The new director of the Dorchester County Historical Society is twenty-one years old. Take a minute to let that sink in.
But, despite her age, Zoe Phillips is well suited to the job, even though she never expected to have it.
“I wasn’t even really thinking that way or anything,” she said while sitting in her office at the Heritage Museums and Gardens of Dorchester in Cambridge. “I kind of thought it would be fun to work here.”
A native of Cambridge, who lives two streets over from the museums (“I could walk here if I wanted to”), Zoe came by her love of history naturally.
“I was interested in history just being from this area,” she said, “because my family is kind of involved with Historical Society stuff, and my father and my uncle collect Native American artifacts. My uncle used to own an antique shop close to Church Creek near Blackwater. But they also got me interested in local history.”
She did like the subject while attending Cambridge-South Dorchester High School, but she didn’t really want to be a history teacher. So, her career options were limited. However, her aunt was a volunteer at the museums, giving tours to students, so Zoe decided to try it herself.
“I wanted to gain more experience, definitely wherever I could, because it’s not like there’s many other jobs related to history or even places to volunteer,” she said. “I started volunteering here just after I got out of high school [four years ago], doing some work in our library, like genealogy stuff, filing old newspaper articles, all different stuff. And then the problem came up that we didn’t have an updated website.”
So, she offered to help make a new site, to which she transitioned all the old information. At the same time, she was taking college classes online, choosing history as her field. She was able to put her new education to work when DCHS decided to create an internship for her at the museums, allowing her to work there on a regular basis, doing specific projects. She maintained the website, wrote the newsletter, and helped with small advertisements.
When Administrator Mitch Anderson fell sick, the society desperately needed help because the museums were starting to open up again after Covid and more events were being undertaken. Zoe was hired as a part-time employee while finishing her degree.
Anderson unexpectedly died on February 24. The position of director was advertised, and Zoe made the big decision to apply. She officially started the job on April 17.
She is taking the responsibility as the face of the society in stride. “I guess I’m trying to make sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to. We’re keeping on top of everything. And, yeah, I want to give us a good representation.”
The job is never boring for Zoe. “Some days you end up giving tours all day. Some days I end up answering research requests. Some days I’m going through artifacts. Some days I’m prepping for events. Some days I’m doing all sorts of stuff. It really is every day is different.”
The most important event on her calendar currently is DCHS’s 70th Anniversary, which begins this month. This fact was a surprise to the whole staff, including Zoe.
“None of us had been paying attention to that,” she admitted. “And then somebody reminded us, ‘Hey, this is the year we were founded seventy years ago.’ And so we all just kind of had to again shift gears and start thinking about, ‘Okay, what do we want to do for our 70th Anniversary?’”
Following the big semi-annual yard sale they held early in May, the staff started a major cleanup to make sure all the exhibits were set up the way they wanted them. And they hope to work toward having an open house for a day or two in the fall during which all the buildings on the campus will be open.
Zoe wants to plan many events to bring locals to the museums. “I’d say like probably half of our visitors lately have all been people from out of town or people just visiting our people who didn’t know we were here. And I mean even a lot of local people don’t know we’re here. So, we’re trying to draw attention here a little bit by little bit as much as we can.”
To help with that, Zoe is making sure the society covers all its bases when it comes to advertising—in their guide, their website, and the newspaper. Plus, they’re making appearances on the websites run by the Chamber of Commerce and Dorchester County Tourism.
“The Visitor Center has been really good with working with us and trying to help us get back on our feet and make sure that we’re kind of going into every area we need to. I mean, we’ve fallen behind in a lot of things like grants, paperwork, accessioning [cataloging], and donated items for the museum. So, we’re trying to play catch-up on all of this stuff while we’re also trying to prepare for all of these other events. There’s definitely a lot going on.”
Does she feel any pressure while leading all these efforts?
“I’d say if there’s any pressure, it’s just going to be kind of making sure things get done on the scale that we want them.”