Special Collections & University Archives University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Civilian Public Service Camps

Civilian Public Service Camp Newsletter Collection, 1941-1944.
1 box (0.25 linear feet).
Call no.: MS 537

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 to perform 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 mental health. While the work was supposed to be of national importance, many of the men later complained that the labor was menial and not as important as they had hoped. Furthermore with no ability to earn wages and with their churches and families responsible for financing the camps, many COs, their wives and children found themselves impoverished both during and after the war.

During their time off, many of the men in the CPS camps published newsletters discussing education programs, which frequently involved religious study, work projects, and news about individuals sent to family and friends back home. This collections consists of newsletters created in camps in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Indiana, Maryland, and Colorado.

Background

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.

Contents of Collection

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.

arrow

Inventory of Collection
“Action”, Publication of the CPS Conference on Social Action, CPS III, Mancos, Colorado
1943 Oct-1944 June
Box 1:1
“Atom”, CPS Camp 11, Ashburnham, Massachusetts
1942 May-Aug
Box 1:2
“Bluffton Peace Sentinel”, Bluffton, Indiana
1941Oct-1942 Mar
Box 1:3
“Builders”, Camp Wellston, Vol. IV, No. 1
1944 Jan
Box 1:4
“Bulletin, The”, CPS Camp 32, West Campton, New Hampshire
1942 Dec., 1943 Apr-Jun
Box 1:5
“53″, Civilian Public Service Camp #53, Gorham, New Hampshire, Issue #3
1943 Mar-Apr
Box 1:6
“Columbian, The”, Cascade Locks, Oregon Vol. 1, No. 18
1943 Feb
Box 1:7
“Germfask News Letter”, Germfask, Michigan, No. 5
1944 Oct 13
Box 1:8
“Harmony”, Civilian Public Service Camp No. 34, Bowie, Maryland
1942 Sept-1943 Jan
Box 1:9
“Irrigator, The”, Trenton CPS Camp 94
1943 Apr-June
Box 1:10
“Jasper-Pulaski Peace Sentinel”, Medaryville, Indiana
1942 June
Box 1:11
“More of the Truth About the Lewisburg Fast”, A Reply by Jim Watson to a letter from Bennett
undated
Box 1:12
“Olive Branch, The”, Denison, Iowa Vol. I, No. 3
1941 Nov 4
Box 1:13
“Plowshare”, Merom, Indiana
1941 Oct-1942 Dec
Box 1:14
“San Dimas Rattler”
1943 June
Box 1:15
“Special Supplement to New Roots”, Issue # 7, Royalston, Massachusetts CPS Camp
1942 Oct
Box 1:16
Summary of Letters received on “Towards greater opportunity”
1942 Aug 22
Box 1:17
arrow

Provenance

Acquired from Eugene Povirk, 2009.

Processing Information

Processed by Kristen Johnson, January 2011.

Related Material

Among other collections in SCUA pertaining to World War II-era conscientious objection, see:

  • William K. Hefner Papers (MS 129) — pertaining to his post-war career
  • Stephen Siteman Papers (MS 503)
  • Robert and Waldemar Schultze Papers (MS 528)

Copyright and Use (More informationConnect to publication information)

Cite as: Civilian Public Service Camp Newsletter Collection (MS 537). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Subjects
  • Civilian Public Service--Periodicals
  • Conscientious objectors--United States
  • Pacifists--United States
  • World War, 1939-1945--Conscientious objectors--United States
Types of material
  • Newsletters
Leave a Comment

 
Special Collections and University Archives logo