'The Irritating Agent'

January 04, 1995

The best summation of Frances Morton Froelicher's contribution to Baltimore was made years ago by a former colleague of ours, Edgar Jones, in an Evening Sun column.

"As. . . executive director of the more enduring Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA), Miss Morton aroused and harnessed public distress over dank and loathsome dwellings, leaky outside toilets, rats, garbage and disease-ridden slum dwellers. From health inspectors and police sanitarians, the creation of a Housing Court, and concerted block-by-block attacks, Miss Morton pushed, prodded and nagged until there evolved a comprehensive housing program that combined public housing and private initiatives.

"The name of Frances Morton comes readily to mind when anyone asks the trite question, What can one person do? . . .

"When a local writer once muttered aloud at Miss Morton's abrasive manner, a wiser head in the community reminded him that it is the irritating agent in the oyster that produces the pearl. The parallel was persuasive. In the case of the oyster, the pearl-producing agent is usually a piece of grit, and that is what Miss Morton had: plenty of grit."

Frances Morton, fresh from social work school, launched a study of poverty in two wards of East Baltimore during the Great Depression of the 1930s. From this came a lifelong career to make Baltimore better. As an organizer of the CPHA, Miss Morton was prevailed upon in 1941 to become its executive director by the president, Hans Froelicher, the Park School headmaster, whom she married 21 years later.

She built an organization of 3,000 members and 146 community improvement associations. She pioneered interracial cooperation, if only to achieve results. She insisted that citizen activists must show the way to business and civic leadership.

Mrs. Froelicher resigned her CPHA position in 1969 after conflicts with the board. The CPHA still contributes, more quietly. Mrs. Froelicher barreled on to other causes, including clean air, clean water and clean government. Her death Saturday at 82 deprives Baltimore of an effective force for good who was variously called "Madam Citizen," "Baltimore's Lady General" and "Housing's Pearl." Just when we need her -- or someone like her -- most.

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