Born out of a unique collaboration between the United States government and the historic peace churches, the first Civilian Public Service camps were established in 1941 to provide conscientious objectors the option of performing alternative service under civilian command. Nearly 12,000 COs served in the 152 CPS camps in projects ranging from soil conservation, agriculture, and forestry to psychiatric care. While the work was ostensibly of national importance, many COs complained that the labor was menial at best, and with their churches and families responsible for financing the camps, and no ability to earn wages, the families of many COs found themselves impoverished both during and after the war.
During their time off, many of the men in the CPS camps published newsletters that offer insight into the conditions of internment, the prisoners' religious motives, social life inside the camps, and news from home and the war. This collection consists of newsletters published in camps in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Indiana, Maryland, and Colorado.
The collection is open for research.
When conscripted during the First World War, members of the historic peace churches (Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren) were typically provided with a stark choice: serve the military in a non-combatant role, which many refused, or serve in prison. The resulting experiences of conscientious objectors during the war, both the brutality inflicted upon them by their guards and their ardent non-compliance was viewed by both government and church as problematic. With the approach of the Second World War, leaders of the peace churches therefore banded together to work with the federal government to create a more satisfactory system for dealing with individuals who refused participation in the military for religious, moral, or ethical reasons.
As a result of peace church lobbying, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 included a provision for conscientious objectors (COs) from any tradition to "be assigned to work of national importance under civilian direction." Beginning in May 1941, COs were interned in barracks in a series of Civilian Public Service camps around the country, all funded by the churches, and assigned arduous work that ranged from forestry to firefighting, soil conservation and agriculture, and psychiatric care. Many internees refused even this accommodation with the military and several camps were subject to work stoppages or strikes during the later years of the war. The most non-compliant internees were remanded to federal prison. The camps remained in operation until March 1947, a year and a half after the end of the conflict.
This small collections contains newsletters and copies of two letters written by conscientious objectors interned in Civilian Public Service camps during the Second World War. The newsletters offer insight into the conditions of internment, the prisoners' religious motives, the war, and social life inside the camps.
Acquired from Eugene Povirk, 2009.
Processed by Kristen Johnson, January 2011.
Cite as: Civilian Public Service Camp Newsletter Collection (MS 537). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.