Fred Phillips was born in 1882 into the Wartelsky family, which immigrated to the United States from Russia around the turn of the century. Fred Phillips, who in 1904 went by the name Phillip Bottelsky, seems to have lived first with his father in Chicago. In 1905, Phillip Bottelsky enlisted in the United States Army (and served in Company G of the 26th Infantry). In 1906, he officially changed his name to Fred Phillips. By the 1910s, Phillips had relocated to San Francisco, where he lived with his wife, Ida (Benioff), and worked as a furrier with the Hudson Bay Fur Company. When the company opened an establishment in Reno in 1919, Fred moved his family to Reno to run the store (the store eventually became the Phillips Fur Company). In Reno, Fred and Ida were active members of the community. They were instrumental in the construction of a new building for Reno's Temple Emanu-El in 1922 and were also prominent in the Order of the Eastern Star. Ida was, at one time, Matron of the Adah Chapter of the Order. In the early 1930s, Fred Phillips ran for state assembly as a Democrat from Washoe County and won. He served in the assembly for nearly a decade and ran for Mayor of Reno in 1939. Fred Phillips was often depicted in political cartoons as covered head-to-toe in fur. Fred and Ida Phillips had two children, Webster and Ethel. Fred Phillips died in San Francisco in 1944. Ida Phillips died in 1949.
The collection includes genealogical information about the Wartelsky and Benioff families, materials relating to Fred Phillips' campaigns and work as a Nevada State Assemblyman (including scrapbooks documenting his political and civic activities), materials relating to Webster Phillips' service in World War II (including a series of letters from Webster to his mother Ida in 1944 and 1945), and a large series of family photographs. Among these photos are some depicting Fred Phillips' life and work in San Francisco during the 1910s, photos of Fred Phillips serving in the Army in Texas in 1904, photos of the groundbreaking for Reno's Temple Emanu-El in 1921, photos of Phillips doing the work of a Nevada State Assemblyman, and photos of the Phillips family in Reno during the 1920s and 1930s.