CPS Unit Number 120-01
Unit ID: 1
Title: Kalamazoo State Hospital
Operating agency: MCC
Opened: 12 1943
Closed: 7 1946
CPS Camp No. 120Box 2, Folder 21. MCC Photographs, Civilian Public Service, 1941-1947. IX-13-2.2. Mennonite Central Committee Photo Archive
CPS Unit No. 120, a Mental Hospital unit located at Kalamazoo State Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan and operated by Mennonite Central Committee, opened in December 1943 and closed in July 1946. Men in the unit served as ward attendants or in related roles.
Kalamazoo State Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan welcomed the Mennonite Central Committee mental health unit in December 1943. The unit closed in July 1946.
Thirty men, all reporting Mennonite denominational affiliations, comprised the unit. Most were from farming areas in the Midwest.
Men in Mennonite camps and units, when entering CPS, on average had completed 10.45 years of education, with fifteen percent having completed 1-3 years of college. Another seven percent had either graduated from college or completed some graduate education. Fifty-nine percent reported their occupations on entry into CPS as farming or other agriculture work. Twenty-three percent when entering CPS, reported occupations in technical and professional work or business management, sales and public administration (Sibley and Jacob p. 171-72)
The men served as ward attendants or in other related roles.
The hospital staff provided a series of fifteen lectures on the care of the mentally ill. That was followed several months later with a lecture series on psychology, mental hygiene, and mental health.
One of the men, when reflecting back in 1988 on his work experience, recalled how the men were received at the hospital:
Upon our arrival at Kalamazoo, our CPS unit was greeted with enthusiasm and support by the hospital’s administration. The commendable reports which they had received about the work performance of the CPS unit at Ypsilanti State Hospital triggered their receptivity to a similar unit for the institution. Notices had been placed on bulletin boards throughout the hospital advising members of the regular staff who felt they could not work with COs in their midst to turn in their keys rather than stay and make trouble. Some opted to leave. Most stayed. (in Sareyan p. 241)
Superintendent R. A. Mortar expressed deep appreciation for the men’s service, indicating that he did not know how the hospital could have operated during the war years without their assistance. He further expressed that he had “never heard a complaint from the relative of a patient, or any other employee, regarding the behavior of any one of the assignees”. (Letter to Colonel Kosch, May 31, 1946 in Gingerich p. 240-41)
For more information on this and other Mennonite mental hospital and training school units, see Melvin Gingerich, Service for Peace: A History of Mennonite Civilian Public Service. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee printed by Herald Press, Scottdale, PA 1949, Chapter XVI pp. 213-251.
See Alex Sareyan, The Turning Point: How Persons of Conscience Brought About Major Change in the Care of America’s Mentally Ill. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1994.
See also Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-47. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952.
Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Camp periodicals database.
For more in depth treatment of mental health and training school units, see Steven J. Taylor, Acts of Conscience: World War II, Mental Institutions, and Religious Objectors. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2009.