An archive of newsletters published during and after the Second World War by conscientious objectors at Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps throughout the United States. A trove of information about those who served in the camps, camp life, and the attempts of objectors to engage intellectually and morally with the ongoing cataclysm in Europe and the Pacific.
CPS camps were established to support citizens who claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion. They provided an alternative means for conscientious objectors (COs) to fulfill their national service duties as outlined by the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. From 1941 to 1947, nearly 12,000 men accepted assignments without pay to perform “work of national importance” in 152 CPS camps throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The three historic peace churches – the Quakers, the Brethren, and the Mennonites – concerned over of the abysmal treatment of conscientious objectors during World War I, worked with the government to operate the camps.
The newsletters published by the COs at these camps provided a way for them to disseminate camp news. They also served as a record of where people were stationed (and in some cases provide biographical information), a medium for expressing feelings about camp operations, and a vehicle for disseminating pacifist views. Whether or not one agrees with their views, the quality of the writing is generally articulate and well informed, varying in style from the chatty to outraged to didactic. It’s hard to know just how representative the views expressed in these newsletters are, but the sense of mission is palpable and moving.
Most of the newsletters in this collection bear the mailing address of M.B. Rovner, editor of Buffalo Teacher, from Buffalo, New York. This was probably Maurice Benjamin Rovner (1905-???), who according to his 1940 draft card was a native of the Ukraine, then employed as a teacher at McKinley Vocational High School in Buffalo. Rovner seems to have been an active collector of political material: A Bolerium Books catalog of civil rights material features 75 items from his collection.
CPS camp newsletters are ephemeral by nature and must have had modest print runs, and are thus rare survivors. I find no issues of any of these imprints for sale on ABEbooks.com, and a more general search yields less than a handful of offerings for any camp newsletters. OCLC lists no more than a handful of institutional holdings for any of the imprints offered here.
A rare and wonderful collection of primary source material for this important chapter in American pacifism.
Background and information on individual camps from “Civilian Public Service Story”, a web site of the Mennonite Central Committee.
The collection contains 48 issues from eight camps across the United States.
1) Builders. Wellston, Michigan: Civilian Public Service Camp 42, 1942-44. 4 issues, including Vol. II No. II; Vol. III No. 2; Vol. IV No. 1; and Vol. IV, No. 2. Mimeographed on 8 ½”x 11” white paper, stapled in upper right corner.
The Forest Service base camp opened in Wellston, Michigan in June 1942, when CPS Camp No. 17 at Stronach, Michigan closed. The Brethren Service Committee operated the camp until it closed in September 1946. The men fought fires, engaged in fire prevention as well as maintenance and preparation of equipment for fighting fires. The April 1943 issue contains a full-page map of the camp and attached is a quarter sheet late bulletin noting that a hunger strike by “Murphy and Taylor” ended after 82 days. “Selective Service and the Bureau of Prisons have both given the men assurance that they would be released under Plan 4 of Executive Order 8641 for work that they can conscientiously perform. According to Dr. (Evan) Thomas (Chairman of the War Resisters League) this action will set a precedent of parole release for all c.o.’s now in about twenty-two federal prisons who wish to accept parole.” OCLC 27253953.
2) Cooperstown. Cooperstown, NY: Civilian Public Service Camp No. 12, 1942-43. 2 issues, including Vol. II Nos. 1-2. Mimeographed on 8 ½” x 11” white paper, stapled at left.
This was a Forest Service base camp in Cooperstown, operated by the American Friends Service Committee from 1941-45. The men of the camp worked in timber management, including timber surveys, harvesting, pest control, and planting, and participated in the U.S. Forest Survey, surveying 1.7 million acres of forest. One article mentions three the departure—for reasons of principle–of three “campers” from the nearby Big Flats CPS Camp, one of whom argued that the CPS program “does not permit us to realize the social responsibilities that brought us here . . . Complete exemption is the only way that an individual can fulfill his responsibility.” (Vo. II No. 1, p. 7) OCLC 27208092.
3) The Kane Penn. Kane, Pennsylvania: CPS Camp No. 16, 1942-43. 10 issues, including Vol. I, Nos. 8-12, 16, 20, 22, 24. The first 5 issues are 8 ½” x 11”, the last 5 are 8 ½” x 14”, on newsprint sheets, lightly toned.
This camp was a Forest Service base camp located near the Allegheny National Forest, and operated by the Brethren Service Committee. It opened in July 1941 and closed in November 1944. Assignees fought fires, conducted fire prevention duties, and prepared for fire control. Several of the issues list the names of new members of the camp, along with camp news and the views of men at the camp. Volume I, No. 12 contains a story about a visit from Select Service representative “Mr. Olson”, who told campers the Selective Service would not tolerate “any attempt by C.P.S. men to influence public opinion on religious, political, social of racial questions.” OCLC 27208201.
4) The Mono Log. Coleville, California: CPS Camp Antelope in the Mono National Forest 1942. 3 issues, including Vol. 1, Nos. 1-3. Mimeographed on 8 ½” x 11” white paper, stapled in the upper right corner. Nos. 2 and 3 toned.
Camp No. 37 opened June 1, 1942, for emergency forest-fire fighting and drew its men from the nation’s other camps for conscientious objectors. The camp was located near Coleville, in Mono County, on the Nevada border at around 5,141 feet. It was initially operated by the American Friends Service Committee, but the organization withdrew from the CPS program in early March 1946, after struggling with criticism from COs and war resisters objecting to its cooperation with the Selective Service, which took over operations until the camp closed later in the year. The newsletter contains camp news along with political activism. In the first issue there’s a report of the camp wiring Selective Service to object to the evacuation of a Japanese American who sought refuge at a CO camp in Oregon, while the second issue contains a full-page article and call to action in support of the Japanese Americans imprisoned in camps across the west. Unlike most of the other newsletters The Mono Log features illustrations, including a bird’s-eye view of the camp in No. 1 and a map of Mono National Forest in No. 2. OCLC 10472659.
5) The Olive Branch. Grottoes, Virginia: CPS Camp No. 4, 1942-44. 24 issues, including Vol. I, Nos. 22-24; Vol. II, Nos. 1-4, 6-14, 19, 21, 22, 24; Vol. 3, Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6, 7. Mimeographed on 8 ½” x 11” white paper with color paper covers, stapled in the upper right corner.
Volume II, No. 2 contains a complete camp directory, listing every members’ name, their hometown, occupation, and denomination. Most of the men in camp were from either Ohio and Pennsylvania and Mennonite. The camp was a Soil Conservation Service base camp, located three and a half miles east of Grottoes, Virginia, just outside of Shenandoah National Park. The Mennonite Central Committee opened the camp in May 1941 and closed it in May 1946. Each issue of the newsletter lists new members, and reports on camp news, including sports and religious activities. OCLC 10638133.
6) Peace Pathways. Magnolia, Arkansas: CPS Camp 7, 1942. 1 issue, Vol. II, No. 19. Mimeographed on 8 ½” x 11” white paper with two staples along the left edge.
This camp was a Soil Conservation Service base camp operated by The Brethren Service Committee. It opened in Magnolia, Arkansas in June 1941 and closed in November 1944. Men terraced land, constructed channels for runoff water, and performed other soil conservation work. The newsletter provided a mixture of camp news along with religious and pacifist views. OCLC 27153772.
7) The Plowshare. Merom, Indiana: CPS Camp 14, 1942. 2 issues, Vol. 1, Nos. 11 and 12. Mimeographed on 8 ½” x 11” paper with color paper covers and two staples along the left edge.
The camp was a Soil Conservation Service base camp, operated by the American Friends Service Committee. The camp was situated on a bluff high above the Wabash River, thirty-four miles south of Terra Haute, on the grounds of the Merom Institute. It opened in June 1941 and closed in April 1943. Men worked on irrigation projects to reclaim and develop farmland. Volume 1, No. 11 was titled the anniversary issues and provided an overview of the soil conservation work being done at the camp. A short article also reports the findings of a brief survey showing that 80 percent of the COs were not in favor of serving in government run selective service camps. OCLC 833553428 et al, all single issues held by Central Connecticut State University.
8) Strike News. [Glendora, California:] CPS Camp #76, 1946-47. 2 issues, October 22, 1946 and February 8, 1947. Printed on 8 ½” x 11” color paper, accompanied by a 3” x 5” postcard seeking support for the striking men.
Strike News was published by the men at CPS Camp #76, a forest service camp for conscientious objectors near Glendora, California. The newsletter provided an update on their strike against restrictions in Selective Service policies, precipitated by a notice of the transfer of two men deemed to be the ring leaders of the camp. This action was related to the efforts by COs at different camps across the country to form the CPS Union (CPSU). Its major interests were to improve pay and benefits, including those for dependents, and the working conditions and rights of all CPS men. Twenty-five men went on strike on April 24, 1946, and three weeks later, the numbers had grown to eighty-two men on strike with sympathy strikes by men at other camps. OCLC 27402508.