Frances L. Phillips was born in Walla Walla Washington in 1896. She was a member of the distinguished Phillips family, long of Chapel Hill, and was the great niece of Cornelia Phillips Spencer, whose legendary ringing of the bell in South Building signaled the reopening of the University following Reconstruction. Ms. Frances Phillips spent part of her early youth in Chapel Hill and later attended the Miss Spence School in the State of Washington. Following overseas service with the Red Cross in World War I, she joined the staff of the William Morrow and Company publishing house in New York in 1926. She served that company in a variety of capacities until her retirement in 1968, serving as Editor in Chief from 1931 to 1957. She was responsible for the publishing of numerous significant works during her tenure and was the first editor for anthropologist Margaret Mead. During her career, Ms. Phillips made numerous trips to destinations throughout the world and became an experienced and accomplished traveler.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Ms. Phillips made periodic financial gifts to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the stated provision that the money be used to support overseas travel experiences by selected University students who did not have other financial resources to afford such travel. One of the conditions of those early grants was that the recipient visit with Ms. Phillips at her apartment in New York City either before or after the trip to discuss the experience. During those early years, Ms. Phillips’ generosity made it possible for almost two dozen students at the University to travel abroad. Because of her positive experience with these early individual grants, Ms. Phillips established a Trust Agreement in the early 1980’s willing a substantial portion of her estate to the University for "… full and/or partial scholarships to enable students to travel outside of the United States, Canada and the Caribbean…" Frances L. Phillips died on 15 June 1986 and is buried in the Phillips lot of the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery near the University campus.
In 1990, a faculty Committee under the Chairmanship of then Dean of Students, Frederic Schroeder, was appointed to fully codify the program defined in the Trust Agreement. Beginning with the first class of thirteen Frances L. Phillips Travel Scholarship recipients chosen in the fall of 1991, more than 120 students have been selected to experience the benefits of international travel which Ms. Phillips’ generous legacy made possible. The program has been structured intentionally to use only a portion of the investment earnings each year so that the principal may continue to grow in order to enable the future awarding of inflation sensitive Phillips Travel Scholarship grants to approximately twenty selected students each year.