She was born to a family in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia in 1881. She was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne and Melbourne University, graduating in 1903 and in 1904 began a research scholarship at the London School of Economics. Between 1906 and 1910 she worked under the direction of Beatrice Webb on a Commission investigating the Poor Laws.
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.
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". (source: A Woman of Vision - A Life of Marion Phillips MP by Marian Goronwy Roberts, (Bridge Books, Wrexham, 2000)).
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, Dr Phillips was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Sunderland. She lost the 1931 election and in 1932 died of stomach cancer. Addressing women in Hartlepool she emphasised, "There is still a lot of educating to do and we are going to begin by educating ourselves".
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Marion Phillips
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Luke Thompson and
Sir Walter Raine
|Member of Parliament for Sunderland
With: Alfred Smith, to March 1931
Luke Thompson, from March 1931
Luke Thompson and