Born in 1907, Stephen Phillips was a member of a prominent Salem, Massachusetts family that for many years had been actively involved in the merchant sailing era of Salem that followed the American Revolution.
Following his graduation from Harvard in 1929, Stephen went to work in the family office. During those years, he struggled with tuberculosis, often seeking treatment for his ailment, and it was during a stay at Saranac Lake in New York that he met his future bride, Betty Wright, who was seeking a cure for brucellosis.
They were brought together by a mutual interest in ham radio and within a short period were married and set up house next door to Stephen’s childhood home at 34 Chestnut Street in Salem.
Following their marriage, the two took a great interest in helping students obtain a college education which for many in Salem was not within reach. Mrs. Phillips was particularly interested in assisting students achieve a college education as she personally struggled for years to complete her undergraduate and graduate degrees due to lack of finances and health issues.
With Stephen Phillips’s death in 1971, Betty Phillips sought to establish a substantial scholarship fund to help college students with limited financial resources achieve high academic goals. Twenty years after her husband’s death, Mrs. Phillips set in motion what is today the Stephen Phillips Memorial Scholarship Fund. From 1991 until her death in 1996, Mrs. Phillips was personally involved in selecting the scholarship recipients. Since the fund began giving scholarships, more than 4,400 students have been assisted with over $70 million in scholarship grants.
In addition to the establishment of the Phillips Scholarship Fund, acting upon her husband’s wishes at the time of his death, Mrs. Phillips opened her husband’s boyhood home to the public. Click here to visit the Phillips House site.
Phillips Family History
The first Stephen Phillips, Deacon Stephen (b. 1718) lived in Marblehead with his wife Elizabeth. Their son Stephen (b. 1761) went into the merchant marine. In his early 30s he was placed in command of a ship owned by Elias Hasket Derby, and over the next seven years, he earned enough to buy ownership stakes in five trade vessels. This second Stephen Phillips started the family tradition of philanthropy by supplying funds to purchase land and building materials for a new church in Salem, where he had moved with his wife Dorcas.
Stephen and Dorcas Phillips were parents to Stephen Clarendon Phillips (b. 1801), who ran his father’s shipping business for several years until the 1840s, when shipping activity in Salem declined largely due to the use of clipper ships and the silting up of the Salem harbor. With the sale of their last ship in 1845, the Phillips turned to political, philanthropic and educational endeavors. Stephen C. Phillips held several political positions, including Mayor of Salem and member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education.
Stephen Clarendon Phillips had a son, Stephen Henry Phillips (b. 1823), who graduated from Harvard College at the age of 19. He was Attorney General for the State of Massachusetts, and then for the Kingdom of Hawaii under King Kamehameha V.
Stephen H. Phillips in turn had a son, Stephen Willard Phillips (b. 1873). Stephen W. Phillips was born in Hawaii, but returned to Massachusetts to attend Harvard College. He and his wife Anna stayed in the Boston area, where he worked as a lawyer. Stephen W. Phillips also served the public as a member of the Salem City Council and Massachusetts State Legislature. He and Anna were the parents of the last Stephen Phillips in the line, born in 1907.
Betty Phillips & Stephen Phillips
Stephen Clarendon Phillips
Stephen Henry Phillips
The library photo is courtesy of Historic New England.