Back in January, I wrote about Harry Morris & his disappearance. You can see the earlier post published on January 13, 2013. His grandson Joe & I have spent many hours searching online for Harry & have never found anything. He simply disappeared from Kansas City — leaving his wife, Flora (Blume Kremer) Morris, with six children to care for. Because a person can’t completely vanish in today’s world, I have had a hard time accepting that he just walked out. I understand divorce and separation, but I can’t imagine never coming back to see your children. Thanks to Flora’s other recent immigrant family members from Russia and Lithuania, she somehow managed to keep her family together. And she eventually remarried and lived to be 81 years old, living from 1890 to 1971. Flora (Blume Kremer) was a resourceful and resilient woman.
Now with better communication, computers, DNA tests, etc., it is a rare occurrence that a man (or woman) can go to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes & never return. Harry’s grandson, Joe, has had his DNA tested on familytreedna.com and maybe some day, someone will be a good DNA match and the pieces can be put together.
My interest in Harry Morris started when I began trying to help my daughter’s Russian & Eastern European side of her family create a family tree. Over the last weeks, I have read many articles about the difficulties that these new immigrants had in adjusting to their lives in America. I bought a used book titled “Mid-America’s Promise: A Profile of Kansas City Jewry” that was edited by Joseph D. Schultz & published in 1982.
I bought this book hoping that it might contain some references to my daughter’s family members. Unfortunately, there aren’t any with the one exception of a photo of Robert “Bob” Bernstein who invented the McDonald’s Happy Meal. But, from this wonderful book I have learned how these Russian & Eastern European immigrants, at the turn of the 20th Century, ended up in Kansas City, MO.
I will try to keep this short, but a brilliant man named Jacob Billikopf was instrumental in the Kansas City immigration story. He was a recent immigrant from Lithuania who worked with other Jewish leaders to try and remedy the situation in New York. The wave of immigrants had begun to overwhelm New York’s resources and the city leader’s were quickly becoming desperate. The book explains how Jacob created the “Billikopf Route”. Many representatives of American Jewish charities traveled to Hamburg & Bremerhaven to try and convince the immigrants to land and move further west from NYC. Jacob Billikopf basically created the Galveston, TX route in order to help the immigrants find a “more assured future”. He managed Kansas City’s Jewish social services and found jobs and housing for the people willing to travel further west.
That said, it doesn’t explain what happened to Harry Morris. While many Eastern European immigrants were able to quickly assimilate, some were not. The ones who landed in NYC could hold onto their old ways, Yiddish language, and customs longer than the immigrants who moved further west. There was more pressure on those who took the “Billikopf Route” and some felt very isolated in their new country. There were also social and cultural rifts between the older German Jewish population and the new poorer Eastern European immigrants.
Desertion, the poor man’s “divorce”, happened so often among the Eastern Europeans that a National Desertion Bureau was formed to help locate the wayward Jewish husbands and fathers. Jacob Billikopf became very disturbed by the problems created by desertion and death. He and Judge Edward Porterfield wrote and passed a bill in 1911 that established a “Mothers’ Assistance Fund” in Kansas City. This bill was a forerunner to the Aid to Dependent Children programs across the country.
The problems caused by desertion didn’t occur only in Kansas City. The situation was so bad that the Jewish Daily Forward, the largest-circulation Yiddish daily in the world, began running the “Gallery of Missing Men,” a page full of mug shots of these husbands. It was published to shame them into returning to their families. Or maybe to warn other women about these scoundrels.