CPS Unit No. 79, a Mental Hospital unit at Utah State Hospital in Provo, Utah operated by Mennonite Central Committee, opened in March 1943 and closed in April 1946. The men worked in a variety of roles in the hospital.
Utah State Hospital in Provo, Utah was opened in 1885 as the Territorial Insane Asylum. From the beginning, its purpose was to treat the mentally ill “and to return them to a normal level of functioning.” In the early days, and it was little more than a human warehouse. By 1955 the population had grown to over fifteen hundred patients.
Twenty-five men served in this unit; a large majority of them were married.
The men worked in a variety of roles at the hospital, including ward attendant and filled in to cover staff shortages in a number of assignments.
The wives of COs were accepted in the community and found jobs there.
The unit met on Wednesday evenings to discuss the Sunday school lesson. Both the men and their wives sang in choirs, participated in Christian Endeavor, and taught in summer Bible school.
Some of the men earned course credit at Brigham Young University.
Samuel L. Yoder some fifty years later reflected on his time at Utah State Hospital.
Twenty COs settled into rather comfortable living quarters and for the first time since leaving home we were on the payroll, $15 a month, $7.50 coming every two weeks.
What did I know coming from the community I did [Amish] about schizophrenia, manic depression, involutional melancholia? Crazy was something we did not know. The odd ones as I was growing up were cared for in the home and by the community. The hospital staff did much to orient us to our task.
After an assortment of fill-in jobs I was assigned to the insulin and electric shock unit. This was a job I enjoyed. It provide excellent introduction to an understanding of mental illness.
. . . My experience in three mental hospitals in a small way was part of the fabric that laid the foundation for our own Mennonite Mental Health program.
(“Detour . . . Main Highway”: Our CPS Stories pp. 74-75)
For more information on this unit and other mental health 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.
For more information on women COs see Rachel Waltner Goossen, Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-47. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
For personal stories of CPS men, see Peace Committee and Seniors for Peace Coordinating Committee of the College Mennonite Church of Goshen, Indiana, “Detour . . . Main Highway”: Our CPS Stories. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1995, 2000.
See also 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.
Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Camp periodicals database.
For more in depth treatment of the 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.
http://www.ush.utah.gov/history.htm accessed April 6, 2011.