Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Julia B. Phillips, 1863-1938

By Sophia Szeneitas, Undergraduate, University of Rhode Island

Julia Bowen Phillips was born in 1863 in Providence, Rhode Island. Her parents were born in Cuba, most likely as slaves who were possibly traded by the Bowen family of Rhode Island. The politically active Bowen family traded slaves, controlled part of the rum trade, and had distilleries in Newport, Pawtuxet Village, and Newport, Rhode Island; Bowen's Wharf in Rhode Island is where many slaves arrived and were sold. Yet the Bowen family were also Quakers and perhaps turned against the slave trade early on and manumitted slaves, like their cousin Moses Brown eventually did.

Young Julia Bowen attended primary school and could read and write, according to an 1880 census record. Providence schools were desegregated in the 1860s and many Black families sent their children to a Quaker school on Meeting Street in Providence. The 1880 federal census lists teenaged Julia lived with her mother, Jane Bowen, and siblings in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Her sister was a dressmaker, a profession Julia would also take up.

In 1880, at the age of 17, she married Samuel L. Phillips. As a married woman, Julia continued as a dressmaker, while Samuel was a carpenter in house construction and also worked in a livery stable. Julia and Samuel had four children: Samuel B. Phillips (1881), A. Corrinne Phillips (1886), George Lewis W. Phillips (1892), and Grace Juanita Phillips (1894). The family lived at 28 DuBlois Street in Newport in 1900; in 1910, they lived at 14 Williams Street in Providence.

In Providence, Julia B. Phillips was a talented dressmaker. The New York Age lists a Julia Phillips in relation to a fancy 1890 ball for a Black fraternal event, a performance by the Order of Calanthe, the women's auxiliary to the Black fraternity Order of Pythians. This is likely also

Mrs. Phillips, since such an event may coincide with being a dressmaker; Phillips would have been 25 at the time, and participation in social uplift clubs like the Order of Calanthe would be something that Black colored women's clubs would eventually imitate. The same article also mentioned how Republican candidate for governor, Mr. Jenkins (related to the Bowens), lost to Democratic candidate Davis, a shame because Jenkins advocated for the African American community of Rhode Island.

In 1916 (at the age of 51), Phillips was part of the RI Union of Colored Women's Clubs, which circulated a document that urged members of Congress to pledge their aid toward the ratification of a women's suffrage amendment. In 1920, Julia and Samuel moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Samuel died in 1921 and widow Julia B. Phillips lived with son George's family and then later with eldest daughter, Corrinne, in Boston.

Military service was a common theme for this family. From 1887-1890, Samuel Phillips was enrolled in the 24th infantry of the U.S. Army--the Buffalo Soldiers, who made up the segregated unit of the army. He received a pension for fighting in the 'Indian Wars', which Julia B. Phillips applied for after Phillips died. Their son, George L.W. Phillips served in World War I and eventually earned a rank of sergeant in the military. He moved west to the California Redlands in the 1940s where he was the chauffeur for oil magnate Robert Watchhorn who built a large shrine in honor of Abraham Lincoln, a detail mentioned in George Phillips's 1966 obituary.

Julia Bowen Phillips died on May 8, 1938 while she was living in Boston with her daughter, Corrinne. She is buried in North Burial Ground Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband, Samuel. Julia Bowen Phillips's life gives us insight into the legacy of slavery in the United States, the importance of fraternal organizations for Black organizing and socializing, the opportunities (albeit segregated in the U.S. military for Black service men,

the long fight for voting rights, and how the dressmaking industry offered a popular and attainable profession for Black women in Rhode Island.


1870; 1880 Federal Census, Julia Bowen,
1900; 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 Federal Census,, Julia B. Phillips; Samuel Phillips; George L.W. Phillips; Corrine Phillips

RI Union of Colored Women's Clubs, suffrage petition accessible at

Boston City Directories, Samuel L. Phillips,

World War I Draft Card, 1917, George L.W. Phillips, East Providence, R.I.

Rhode Island Marriage Index, 1880, Samuel Phillips,

U.S. General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, Julia B. Phillips,

Joanne Pope Melish, "Bl;ack Labor at Nightingale-Brown House," accessible online at

New York Age, April 19, 1890, p. 4, "The Rhode Island Election: The Final Result a Defeat for Republicans."

Providence Journal, May 10, 1938, p. 19, "Death Notices: Phillips."

Redlands Daily Facts, 22 December 1966, p. 4, "Shrine, church services set for Mr. George Phillips."

Camp, Bayliss J., and Orit Kent. ""What a Mighty Power We Can Be" Individual and Collective Identity in African American and White Fraternal Initiation Rituals." Social Science History 28, no. 3 (2004): 439-83. Accessed May 10, 2021.

Flynn, Sean, Providence Journal, July 24, 2020, "Bowen's Wharf marked with RI Slave History Medallion as a site of slave trade in Newport during Colonial times." rf-marked-with-ri-slave-history-medallion-as-site-of-slave-trade-in-newport-during-co/42457395/

Lee, Maureen D. Sissieretta Jones: The Greatest Singer of her Race, 1868-1933. University of South Carolina Press, 2012, pgs. 4-8.

Rappleye, Charles. Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution. Simon and Schuster, 2007.

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