CPS Unit Number 041-01

CPS Unit Number 041-01

Camp: 41

Unit ID: 1

Title: Eastern State Hospital

Operating agency: AFSC

Opened: 6 1942

Closed: 7 1946


CPS Camp No. 41, a Mental Hospital unit located at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia and operated by the American Friends Service Committee, opened in June 1942. After the American Friends Service Committee withdrew from the CPS program in the spring of 1946, Selective Service operated the unit until it closed in July 1946. The men served as attendants in the wards.

Williamsburg, Virginia, United States
Location Description:

This first CPS mental hospital unit operated by the American Friends Service Committee opened in June, 1942. 


Camp staff:

Directors: Calhoun Geiger, Gordon Foster

The people:

Thirty-five men staffed the unit. 


The men at American Friends Service Committee camps tended to constitute the most religiously diverse group of men, including men who had reported no religious affiliation when entering CPS.  Those reporting Friends affiliation tended to be a minority. 


Forty-three percent of men in Friends camps on entry into CPS reported their occupations as technical and professional, twelve percent reported entering as students, and another twelve percent entered from business management, sales and public administration occupations.  On average, men in Friends camps and units had completed 14.27 years of education, including sixty-eight percent who had completed some college or had graduated in addition to those who completed graduate and some post graduate work.  They tended to enter from cities rather than rural areas. (Sibley and Jacob 171-172)

The work:

Unit members served as attendants in the wards to offset critical staff shortage.  The men worked seventy-nine hour weeks, as required by the superintendant.  In the women’s ward, fifteen women attendants cared for twelve hundred women patients twenty-four hours per day. 

Camp life:

The COs immediately became very concerned about conditions and patient treatment in the hospital.  It was the first public asylum in the United States, having been founded in the late 1700s. The assignees had observed brutal treatment of patients by the regular employees, who were paid low wages and worked long hours. 


In the first year of the unit, a group of COs met with a non-CO, Marshall E. Suther, Jr., who had worked at the hospital but was awaiting induction into the military.  He and a friend had met with a lawyer to gather information on the hospital. 


Suther arranged a meeting with Virginia’s governor, Colgate Darden, who then had Suther meet with the state hospital commissioner Dr. H. C. Henry.  Based on what he heard, Dr. Henry asked the state hospital board to hear the report from Suther as well.  As a result, the state hospital board launched an investigation into the hospital.  Hearings were held from July 29 to August 4, 1943. 


To report this information was a risky strategy, one that could not only lead to an exposé, but also damage public relations for CPS and the COs.  Colonel Kosch of Selective Service, when made aware just before the investigative hearing, was reported to have observed that if the charges did not stand up, the COs would be sent to a government camp.


Testimony included Suther’s forty-three -page written brief which had been strengthened by observations and information from at least sixteen of the CPS unit men.  Four COs gave testimony at the hearing, one of whom was Hubert Taylor, a law graduate from Temple University.  He reported he had been working in a ward for violent patients who were caged, and had received no instructions on what to do in case of fire.   Other COs described how some patients were forced to sleep on urine soaked blankets with no blankets to keep warm.  The clinical director of the unit denied the charges. 


The attorney for the hospital superintendent tried to impugn the testimony of the COs.  On August 21, Superintendent Brown accused the COs of mistreating patients and he called for the dismissal of the unit.  When he released the statement, he included a resolution from the American Legion for the hospital “to rid itself of these men at once”. 


On August 30, regular employees signed a petition to remove the COs “in the interest of greater harmony” . . . and “as a testimony to our loyalty, respect, and complete agreement with Dr. Brown’s opinion.” 


On September 9, the state hospital board issued a report on its investigation.  The state board removed Superintendent Brown and made several recommendations, including shorter working hours for doctors, nurses and attendants.   For full discussion of the investigation, see Taylor pp. 237-43.


In 1945, the men rebelled against the 79-hour work week, five refusing to work.  Four new arrivals, who could not handle the load, “got drunk” and therefore could not work their shift.  Colonel Kosch of Selective Service, Paul French of the National Service Board for Religious Objectors, and Paul Furnas of the American Friends Service Committee got involved to bring resolution after Colonel Dunkle and A. S. Imrie from the Selective Service went to the unit to begin prosecution of the men refusing to work.  The hospital superintendent would not reduce the work week to sixty hours until AFSC would send more men to the unit. Negotiations went on for weeks before the controversy ended.


In July 1945, the men published High Time.  They also published a number of issues of a paper House Organ.  The Swarthmore College Peace Collection holds one issue of each publication.


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. Chapter 5 Collegiate Women Pacifists pp. 94-111 discusses women’s interests and work as aids in mental hospitals.


For general information on CPS camps see Albert N. Keim, The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service. Intercourse, PA: Good Books 1990. 


See also 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 a more in depth treatment on 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.