May 2, 2001
Folger Shakespeare Library

Washington, D.C. -Folger Shakespeare Library Director Werner Gundersheimer has announced his decision to retire in June 2002. Gundersheimer has served as Director of the Folger since 1984 and is the fourth director in the Folger's seventy-year history.

"It has been my great privilege and pleasure to work with our talented and devoted staff to build a stronger library, a livelier house of intellect, and a more vibrant urban community," noted Gundersheimer. "The Folger is a unique resource for Washington, the nation, and the international scholarly community. Having tried to advance its goals for nearly two decades, I now look forward to my return to a gloriously impractical life of research and writing."

Karen Hastie Williams, Chair of the Folger Library Trustees Committee, said "My fellow trustees and I owe an enormous debt to Dr. Gundersheimer for his extraordinary vision and leadership of the Library over the past seventeen years. His steadfast loyalty and his commitment to excellence have taken the institution to new heights and garnered respect for its collections around the world. Under Werner's stewardship, the public programs of poetry, music and theatre have flourished; the pre-college programs have expanded and opened the world of Shakespeare to thousands of young minds, and the endowment has blossomed. We wish him well in his retirement and are deeply grateful that he leaves us the legacy of a vibrant, healthy institution ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

Under Gundersheimer's leadership, the Folger has enjoyed unprecedented growth in every aspect of the institution, from exhibitions to programs, from the collections to the physical plant, from institutional financial stability to the commitment of the governing board. The endowment alone has increased over 643% in market value, from $27 million in 1984 to over $175 million in 2000, much of it in new gifts.

Among the beneficiaries of this unprecedented economic expansion are the Folger's cultural and education programs, which have more than quintupled their audience in the past 15 years. Currently, more than 35,000 patrons annually enjoy music and theatre performances, fiction and poetry readings, and family programs in the Folger's Elizabethan Theatre. The Folger's nationally renowned K-12 Education Department serves over 14,000 students and teachers each year through festivals, guided tours, performances, and groundbreaking teaching materials and publications.

During Gundersheimer's tenure, the Folger's landmark building has been significantly overhauled, with improved exhibition, performance, and research facilities, and the Division of Education and Public Programs is now housed in the new Wyatt R. and Susan N. Haskell Center across the street at 301 East Capitol. While the Folger remains primarily an environment of print and performance, Gundersheimer has ushered in technological improvements to expand accessibility and worldwide use of the collection by scholars and Shakespeare lovers alike. The First Folio is now available in digital form and the Folger's catalogue of holdings is now easily searched online.

A 1959 graduate of Amherst College, Gundersheimer earned his M.A. and Ph.D degrees at Harvard University, and has taught at several universities. Before joining the Folger, he was Chairman of the Department of History and Director of the Center for Italian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. A noted scholar in early modern French and Italian history, Gundersheimer is author of numerous books and articles. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and holds several honorary degrees. He has served as President of the National Humanities Alliance, and as a Senator of Phi Beta Kappa.

"Werner Gundersheimer exemplifies the attributes we prize most highly in our cultural and educational leaders," says Robert Allen Skotheim, President of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. "We want them to embody the values expressed in the core mission of what we do. Werner is a scholar, who articulates that scholarship elegantly. We want institutional vision clarified and its implementation managed effectively. Werner has refined the Folger's view of itself, and managed its continually improving institutional health. At the end of the Gundersheimer tenure, the Folger Shakespeare Library is in the strongest financial condition of all American independent research libraries. This is his legacy to The Folger."

Home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, the Folger Shakespeare Library is a major center for scholarly research in the humanities and a lively venue for exhibitions, cultural programs, and the performing arts. A gift to the American people from Standard Oil executive Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger, the Folger opened its doors on April 23, 1932, Shakespeare's birthday. An independent research library, privately endowed and supported, the Folger is administered by the Trustees of Amherst College, the alma mater of Mr. Folger. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Folger welcomes over 200,000 visitors each year. For more information about the Folger and its programs, please call 202/544-7077 or online at