Marion Phillips

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Marion Phillips
Marion Pillips.jpg
Member of Parliament
for Sunderland
In office
30 May 1929 – 26 October 1931
Serving with Alfred Smith, to March 1931;
Luke Thompson, from March 1931
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded byLuke Thompson and
Walter Raine
Succeeded byLuke Thompson and
Samuel Storey
Personal details
Born(1881-10-29)29 October 1881
Melbourne, Colony of Victoria (now in Australia)
Died23 January 1932(1932-01-23) (aged 50)
Political partyLabour

Marion Phillips (29 October 1881 – 23 January 1932) was a Labour Party politician and Member of Parliament in England.

Early life and education[edit]

Marion Philllips was born on 29 October 1881 in Melbourne, Australia. Her parents were Phillip Phillips, a lawyer, and Rose Asher, who was from New Zealand.[1] She was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne and University of Melbourne, graduating in 1903. In 1904 began a research scholarship at the London School of Economics, graduating as a Doctor of Science in 1907, with a thesis about the development of New South Wales. Between 1906 and 1910 she worked under the direction of Beatrice Webb on a commission investigating the Poor Laws.[2]


A member of the Women's Labour League from 1908 she became its secretary in 1912. She also edited the League's leaflet, which by 1913 became Labour Woman. When World War I broke out she became a member of the War Emergency Workers' National Committee. In 1916 Phillips was present at the formation of the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations. Phillips was its secretary between 1917 and 1932.

Phillips also served on a number of government committees before a woman had been elected to the country's parliament. The most significant were the Consumer Council of the Ministry of Food and the Women's Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Reconstruction.

Unlike prominent suffragettes, her vision was not concentrated upon extending the franchise, she wanted state interventions in the free market to be better informed by considerations of life outside the workplace. As a leader of the Women's Labour League, she described its role as "keeping the Labour Party well informed of the needs of women and providing women with the means of becoming educated in political matters". In this endeavour she provoked about a quarter of a million housewives to take part in the labour movement and helped popularise issues such as equality for women in the workplace, school meals, clinics and playspaces for children, the fundamental value of mothering, a more humanitarian, safety-conscious, approach to the design of homes for ordinary families, and an eradication of needless drudgery and squalour from home life.

"Phillips and Margaret Bondfield worked tirelessly within the WLL to raise the political consciousness of women and encourage their participation, and although there was some tension between the two at the start, they eventually worked in harmony and shared an essentially social class based approach to women's emancipation and both were later Labour MPs together in 1929 (Bondfield having briefly been an MP in 1924)."[3]

Speaking on the need for adequate bathing and washing facilities in new housing projects, she remarked: "If Labour councillors will not support us on this demand, we shall have to cry a halt on all municipal housing until we have replaced all Labour men by Labour women".[4] Addressing women in Hartlepool she emphasised, "There is still a lot of educating to do and we are going to begin by educating ourselves".

As Chief Woman Officer of the Labour Party she reportedly gave women extra confidence to engage in politics and by 1925 the Women's Section was firmly established.

At the 1929 general election, Phillips was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Sunderland. The 1929 'flapper election' was the first in which women under the age of 30 were eligible to vote. In July 1928, Phillips wrote to all women in the Sunderland constituency, stating that 'FOR WOMEN ESPECIALLY, THIS NEXT ELECTION WHICH WILL TAKE PLACE IN 1929 IS VERY IMPORTANT'.[5] She lost the 1931 election and in 1932 died of stomach cancer, aged 50. Phillips was the first Jewish and thus non-Christian woman MP.[6] Nonetheless, she was also an atheist.[7]

In September 2019, a plaque was unveiled at 18 Foyle Street, the site of the Sunderland Labour Party's former Committee Rooms. It reads "Sunderland's first woman MP had an office here 1929-1931. Activist and academic, she lobbied for the rights of woman and working people. The Labour Party's Chief Woman Officer (1918-1932)".[8]


  1. ^ "Phillips, Marion (1881–1932), first Labour Party woman organizer | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001 (inactive 19 December 2020). Retrieved 8 March 2020.CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of December 2020 (link)
  2. ^ Uglow, Jennifer S. (1985). "Phillips, Marion". The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. New York: Continuum. p. 371. ISBN 0-8264-0192-9.
  3. ^ Judge, Tony (2018). Margaret Bondfield: First Woman in the Cabinet. pp. 61–67. ISBN 978-1983500985.
  4. ^ Goronwy-Roberts, Marian (2000). A Woman of Vision - A Life of Marion Phillips, MP. Wrexham: Bridge Books. ISBN 1872424848.
  5. ^ Hellawell, Sarah. "DR MARION PHILLIPS: SUNDERLAND'S FIRST FEMALE MP (1929-1931)". Women's History Network. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  6. ^ "Death of Dr. Marion Phillips First Jewish Woman M.P [sic]". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 25 January 1932.
  7. ^ "She died an atheist, from stomach cancer, on January 23, 1932 […]." Brian Harrison, 'Phillips, Marion (1881–1932)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edition, January 2008.
  8. ^ "This is the latest recipient to get a Blue Plaque in Sunderland for their devotion to the city". Sunderland Echo. 15 September 2019. Retrieved 11 November 2019.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Margaret Bondfield
Secretary of the Women's Labour League
Succeeded by
Organisation dissolved
Preceded by
New position
Labour Party Chief Women's Officer
Succeeded by
Mary Sutherland
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Luke Thompson and
Sir Walter Raine
Member of Parliament for Sunderland
With: Alfred Smith, to March 1931
Luke Thompson, from March 1931
Succeeded by
Luke Thompson and
Samuel Storey