CPS Unit No. 84, a Mental Hospital unit at New Hampshire State Hospital in Concord, New Hampshire operated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), opened in February 1943. When AFSC withdrew from the CPS program in April 1946, Selective Service administered the unit until it closed in June 1946. The men, as well as some of their wives, served as ward attendants.
In general, men in Friends operated units reported diversity in religious affiliation as well as no religious affiliation when entering CPS. This unit included Muslim Nazeer Aleem. (Taylor p. 89)
Men in Friends camps and units entered with an average of 14.27 years of education, with sixty-eight percent having taken some college or graduated, enrolled in graduate and post graduate work. About forty-three percent of men in Friends camps and units entered CPS from professional and technical occupations. (Sibley and Jacob pp. 171-72)
Similarly, the women often brought an array of special skills, “ranging from medicine, behavioral sciences and nursing to teaching and secretarial services.” (Sareyan p. 90.)
In a 1988 survey reflecting on experiences in mental hospitals, one CO recalled returning to the hospital years later to visit a patient.
One man rushed up to him as soon as the doctor opened the door to the ward . . .with obvious joy: “I haven’t seen you for seven years. . . .” The doctor’s attitude toward me immediately changed from reserve to warmth. The patient who greeted me so effusively had not been on the ward on which I had been stationed during the war. He had worked in the laundry where I used to see him casually on a daily basis. I was glad that he, whom I could scarcely recall, remembered me with such affection. It made me feel good to see how much pleasure I had brought to someone whose life I had touched so briefly so many years earlier. (in Sareyan p. 253-54)
The men and a number of their wives served as ward attendants.
Some wives served as nurses and held other significant positions. Unlike the men, the women received the same pay afforded to regular employees as they were not subject to Selective Service regulations.
John Burrowes, in reflecting back on his years in the unit described both the difficulty of the work and also the significant role played by the wives in the unit. "They often had more influence on policy than we did. I can think of several wives who were very important in the morale and general management of the group. Without them, we would not have succeeded very well because we were working a long-enough week so that we had very little energy left over." (in Sareyan p. 91) He went on to add that he felt “these women were often the clearest minds concerned with the work we were doing."
It was not unusual for the men to work seventy-eight hour weeks. Burrowes described the central purpose of the work as “adding both intelligence and sane balance to a world that was often out of proportion." (p. 91)
Some men lived outside the hospital in Concord. John Burrowes and his wife, along with Bob Carey . . . “started a cooperative house in Concord which was particularly useful to those wives who became pregnant and were able to work at the time." (in Sareyan p. 91)
Those who lived off the hospital grounds made contacts with people in the community and formed lifelong friendships there.
The COs at Concord actively campaigned for higher salaries and improved working conditions for the regular employees. On October 15, 1945, The Daily Monitor and New Hampshire Patriot, under a banner headline “Conscientious Objectors Ask State Hospital for 100% Pay Boost and 40-Hour Week”, reported on demands submitted to Superintendent Dr. Charles H. Dollof.
A subsequent letter to the editor by Ross Sanderson, unit assistant director, clarified that complaints about low salaries and working conditions had existed well before the arrival of the COs. It was CO leadership that finally articulated the need for more equitable working conditions for employees. His letter also made clear that COs pay (which was a small monthly allowance only), and benefits were governed by Selective Service policies. (Sareyan p. 124)
In December 1943, the unit members published one issue of a camp paper named 84. From January 1944 through April 1946, members published one hundred editions of Unit News.
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.
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.
For an in depth history of conscientious objection in the United States, see Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-1947. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952.
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.
For more information on CPS Unit No. 84, New Hampshire State Hospital, Concord, New Hampshire, see Section 3 of AFSC checklist for scanned unit report (1943-1945).