Part II, Part III will be deltiological in only one instance, as we continue to examine connections between Folgers and Slades (for readers seeking more deltiological content, Part I should fulfill those wishes). Closing this series on William Adams Slade, we are able to present a kaleidoscopic picture of the little-known first director of the Folger by drawing from a variety of sources: Mr. and Mrs. Folger, the Library of Congress, a New York Times obituary, Brown University, a Folger reference librarian, an Amherst alum, and, mysteriously, a doll designer.

Doctoral Degree Citation for William Adams Slade
(Courtesy of Brown University Archives)

When Brown University conferred on William Slade the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa in 1937, the university focused on his long career with the Library of Congress and cited scholarly contributions and long public service. Note that the “Folger Memorial Shakespeare Library” was at the time the full name of the Folger.

Slade’s New York Times obituary in 1940 described him as the “Retired Reference Chief of the Library of Congress Dies—First Director of the Folger.” The May 17, 1940 article states that Slade was born in Fall River, Massachusetts and earned a B.A. from Brown in Philosophy along with a Phi Beta Kappa key. We learn that Slade was a prolific writer and author of many magazine articles. A poet, he published “Hymn for All Peoples,” “Hymn for America,” and “Star Dust Sonnets.” Emily Folger cut out and saved a printed copy of “Hymn for America.” To the left of the poem is a penciled blue check mark in what may be Emily’s hand.

Poem “Hymn for America” by William Adams Slade
(Folger Archives Box 58, photo by Stephen Grant)

Charles Lawrence Münch (1894–1950), an Amherst graduate from the class of 1915, and close friend of Standard Oil Company senior executives, wrote a long essay in 1949 on the Folger Shakespeare Library, and was not particularly complementary of Slade:

Mr. and Mrs. Folger had already selected the personnel, William Adams Slade, Director of the Library; Joseph Quincy Adams, Supervisor of Research. . . The next major problem was that the director had proved to be incapable for the job. This was delicate since he had been chosen by Mr. Folger and was very close to Mrs. Folger, and of a type to have made a study as to how to keep in her good graces. The Board reluctantly agreed to allow Stanley King to present the problem to Mrs. Folger. In telling of this incident, Dr. King said that on keeping his appointment, he found that Mrs. Folger had also asked her lawyer, a nephew, to be present. Dr. King had a chance to talk with the lawyer privately before Mrs. Folger came in, and after outlining the problem asked him to approach her. He said ‘Deal with her as you would with a man, she intensely dislikes being deferred to, as a woman, on business matters.’ With this advice he went straight at the problem and after a few questions to her lawyer she declared that the Trustees were in charge and if it was their decision to make a change in director, she had no right to and wouldn’t interfere. However, she immediately tried to control the selection of the new director, her choice being Herbert Hoover, and Dr. King thinks she went so far as to offer him the position. However, it was worked out satisfactorily and Joseph Quincy Adams was made Director, a position which he administers brilliantly. (Folger Archives Box 60)

Whoa! Münch was president of Hood Rubber Co. in Mass. How did he get so close to personnel questions at the Folger? He was not a member of the Amherst trustees. Slade was incapable for the job? A damning epithet. Perhaps Münch put in writing what some others (Stanley King, for one) were thinking. The question of Mrs. Folger’s intensely disliking being deferred to is a fascinating appreciation of her character. Emily seemed to have gradually accepted the fact that the Amherst trustees were ineluctably “in charge” once her husband died. The allegation that Emily tried to offer Hoover (whose presidential mandate terminated in 1933) the job of director of the Folger is, in fact, accurate. I wrote the archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, and they sent me copies of the letters exchanged between Mrs. Folger and Hoover.1

Amherst College president Stanley King, whom we met in the March blog post, adds an interesting perspective when he writes that “Mr. and Mrs. Folger had discussed their plans for the Library in great detail with Dr. Herbert Putnam, Director of the Library of Congress. On his recommendation they had retained William A. Slade as Librarian of the Folger Library.” After her husband died, Mrs. Folger told Stanley King that Slade would be head of the operating side of the institution, and a Cornell-trained Shakespearean scholar, Joseph Quincy Adams, would head the scholarly staff, with equal salaries and equal power.2 Note the absence of the title “director” in the above quote regarding Slade. Putnam wrote a forceful letter of recommendation of Slade to the consulting architect of the Folger (and of the Adams building of the Library of Congress), Alexander B. Trowbridge. Some people might question how a consulting architect would become involved in the choice of the institution he was helping to design. In this case, it was because Trowbridge, who had married into the Charles Pratt family (Henry Folger was close friends with Charles Pratt Jr. and started working for Charles Pratt Sr. in 1879), was well-known to the Folgers.

Letter to Alexander B. Trowbridge from Herbert Putnam
(Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Herbert Putnam Correspondence Box 14, photo by Stephen Grant)
Photographs of Herbert Putnam (left) and Alexander B. Trowbridge (right)
(Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Manuscript Division, Century Association Archive Foundation, NY)

Longtime Folger reference librarian Giles Dawson sheds some light on the Folger-Slade relationship. He maintains the Slades and the Folgers met at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. I contacted Chautauqua archivist Jonathan Schmitz, who declared they have no record of either a Slade or a Folger attending events at that institution, but admits that a fire destroyed many of their records. Dawson also relates how the Slades and Folgers met up at The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA, where the Folger couple regularly vacationed. The Slades vacationed 12 miles away at Warm Springs, VA.3

Whenever Slades and Folgers first met, Henry Folger was close enough to William Slade to write him this revealing letter on September 4, 1928. Although on Sept. 4, it seemed too bad, Folger managed to obtain the cherished Garrick playbills duty-free. Herbert Putnam offered to intervene with the New York Customs Dept., vouching that the playbills were for his public institution and he’d pass them over to Folger.

Letter to William A. Slade from Henry Folger
(Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Herbert Putnam File 72, photo by Stephen Grant)

Dear Collators, I believe many of you are familiar with the names of all of the directors of the Folger Shakespeare Library since its founding in 1932: William Adams Slade, Joseph Quincy Adams, Louis B. Wright, O. B. Hardison, Werner Gundersheimer, Gail Kern Paster, Michael Witmore. In going through the correspondence in Folger archives, the only names one would expect to find on Library stationary marked OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR would be one of the above seven. Imagine my astonishment one day last summer when I found in the Slade correspondence file this letter:

Letter to Mrs. Folger from Helen Fox Trowbridge
(Folger Archives Box 27, photo by Stephen Grant)

I must have skipped over this letter a decade ago when I was doing my research for the biography of the Folgers. I did not expect a letter from Helen Fox Trowbridge to be written on Folger Shakespeare Library letterhead, let alone as having come from the OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR. Let it be known that Helen was not one of the seven Folger directors who have served to date.

The Trowbridge name, as we established earlier, is well known in Folger circles and on the east coast. I don’t yet know the exact relationship between Helen Fox Trowbridge and Alexander B. Trowbridge, but Helen seems to want to make a strong statement to Mrs. Folger that a mass of Trowbridges support their cousin William Slade as Folger director. This is the first I’d heard of a kinship between a Trowbridge and a Slade. Who are the eight? Helen Fox Trowbridge (1862–1970) married Mason Trowbridge in 1909 when he was a young attorney. Since they had six children together, perhaps that makes the eight?

Helen Fox Trowbridge became a renowned artist and sculptor, designing dolls, one of whom was modeled after a Trowbridge child. Working from the family home in Cornwall, CT, Helen assembled an important collection of books about women. It is impossible to know what might have prompted this curious undated letter to Mrs. Folger. How to handle an undated letter? I checked the dates on all the letters or envelopes in the “T” file in Folger Archives Box 27. Here is the range: 1913, 1914, 1931, 1933, 1934. It wouldn’t have been the first two. It could have been any of the last three, during which Slade served as first Folger director. It is striking to note that a marital alliance via a Trowbridge connection enters into the Slade story not only once but twice. Pratts, Trowbridges, Slades, and Folgers: a closely interconnected group. And let’s also recall that Slade’s wife Gertrude MacArthur graduated from Vassar the same year as Emily Folger, a further strong tie.

I promised a deltiological element to this post and the time has come. It takes the form of a letter from a local Washington photographer to Mrs. Folger as he tries to persuade the Folger director to agree to selling picture postcards of the Folger at the Folger. Slade tells Frances M. Leich that the Library is “not equiped [sic] for selling cards.” Slade will “think the matter over.”

Letter to Mrs. Folger from Frances M. Leich
(Folger Archives Box 26, photo by Stephen Grant)

William, I forgive you for not jumping with joy when a vendor first offered to ply his photographic wares in the Folger Library in October 1933. You may not have been the first one with foresight to suggest or approve the creation of a Folger Gift Shop, I don’t know. But remember, you did purchase postcards in Stratford-on-Avon not long before, in August 1932, and send them to Mrs. Folger. As I claimed before, you possess a deltiological heart.

Stephen H. Grant is a retired Foreign Service officer turned writer. He is the author of, among other things, several books about postcards, and Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger.

  1. Stephen H. Grant, Collecting Shakespeare, ch 10, note 14.
  2. Stanley King, Recollections of The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1950 p. 9.
  3. Giles Dawson. “History of the Folger Shakespeare Library, 1932–1968.” Unpublished manuscript. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)