CPS Unit Number 088-01
Unit ID: 1
Title: Augusta State Hospital
Operating agency: BSC
Opened: 4 1943
Closed: 5 1946
CPS Unit No. 88, a Mental Hospital unit located at Augusta State Hospital in Augusta, Maine operated by the Brethren Service Committee, opened in April 1943 and closed in May 1946. The majority of the men served as ward attendants.
The first ten men at the unit came from ten states, ten different denominations, and ranged in education completed from grade seven through four years of graduate school.
The majority of the men served as ward attendants, although some also served in clerical, agricultural, maintenance and construction, motor vehicle operation, technical and professional as well as food preparation roles.
Of the 15,665 person hours accomplished during the life of the unit at Augusta State Hospital, ward attendants provided 9,968 hours while those serving in maintenance and construction roles gave 1,891 hours, and those in food preparation contributed 2,053 hours of service. (Selective Service form DSS 52 as published in Eisan p. 212)
COs worked sixty hours per week at Augusta State Hospital. The ratios of personnel to patients at Augusta revealed one assistant physician to three hundred and eighteen patients, and one nurse attendant to ten patients. At that time, the American Psychiatric Association required ratios of one physician to one hundred fifty patients and one nurse or attendant to eight patients. (Report filed with the National Committee for Mental Hygiene in Taylor p. 166-67)
Since the unit was small, twenty-five men, the superintendent believed that he did not have sufficient staff to offer a course in psychiatry.
An information sheet on the hospital described the work as “often hard and dirty”, required changing of soiled clothing and bedding, shaving and feeding of persons “likely to be revolting at first sight”. (Taylor p. 204)
Superintendent Forest C. Tyson accepted COs, but wanted to be certain that they did not try to persuade others to their beliefs. . .”because the employees of the Hospital are responsible to the taxpayers of the State of Maine, and because the patients dare not be unduly disturbed or excited. . .” (Taylor p. 190)
Relations with employees at the hospital were generally quite good for the COs. However, occasional incidents occurred, when regular employees expressed dislike of COs. On one occasion a drunken worker objected to being served by a CO. (Taylor p. 191)
One CO, in a 1988 survey reflecting on his experience at the hospital responded, “The presence of our unit at Augusta State Hospital served as a ‘moral governor’ to the rest of the hospital staff”. (Sareyan p. 249)
Since the men in Brethren camps and units reported many different denominational affiliations when entering CPS, those undertaking leadership on religious activities planned accordingly. At Augusta the men decided to capitalize on the denominational and other differences and learn from them. The men took turns with each being responsible for an evening’s service, sharing from his perspective and experience. In general, the men seemed to gain from this kind of “worshipful sharing”.
Some housing was provided at Augusta for COs, as well as for the wives who also worked at the hospital.
The men at Augusta had been upset with the Selective Service Directive No. 4 in early 1945. It placed restrictions on outside work as well as on living outside of unit housing when not on duty. Nelson Underwood, the BSC assistant director noted in his report that the general affect of the directive was that it contributed to a restlessness and unhappiness, even though the men complied.
The Brethren Service Committee considered withdrawing from CPS in late 1945 and early 1946, even polling COs at all of their units.
The Columbus State Hospital unit in Ohio passed a resolution urging withdrawal of the Augusta State Hospital unit due to unfair treatment of assignees there. (Taylor p. 125)
For information on Brethren mental health and training school units see Leslie Eisan, Pathways of Peace: A History of the Civilian Public Service Program Administered by the Brethren Service Committee. Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House, 1948, Chapter 6, pp. 205-238.
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.