CPS Unit Number 087-01

CPS Unit Number 087-01

Camp: 87

Unit ID: 1

Title: Brattleboro Retreat

Operating agency: AFSC

Opened: 2 1943

Closed: 9 1946


CPS Unit No. 87, a Mental Hospital unit at Brattleboro Retreat in Brattleboro, Vermont operated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) opened in February 1943. After AFSC withdrew from CPS in spring 1946, the Selective Service oversaw the unit until its closure in September 1946. The men served as ward attendants.

Brattleboro, Vermont, United States
Location Description:

The hospital, funded fifty percent by the state and fifty percent by private sources, housed about seven hundred and fifty patients.  It experienced staff shortage during the war. 

The Brattleboro Retreat statement of mission and history follow:

The Brattleboro Retreat was founded in 1834 by a $10,000 donation from Anna Marsh as attested to in her will. The hospital was the first facility for the mentally ill in Vermont, and one of the first ten psychiatric hospitals in the United States. The new facility was patterned on a Quaker concept called moral treatment, a daring departure in the care for the mentally ill.

Patients were treated with dignity and respect in a caring, family-like environment that included meaningful work, cultural pursuits, wholesome nutrition and daily exercise. In support of this philosophy, the Retreat pioneered an impressive list of hospital firsts: the first continuous patient newspaper; the first attendant's training course; the first gymnasium, camping programs, swimming pools and bowling alley, and the first self sufficient dairy farm; all reflecting the emphasis on physical well being. http://www.brattlebororetreat.org/about/mission-history

Camp staff:

Directors: Robert Dick, Luther Kirsch, Joseph Albrecht

The people:

Men in Friends camps and units in general, reported diversity in religious affiliation including no affiliation when entering CPS. 


On average, men in Friends camps had completed 14.27 years of education, with sixty-eight percent having completed some college work, graduated from college, or completed graduate work.  Forty-three percent of men in the AFSC camps reported professional and technical job experience when they entered CPS.  (Sibley and Jacob pp. 171-72)


Forty –three men served at Brattleboro from 1943 to 1946.  Of those men, twenty-five had served in one or more other camps or unit.  Both the sending camp and the receiving camp or unit reviewed applications for transfer.


A number of the men were married.

The work:

Men in the mental health unit served as ward attendants and in that role supervised patients, looked out for their physical welfare and cleanliness. 

Camp life:

The men scheduled a Sunday evening session and a Thursday study group to accommodate all for whom religion was important.


The wives of married men lived on the hospital grounds.  Many worked in the unit, receiving $60 per month, while their husbands collected the $2.50 monthly allowance permitted under Selective Service regulations.


As in other mental health units, the COs experienced distrust from the regular employees who feared that the COs would replace them, particularly since many of the COs were more educated than the regular staff. 


Hospital director Dr. Elliott negotiated with both the American Legion and labor leaders to ensure the staff that the CPS unit members would not displace regular employees.  COs reported that the professional staff was cordial but distant. 


One of the men assumed responsibility of personnel secretary and one as education secretary for the unit.  The unit budgeted $250 a year for books and speakers. 


At the conclusion of the war, the Brattleboro Retreat leadership expressed reluctance to let the COs go, as they had become very dependent on the men.


Center for Research in Vermont Research in Progress Seminar # 205 presentation “Work of National Importance: Conscientious objectors in Civilian Public Service in Vermont during World War II”, by Michael Sherman, January 22, 2007 at The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont.


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.


 http://www.brattlebororetreat.org/about/mission-history, accessed August 27, 2010.