Stephen Phillips film collection, ca. 1928-1938

Collection Type

  • Video recordings and motion pictures





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The Stephen Phillips Film Collection is made up of 50 reels transferred to DVDs #1-6. The dates span from circa 1928 to 1938. Of the 50 reels, 9 are in color, turned magenta. The running time is 4.52 hours.The collection contains some particularly intimate scenes with family and friends. Examples include a rare glimpse into family life at 34 Chestnut Street with Stephen, his father, and mother in the library (AF27); brief, but telling footage of his father (AF19) and mother (AF23, AF34, and AF49); and family and friends vacationing at Lake Sunapee (AF28). Other footage includes Stephen, himself (AF12, AF25, AF32, AF33, AF42, and AF44). Worthy of note is the film from Stephen's time at Saranac Lake in the 1930s when he suffered from tuberculosis (TB). In 1884, Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau opened the first sanitarium and by the early 1900s, Saranac Lake became known as a popular health resort for the wealthy and a place of pioneering research and treatment of the disease. Patients came to Saranac Lake to recover through a program of fresh air (away from the crowded, polluted, industrial city), rest and exercise. When Stephen went to Saranac Lake in the 1930's, he stayed in one of the many "cure cottages" where doctors prescribed sleeping on the porch as part of the treatment. Scenic views of the Saranac area are in AF25 and AF44-46, but AF44 includes footage of an art class, presumably at a sanitarium. Apart from the daily rest and exercise that was required of patients, it was also common for them to take classes. (In fact, Stephen met his future wife, Betty Wright, at the sanitarium; she was his math tutor.) In 1936, the Study and Craft Guild formed to offer patients classes as "recreational therapy." Related materials are contained in the Phillips Family Papers at the Phillips House in Salem, Massachusetts.Considering Stephen's ill health, there are a remarkable quantity of recreational movies - hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, skiing, and travel. He traveled relatively frequently to New Hampshire and Maine, but also made three significant journeys that are captured in film - a trip to the Western United States in 1929 (AF5-7) and two trips to Europe in 1929-1930 and 1931-1932 (AF11-16 and AF21-23, respectively). Two reels in the collection might interest students in domestic history: 1) brief footage of the back yard at 34 Chestnut Street (AF2) showing the utilitarian nature of the rear of the house and an unidentified woman, possibly one of the domestic staff, circa 1928, and 2) an unidentified kitchen (AF31) with domestic staff using an early, mechanical dishwasher between 1935 and 1937. Other highlights include glimpses of undergraduate life at Harvard with football games, Harvard Class Day, and shots of Harvard Yard (AF1, AF2, and AF4), dog races at Lake Placid (AF36), ice cutting (probably) at Saranac Lake (AF26), and the Ice Carnival (probably) at Saranac Lake (AF43).Source: Phillips Family Film Collection finding aid.


Descriptive Terms

home (concept)
lakes (bodies of water)
treating (health care function)
football (sports)
colleges (buildings)
races (events)
carnivals (entertainment events)
home movies
motion pictures (visual work)

Physical Description

41 reels : black-and-white and silent ; 16 millimeter
9 reels : color and silent ; 16 millimeter

Custodial History

The original 16mm film reels were gathered from various locations in trunks and boxes and sorted into three separate collections based upon the address written on the reel box and other items that were stored in the trunks or boxes. The three collections are: The Stephen Phillips Film Collection, The James Duncan Phillips Film Collection, and the Professional Film Collection. Once each reel had been separated into a collection, the films were organized chronologically by year. If the box was not labeled with a year, the edge codes stamped on the edges of the film provided the year of the film stock's manufacture. This gave an approximate date to the footage recorded on the film. In most cases, the film was used within a couple years of its manufacture date. Once in chronological order, each reel was assigned an Archives Film (AF) number, given a visual inspection and condition report, and all of the handwritten material on the reel boxes or cans was recorded.Of the 210 reels gathered, 11 reels had to be discarded due to extreme mold growth and rust. The remaining 199 reels of film were transported to Northeast Historic Film (NHF) in Bucksport, Maine for conservation. The conservation work was funded in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The technicians at NHF cleaned each reel and transferred the film to archival cores and stored the newly conserved film in archival film cans. Once the conservation work was complete, the museum received a grant from the Essex National Heritage Commission (ENHC) to transfer the reels onto a Beta SP master copy and a DVD viewing copy. Of the 199 reels conserved, 193 reels were transferred to DVD viewing copies. Five of the reels were unable to be transferred due to shrinkage, and one reel was comprised of unprocessed film, that needs to be developed before it can be viewed.

Collection Code


Collection Name

Phillips family film collection

Reference Code



Salem (Essex county, Massachusetts)
Sunapee Lake (New Hampshire) [lake]
Saranac Lake (Franklin county, New York state)
United States, Western (United States) [general region]
Harvard University (Cambridge, Middlesex county, Massachusetts) [university]
Cambridge (Middlesex county, Massachusetts)

Record Details


Phillips, Stephen, 1907-1971 (Filmmaker)

Material Type

home movies
motion pictures (visual work)

Other People

Phillips, Anna Pingree Wheatland, 1870-1938
Phillips, Stephen Willard, 1873-1955

Other Organizations

Harvard College (1636-1780)


Chestnut Street (Salem, Mass.)
Classes (Groups of students)
Rock climbing
Canoes and canoeing
Recreational therapy
Dishwashing machines
Harvard Yard (Cambridge, Mass.)
Dog racing
Harvard Class Day (Harvard University)


Much of the color film has turned magenta with a few exceptions.

Description Level


Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

Stephen Phillips, the only child of Stephen Willard and Anna (Wheatland) Phillips, was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1907. He attended Harvard College as the previous four generations of Phillips men had done before him. He studied history and after graduating in 1929, he hoped to become an archaeologist, but ill health prevented him from doing so. Like his uncle, James Duncan Phillips, Stephen enjoyed taking home movies and his earliest films were shot circa 1928, while he was still at Harvard. The summer after graduation Stephen and several friends took an automobile trip through the Canadian Rockies, the Northwest, and the Grand Canyon, capturing their adventures on motion picture film. Stephen's European travels included Germany, Paris, and London and after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, he spent time in TB sanatoriums in Switzerland in 1931-32.Although he never became the archaeologist that he intended, Stephen's interest in history and historic preservation remained throughout his life. He became a trustee of the Essex Institute in Salem and helped save several historic homes in the city. In his will, Stephen intended his parents' house at 34 Chestnut Street to be opened as a museum. Stephen's wife, Betty, took up the challenge. She opened the Stephen Phillips Trust House to the public in 1973 and ran it for the next 23 years until her death in 1996. Source: Phillips Family Film Collection finding aid.



The summary by catalogue number lists the films by AF number and by DVD. The AF numbers are organized by collection, the first collection, (highlighted in yellow) was created by Stephen Phillips (1907-1971), the second collection (highlighted in blue) was created by James Duncan Phillips (1876-1954), the third collection (highlighted in green) was created by professional film companies and corporations. The original film title that was written on the box (if any) is notated first in "quotes". When there was no title written on the box the museum staff created titles for the unmarked reels based on the footage contained on the film-these titles are notated second in [brackets]. In some cases, the handwritten title on the outside of the box did not match the footage recorded on the reel. This is notated in (parentheses) between the original title and the museum title. The Summary by catalogue number lists single reels in black ink and groups of reels by different colored ink. The colored ink reels are groups of films that were taken on a trip to a particular place by the creator. For example, Stephen's 1930 Germany trip and James Duncan and Nannie Phillips' 1930 trip from Capetown to Cairo. A more detailed finding aid, listing specific people and places is available for research upon request.