Barbara P. Katz, a Baltimore philanthropist who was the first woman to head the Maryland Historical Society, dies

Barbara P. Katz, a local philanthropist whose interests ranged from culture to education, and was the first woman to serve as president of what was then the Maryland Historical Society, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 1 at her Pikesville home. She was 88.

“I got her involved when I was curator in the late 1970s and our families had known each other for two or three generations, and we became fast friends for nearly 50 years,” said Stiles T. Colwill, who is now the owner of Stiles T. Colwill Interiors, and was formerly curator at the MHS, which is now the Maryland Center for History and Culture.


“Barbara was a dynamo, energetic and hands on. She became the first female president of the MHS and was the first Jewish president in a century and it was a big deal at the time. In fact, it was seismic.”

The former Barbara Pollock, daughter of Julian Gabriel Pollock, a Philadelphia advertising executive, and his then-wife, Doris Shapiro Gillman, was born in Philadelphia and spent her early years in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, before moving to a home on Lake Drive in Baltimore when she was 9 years old.


She was a graduate of Park School and attended Connecticut College for Women, now Connecticut College. In 1953, she married Joseph J. “Jay” Katz, who was the owner and president of Martin Gillet & Co. Inc., the nation’s oldest tea importer.

Mrs. Katz was inspired in her philanthropic endeavors by her grandfather, Morris Shapiro, a Baltimore industrialist, who died in 1969.

In addition to the historical society, she immersed herself as an active board member of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Symphony, Friends School and the Jewish Museum of Maryland, where she had also served as its first female president from 1989 to 1991.

In 1983, she was co-chair with Aristides C. “Dee” Alevizato of the annual Maryland Antiques Show and Sale, and a year later, Mayor William Donald Schaefer appointed her to the Baltimore City Art Commission.

She held positions with the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Sinai Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, and national Council of Jewish Women. She also had served on Har Sinai’s auxiliary women’s board and its Sunday school board.

Ashley Principe is director of development at Friends School and was a close friend of nearly a decade.

“I will always have a warm place in my heart for Barbara. When I think of her, I think of her red hair, red fingernails and black glasses,” Ms. Principe said.

Mrs. Katz became connected to the school through her husband, who was a graduate and artist, Ms. Principe said. After his death, the Katz Art Gallery in the Forbush Building was named in his memory, she said.


“Her generosity to Friends was quite generous. She’d call and wanted to know if kids needed summer testing and then she’d say, ‘Let me know and I’ll pay for it,’” Ms. Principe said. “She and Jay gave more than $300,000.”

Mrs. Katz was an active board member who served from 2011 to 2018. She also participated in fundraising work from 2011 to 2020, including serving on the steering committee for The Setting Stage Campaign, which raised $25 million.

”She spoke her mind at the board table. She always brought a slightly different view that made people think,” she said. “She was very much in the Quaker tradition where all voices are to be heard.”

It wasn’t uncommon to find Mrs. Katz reading children’s books to Lower School students or helping them select a book.

“Barbara had an energy, passion and cared and cared and cared and wanted to carry on Jay’s legacy and in doing so, made it her own,” Ms. Principe said.


In light of her years of devotion to Friends, Mrs. Katz received an Honorary Alumna Award in 2015.

Mrs. Katz, a lifetime collector, filled her Pikesville home with antique dolls, children’s samplers, jewelry, boxes, quilts and scarves, kaleidoscopes, walking sticks and a vast accompanying library explaining their origins and history.

In a 2020 interview with JMORE, she said: “These collections make me feel good. Every find is a find.”

“It’s hard to tell what makes a collector a collector,” Mrs. Katz explained in a 2002 interview with the Baltimore Jewish Times after she was elected president of the MHS. “It’s just me — it’s my autobiography. If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you’re going.”

She had served as president of the MHS from 2003 to 2007 and earlier, had been chairman, vice president and first vice president of the society’s board.

“[Jews] understand the importance of giving and sharing,” Mrs. Katz told a Jewish Times reporter in 2002. “When you can make a difference, take your background and bring it into the community, it isn’t running away from [the Jewish community]. It’s a blending in — sharing of experience. I didn’t change myself to fit in here. I am just reaching out into the broader world.”


She added: “I am very lucky and very honored in this position.”

“Barbara was an indomitable person and mentor,” said Mark Letzer, current president and CEO of the Maryland Center for History and Culture. “She was a force, and as the first female president of the MHS, she broke barriers at the time. She loved this organization, was certainly one of a kind, and we’re going to miss her terribly.

“She was just unbelievable and a force. Nothing would stop her. She certainly had what it took to run an organization that had been run by men for 150 years.”

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At the time she became president, the historical society had started a $20 million expansion and renovation of the old Greyhound Terminal on Monument Street that physically linked the bus terminal to the society’s original main building.

“We are not just displaying. We are educating,” Mrs. Katz told The Sun in 2003. “This used to be a dark, stodgy place. But it isn’t anymore.”

Said Mr. Colwill: “First off, Barbara was a lot of fun. She loved to entertain and was a fabulous cook. She taught herself how to cook and she liked going out to dinner at Petite Louis or Linwoods, and always enjoyed a Cutty on the rocks before dinner. We had a lot of good times, and like John Lewis, we got into a lot of good trouble, together over the years.”


Mrs. Katz had been a member of Har Sinai congregation and later joined Oheb Shalom.

Her husband died in 2011.

Mrs. Katz was entombed in the Shapiro mausoleum at Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville on Feb. 4.

She is survived by a son, Jeffrey Katz of Sparks; two daughters, Deborah Katz of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Rebecca Katz of San Rafael, California; and two grandchildren.