Reference Entry

Riis, Mary Phillips

in American National Biography Online


Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697

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financier and social welfare reformer, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Richard F. Phillips, a cotton broker and later president of the Cotton Exchange in St. Louis, and Lina Rensch. She was educated in England and France but held no college degree. She moved to New York and was acting in small parts on Broadway when, at the age of twenty-six, she met the social reformer Jacob Riis. In 1905, though she was preparing to return home to her family in St. Louis, she was persuaded by Riis to remain in New York to act as his secretary. Mary Phillips shared his interest in social services, particularly for children, and accepted his offer. She worked as his secretary until they married in July 1907 in Ipswich, Massachusetts. She was his second wife. They had one child who died in infancy, but Mary became a second mother to Jacob Riis’s youngest child from his first marriage, Roger William Riis.

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