#30 My Courtship of, and Marriage to, Frances Morrill

1979-81 Courtship of Fran.pdf


#30 My Courtship of, and Marriage to, Frances Morrill


Jacob Schlitt


"In the spring of 1979, the staff director of the US Commission on Civil Rights announced plans to open a New England Regional Office."














# 30 My Courtship of, and Marriage to, Frances Morrill

In the spring of 1979, the staff director of the US Commission on Civil Rights announced plans to open a New England Regional Office. I applied for the position of director. I was feeling restless, professionally and personally, and I wanted to move on. Initially, another person was selected, but, fortunately, he declined, and I got the job. Fate does play tricks on people. I was on my way to a new life.

I made arrangements to move to Boston. I found an apartment in the Back Bay, found office space for the new regional office, and hired staff. I transferred everything related to the Mid-Atlantic Region to my successor, and I said goodbye to my family and friends. I had mixed feelings about leaving Washington after 14 years. This is where my children grew up and where I had become part of a community. Now I was going to start again, in a new city, facing new challenges, and meeting new people.

After settling into my Boston apartment, I called several people to let them know I was here. One of them was Bess Bernstein, the widow of Julie Bernstein, a close friend and colleague from the Jewish Labor Committee. During our conversation, Bess mentioned that Fran Morrill was in Boston. She was aware that I knew Fran from the Jewish Labor Committee, and knew that as someone currently unattached, I would be interested in meeting women. She was absolutely right.

I immediately called Fran, explaining the connection. She said that she didn’t remember me. I pointed out that I left the Jewish Labor Committee in 1962 when she was hired, and that we attended meetings together, and that she wrote to me on a few occasions regarding JLC business after I left. She said she still didn’t remember. Perhaps it was because, in 1962, I was married and had a wife who was about to give birth to their third child. It was now 17 years later, and I was divorced. I asked her out, and she said yes. I was delighted to learn that she lived three blocks away.

We had a great first date. I enjoyed the introductory banter, relating my history, and hearing Fran’s story. She was lovely: Dark hair, striking face, nice figure, very bright, just the right age: 43. We had a wonderful evening together. And we began to spend a lot of time with each other. That summer, she invited me to the cabin she rented with her friend Miki in Gayhead on Martha’s Vineyard, my first visit to the Vineyard.

But there was a problem. I had had a relationship with a woman in Washington, and when I went to Washington to attend Commission meetings, I would see her, despite the fact that I really wanted to end the relationship. Fran became aware of my involvement, was upset by it, and it became a source of friction.

By the beginning of 1981, Fran and I had been "going out" for a year and a half. We had good times together. I enjoyed her Boston friends, and Fran got to know my friends. We were comfortable with each other. We had the same values, interests and politics. During the summer of 1980, the building in which I lived was sold to a developer who started tearing it apart. I moved to a condo in Brookline in September which put some distance between us, but we continued to see each other as frequently.

In February I took a one month leave, and drove down the Eastern Seaboard, sightseeing and visiting friends. We were out of touch, but when I returned, I found a letter from Fran. The following is from a journal that I kept during this period. The entry is dated Sunday, March 15, 1981:

" In the mail was a note from Fran about something 'unexpected' that came up and she must speak to me…I called her…and the unexpected was—she’s pregnant! The news thrilled me. And decided me. I love her and it makes all the sense in the world that we marry. I went to her apartment, brought champagne and we celebrated. She told me of her anxiety for the five weeks. It happened the Tuesday night before I left. I am very happy and want everything to work out. That she should have a healthy baby and she should be well, and we will get a house and take up a wonderful life together. It’s a mindblower! And absolutely great! And right! How about that!"

The months flew by. We joked about a shotgun wedding. Fran's father was clearly confused. When Fran would visit her parents' apartment house, looking pregnant, he would take her up the back staircase so the neighbors wouldn't know. Her mother was wonderful, happy and solicitous. Ida's 45 year old daughter was going to have a baby. She indulged Fran even more, and I became the recipient of her kindness as well.

It was the end of March. We started to plan for our wedding. Since the baby was due in November, we thought we should get married as soon as possible. July seemed like a good date. Rabbi Al Axelrad, the activist Hillel Rabbi at Brandeis University, was the natural choice to perform the wedding. We had a delightful meeting with him, and he said he would be happy to officiate. He gave us a check list for the marriage ceremony, reminding us about getting blood tests, the marriage license, the Ketubah, the Chuppah and the glass to be shattered at the end of the ceremony. He also added something that seldom comes up at such meetings: recommendations for a Mohel to perform the circumcision.

We told him about ourselves. He then said that since I had been married before and did not have a Get, a Jewish divorce, if I did not get a Get, the baby would be a "momzer" (illegitimate). Fran was shocked to hear that, and I immediately made arrangements to have my former wife meet me at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York where the Get would be gotten. It was. I have since learned that Rabbi Axelrad was wrong. But better to get it and not need it, than to need it and not get it.

Looking back, the preparations for the wedding have taken on a rosy glow, but I am sure it was a lot more frenetic than I now remember. First, we chose the day: Sunday, July 26, and cleared it with Rabbi Axelrad. Then, the place: Fran maintained a friendship with Bob Manners, her anthropology professor at Brandeis, and his wife Jean. They had a lovely home in Newton with a large front lawn and back yard, and they generously agreed to our having the wedding there. We put together our wedding invitation list, and sent out the invitations. Fran knew a jeweler who made our wedding rings, she found a wonderful caterer, we obtained a chuppah from Harvard Hillel, rented the chairs and tables from whoever rents them, got lovely floral displays, and a beautiful wedding cake from Rosies. Soon after I came to Boston, I had met a street musician named Bob Gay, who played a great jazz alto saxophone near Downtown Crossing. He was occasionally accompanied by a guitar player named Bob Flowers. (This was just before Klezmer was becoming popular.) I asked him if he and his buddy would play for our wedding, and he thought it was a terrific idea. They were wonderful. They didn’t know too many Jewish wedding pieces, but they faked it, and they played great jazz standards.

It was a beautiful and memorable day. It started with the signing of the Ketubah., our marriage contract, witnessed by my friends Sol Rauch and Phil Bernstein. The chuppah was held by my cousin Bob Schlitt, by Fran’s brother-in-law Larry Miles and by my friends Sid Stern and Bob Epstein. Friends and family were gathered around on the Manners' front lawn. The procession consisted of Fran’s parents, my children, and then the bride and groom. Fran had a small bouquet of flowers which she held in front of her. When David was small, Fran told him that he was at the wedding, pointing to her stomach. For years, David thought Fran was pointing to the flowers and assumed that babies came from flowers.

The ceremony was traditional, but light and joyous. Rabbi Axelrad said all the right things. We chose not to write any special vows, which seems to be all the rage today. We were happy to have the Rabbi ask us if we take each other as husband and wife, to share our life together, to honor and respect each other, to care for each other in tenderness, and to create a warm and loving family life. And to all of that we said yes. And we exchanged rings, and said in Hebrew, led by Rabbi Axelrad, that "with this ring be thou consecrated unto me according to the law of Moses and Israel." We drank the wine, then broke the glass, everyone yelled Mazel Tov and we all hugged and kissed, ate and drank, and celebrated an unforgettable moment.

And now, 25 years later, we have a remarkable son, have had a great many adventures, and have a marriage that is still a work in progress.


Original Format




Jacob Schlitt, “#30 My Courtship of, and Marriage to, Frances Morrill,” Autobiographical stories & other writing by Jacob Schlitt, accessed July 14, 2024, https://tsirlson.omeka.net/items/show/28.