Frances Froelicher, social activist, dies at age 82

January 02, 1995|By Albert Sehlstedt Jr. | Albert Sehlstedt Jr.,Contributing Writing Sun staff writer TaNoah V. Sterling contributed to this article.

Frances Morton Froelicher, a social activist who campaigned to make Baltimoreans aware of the living conditions of the city's poor, died Saturday of pneumonia at Franklin Square Hospital Center. She was 82.

Sally Morton, Mrs. Froelicher's niece, said yesterday her aunt described herself as a crusader.

"She told me that you never give up, just try harder," Ms. Morton said. "If the cause is worth the fight, keep fighting."

As a founder and the executive director of the privately supported Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA) more than a half-century ago, Mrs. Froelicher waged a decades-long battle against bureaucratic lethargy, political timidity and disinterested landlords to improve the living conditions and health of people caught in Baltimore's slums.

"In an era when many have resigned themselves to complacency, Frances is a true inspiration," Hathaway Ferebee, CPHA executive director, said at a celebration of Mrs. Froelicher's 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the association's founding.

"Her activism, insight, energy and sense of hope continue to fuel our work," Ms. Ferebee said. "By her example, we know that citizen action can transform the face of a city."

Mrs. Froelicher's alma mater, Smith College in Northampton, Mass., presented her with an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1957, and proclaimed that "she has built one of the most effective social action organizations in the country" while demonstrating "what can be achieved by a combination of idealism, of professional training, of determined persistence, and the capacity to infuse others with her own conception of the future."

A 1963 Evening Sun editorial said:

"In 1941, when most of the country was preoccupied with the threat from without, Frances Morton and a handful of fellow Baltimoreans looked carefully at the threat from within -- the deterioration of life in the city proper, not only in appallingly bad housing and living conditions for the poor, but in the failure of the city to plan rationally for all its citizens. They formed the Citizens Planning and Housing Association.

"The CPHA has represented the citizen at his best, and through it all Frances Morton Froelicher has been, pre-eminently, Madame Citizen."

Her curriculum vitae listed memberships in 25 organizations and awards for her efforts to improve housing and human relations.

She took her crusade across the country in speeches to audiences extending from Richmond, Va., to Seattle, Wash., and into Quebec and Nova Scotia.

She retired from CPHA in 1969 after what she described as "irreconcilable conflicts" between the organization's executive committee and herself. It was said at the time that she had been stressing reliance on local citizens in the work of CPHA while other executives in the group wanted to shift the emphasis to outside consultants.

CPHA then included in its membership 146 neighborhood improvement associations and 2,700 individuals.

After her retirement, she was asked by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to organize a coalition to support air quality standards in the state.

She helped form the Better Air Coalition of the Baltimore metropolitan area, which included more than 50 participating groups that eventually produced emission standards for sulfur oxides and particulate matter.

In 1972, she and her husband, Hans Froelicher Jr., helped establish a metropolitan chapter of Common Cause, the national organization founded in 1970 with the aim of making government at the federal and state level more efficient and more accountable to the electorate.

Mrs. Froelicher was born in Baltimore Feb. 10, 1912, and graduated magna cum laude from Smith College in 1934 with a degree in history and plans to be a history teacher. She returned to Baltimore and taught for a year at Roland Park Country School, but decided that she was more interested in social work.

As a volunteer social worker in Baltimore during the Depression, she concluded that she needed more professional training to cope with the immensity of the problems she encountered. She enrolled at the New York School of Social Work, now a part of Columbia University.

As part of her training, Mrs. Froelicher returned to Baltimore to make an analysis of slums in two wards of the city -- one black and one white. She was interested not only in living conditions in these areas but also in what public agencies were doing to help the people who lived there.

What she planned to be a three-month survey of the two wards turned into a year's labor that produced statistics including death rates, prevalent diseases, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality. It was said to be the only study of its kind produced in Baltimore at that time.

Mrs. Froelicher's husband had been headmaster of Park School in Baltimore from 1932 to 1956. He also was president of CPHA for 12 years.

The couple married in 1962. Mr. Froelicher died in 1976.

In addition to her niece, Mrs. Froelicher is survived by her brother, Edward C. Morton of Baltimore; two stepsons, Frederick Froelicher of Mount Airy and Charles Froelicher of Denver, Colo.; a stepdaughter, Judy Keyser of Cockeysville; two other nieces; and one nephew.

Funeral arrangements for Mrs. Froelicher were not complete yesterday.

Memorial contributions can be made to Strawberry Hill Foundation, 1475 Mount Hope Road, Fairfield, Pa. 17320.

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