What’s In Your Purse?

In each issue of Path to Excellence, we ask a Top 100 Woman, “What’s in your purse?”

Jessica Gregg//February 10, 2017

What’s In Your Purse?

In each issue of Path to Excellence, we ask a Top 100 Woman, “What’s in your purse?”

By Jessica Gregg

//February 10, 2017

Phoebe Stein, Executive Director
Maryland Humanities 

Phoebe Stein
Phoebe Stein

Dear dreamy-eyed readers who lose themselves in a book: Take note of Phoebe Stein’s career.

“I was a big reader as a kid. I loved books and escaping into books,” the executive director of Maryland Humanities said. As a student at the University of Michigan, Stein attended a lecture by Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author and Princeton University professor, and the bibliophile knew she had found her life’s work.

“I wanted to be a part of whatever she was doing,” said Stein, who pursued a Ph.D. in literature and studied the work of Gertrude Stein, who was related to her grandfather. She taught at Loyola Chicago and DePaul universities before working for Illinois Humanities and then Maryland Humanities.

Books are still a big part of Stein’s life. Tucked in her generous brown purse is a copy of Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” It’s one of the 10 final selections for this year’s One Maryland One Book program, an annual statewide book club of sorts that encourages residents to read and discuss the same book. This year marks One Maryland One Book’s 10th anniversary.

The 2017 theme is “Home and Belonging.” More than 140 titles were submitted from the public; staffers chose 25 and then a committee of educators, librarians and volunteers picked the top 10, which are whittled down to a final three. Then the final choice will be selected this month.

Stein will be sure to read the final three choices, she said. In the meantime, Noah’s book topped her reading list.

Tucked behind the book in that deep purse was an oversized postcard for The Way We Worked, a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution that opens this month at the Allegany Museum in Cumberland. From there, it will travel to sites in Chestertown, Westminster, Brunswick and Salisbury throughout the year.

The Maryland Humanities-sponsored exhibit explores labor and the kinds of work that Americans have engaged in throughout the years. It’s a project that Stein is very excited about because it gives smaller communities across the state the chance to bring the Smithsonian to them. In each of the five Maryland towns that will host the show, local curators will highlight local stories. In Cumberland, for example, visitors can expect to hear about the B&O Railroad.

It’s “history and the present moment, and perhaps in some places, what we hope for the future,” Stein said.

For more information about the exhibit, visit mdhumanities.org.

The Purse 

The purse
The purse
  • The brown leather bag with its decorative zippers was a present from Phoebe Stein’s sisters. Actually, they gave her a Macy’s gift card – “They know how choosy I am” – and she used it to buy the “bottomless” purse with its “great compartments.”
  • The Orioles 2017 schedule is proof of how much Stein is looking forward to spring, but also evidence that she is “married to a super fan.”
  • The Way We Worked brochure features a National Archives photo of a submarine builder in 1943.
  • A gift certificate to Matthew’s Pizza on Baltimore’s Eastern Avenue, which was a present from Stein’s in-laws
  • Earbuds help Stein meditate in a nearby park when she needs a break.
  • This pin from Maryland History Day 2015 features Harriet Tubman.
  • A promotional partner for The Way We Worked exhibit, The Baltimore Museum of Industry held a kickoff event to educate museum professionals from around the state about the project.



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