While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »

PHILLIPS, BOBBIE ERSKIN

Margo McCutcheon
Bobbie Erskin Phillips (1902–1956) in the 1940s.
Bobbie Erskin Phillips (1902–1956) grew up in a farm family, picking cotton at an early age, in Bonham, Texas. Later, as a cook for U.S. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, she prepared and served meals for U.S. presidents and congressmen. Image courtesy of the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

PHILLIPS, BOBBIE LEE DUPREE ERSKIN SCOTT REED (1902–1956). Bobbie Lee Dupree Erskin (also spelled Erskine) Scott Reed Phillips, domestic worker and cook for the Rayburn family, was born Bobbie Lee Dupree Erskin on May 11, 1902, to Emma L. (Wilson) and John Erskin in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. Her father worked odd jobs as a laborer, and her mother was a laundress. According to the 1910 United States census, both her parents could read and write. As children, she and her five siblings attended the Booker T. Washington School, a segregated school for African Americans in Bonham, and picked cotton to support the family. Once she completed sixth grade, she left school to work full time. Around 1918 Erskin married George Scott, a railroad worker. In 1920 she and her husband lived next door to her parents and siblings. They all picked cotton. George and Bobbie Scott had five children: daughters Emma Belle, John George, Pontselus, and Esther, and a son. Two of their children likely died before 1930. In 1930 she lived in Vernon, Wilbarger County, Texas, with her three daughters and was married to Bossie Reed. He worked odd jobs and she cooked for a family in the area. In the 1940 census she was listed as Bobbie Dupree, and when she signed her mother’s death certificate nine years later, she signed it as Bobbie Dupree Phillips.

Bobbie Erskin Phillips (1902–1956).
Bobbie Erskin Phillips (1902–1956) worked for the U.S. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and his sister Lucinda Rayburn at their home in Bonham, Texas. She prepared and served meals for notable guests President Harry Truman and future president Lyndon B. Johnson. Image courtesy of the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1932 or 1933 Bobbie Reed returned to Bonham and worked for Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (then a member of the United States House of Representatives) and his sister Lucinda Rayburn and their siblings at the family homestead, now the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site. In 1940 she married Charlie Phillips, who, according to the Sam Rayburn House Museum, worked for the Rayburns as the property caretaker beginning in 1939. They lived in the caretaker’s cottage on the Rayburn property until 1947 when they moved to a home in town.

Bobbie Phillips worked for the family for the rest of her life, a period which coincided with Sam Rayburn’s most influential period of his legislative career. In a 1961 Life magazine article about Rayburn, D. B. Hardeman wrote that Phillips “was master of the Rayburn kitchen for 24 years until she died.” Bobbie’s duties at the home included tending to the home garden, canning, and cooking for the Rayburns. Visitors recalled that Phillips prepared meals without measuring the ingredients. After Sam Rayburn became Speaker of the House in 1940, Phillips cooked for many notable political figures who visited the Rayburn home, including President Lyndon B. Johnson, then a congressman, and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. In 1948 Phillips prepared and served a meal of fried chicken and biscuits for President Harry Truman. She also did the laundry and cleaned Sam Rayburn’s cabin in Ivanhoe, Texas.

Bobbie Phillips had a personal relationship with Lucinda Rayburn that extended beyond that of employee-employer. The two women often wrote letters to each other when Lucinda Rayburn was in Washington, D.C. Phillips wrote to her about local news, activities on the farm, and family matters, and even celebrated Lucinda’s birthday when Lucinda was out of town. Phillip’s granddaughter, Barbara Jean Ganther Ross, who lived with her grandparents when she was a child, helped with chores, picked cotton, combed Lucinda Rayburn’s hair, and sometimes Sam Rayburn drove her to her school in his chauffeured 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood. 

Bobbie Phillips died on March 1, 1956, from empyema of the gallbladder. She was buried at Gates Hill Cemetery, the African American cemetery in Bonham. After her death, her daughter Emma Belle Givens worked at the Rayburn home. The Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site has included information about the lives and work of Phillips and her husband Charles in their online exhibit, onsite artifact displays and themed tours.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

D.B. Hardeman, “Unseen Side of the Man They Called Mr. Speaker,” Life, December 1, 1961. Michael Hutchins, “Black Employees of Rayburn Farm were More Like Close Friends, Family,” Herald Democrat (Sherman, Texas), February 8, 2015 (http://www.heralddemocrat.com/living/lifestyle/black-employees-rayburn-farm-were-more-close-friends-family), accessed February 15, 2018. Barbara Ross, Interview by Anne Ruppert, February 2, 2016, Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, Bonham, Texas. Anne Ruppert, “Sam Rayburn House Museum Remembers Former Caretakers,” Texas Historical Commission (http://www.thc.texas.gov/blog/sam-rayburn-house-museum-remembers-former-caretakers), accessed February 15, 2018. Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site Papers, Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, Texas Historical Commission, Bonham, Texas.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Margo McCutcheon, "PHILLIPS, BOBBIE ERSKIN ," accessed May 26, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fph24.

Uploaded on January 17, 2020. Modified on January 20, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...