CPS Unit Number 092-01
Unit ID: 1
Operating agency: MCC
Opened: 4 1943
Closed: 6 1946
Total number of workers who worked in this camp: 38
CPS Unit No. 92, a Training School unit at Vineland Training School in Vineland, New Jersey operated by Mennonite Central Committee, opened in April 1943 and closed in June 1946. The men performed maintenance, served as relief attendants, teachers, and in other roles at the school. Several wives also worked at the school.
Vineland Training School, a private institution located in Vineland, New Jersey, cared for five hundred and fifty children, then labeled “mentally retarded”.
Directors: Paul Ratzlaff, Harold Lehman
Sixteen men and five wives constituted the unit.
Ten of the men were college graduates and brought both teaching and administrative experience to the school. Men on average in Mennonite camps and units had completed 10.45 years of education, twenty-two percent having completed some college or all four years, or some graduate work. (Sibley and Jacob p. 171)
Fifty-nine percent of men in Mennonite projects reported farming or other agricultural work as their occupation upon entry into CPS. Twelve percent reported technical or professional occupations; eleven percent reported business, sales and public administration work; and five percent reported that they were students. (Sibley and Jacob p. 172)
The majority of men in Mennonite camps and units tended to report Mennonite denominational affiliations when they entered CPS.
The chief difference between mental health units and training schools lay in the type of patient admitted. Training schools were devoted to care of those whose mental conditions derived from hereditary factors, or for whom there was little or no hope for cure. The work in training schools was very similar to that in mental hospitals.
Set up on a cottage plan, the school operated quite self-sufficiently with its own farm colony, gardens, greenhouses, garages, cannery, laundry, store, school, clinical and research laboratories, hospital and related services.
Children who had achieved the mental age of five years studied reading, writing and arithmetic. Seldom did they advance beyond the fourth grade.
Earlier the school had acquired a national reputation as progressive, even called “The Village of Happiness”.
The men worked in maintenance, farming, food preparation, as relief attendants with the boys, as teachers, and one served as a hospital orderly. The wives did housework, teaching and secretarial work. Together they provided a total of forty-two years of service to the school during the life of the unit.
Unit members lived in two large modern cottages. The school permitted married CO couples who both worked to live together “on the condition that if a wife became pregnant she would leave”. Ruth Lehman, who had joined her husband at the hospital, later recalled “this happened to one of our number. The rest of us were very careful”. (Goossen p. 58)
Members dedicated Tuesday evenings to religious services. The men and women also participated in local churches.
The unit enjoyed good relations with the community. At first, the members experienced “definite opposition from the children”, evidently as a result of influence from some of the regular employees.
CPS unit members became keenly aware of the lack of public knowledge and understanding of patients labeled as mentally retarded. One of the COs, Arnold Krause provided leadership for unit members as they prepared a manuscript, Forgotten Children. They sent it to the CPS Mental Hygiene Program, which was working to increase public understanding of those now described as developmentally disabled. When the National Mental Health Foundation took over the CPS program, it converted Forgotten Children into an attractive pamphlet, regularly used by state agencies, training schools and the public. The concluding paragraph follows.
Though the American people have been called the greatest philanthropists in the world and the best informed of all people, this generosity and understanding somehow hasn’t extended to their feebleminded children. Too often they have been “forgotten children”. When they have been remembered at all, it has too often been for the wrongs they do with no consideration of the wrongs done to them. Their greatest handicap is not their low mentality, but the public’s lack of sympathy and understanding. Painstaking research over the past 100 years has found the key that can unlock the door to their welfare and happiness. Will we lose the opportunity? Or will we remember these “forgotten children”? (in Sareyan p. 82-83)
Vineland hosted a training school conference sponsored by the Mental Hygiene Program of CPS for representatives of CPS units, superintendents and church committee representatives February 23-24, 1945. Fifty-seven people attended the session.
Before they left Vineland, unit members prepared a carefully worded report for Board members and the State Commission. The eight page report, described by Gingerich as “carefully worded, objective, restrained but nonetheless critical”, recorded their observations from the beginning of their service at Vineland, noting that the institution was not currently living up to its reputation. Given their education and experience, the men and women felt that the training school could provide a better experience for the children. From their perspective it had lost its vision and as a result was moving “from a training school to a custodial institution”. (p. 237)
In a 1988 survey, one of the COs recalled his experience after a return visit to the school.
Strong personal friendships had been formed by the men in our unit at the Vineland Training School and the “students” confined to this facility for the developmentally disabled. Nearly 40 years later, I returned for a visit and met some of my former students. They still remembered the personnel of our CPS unit. They were eager to learn about the former members of the unit who had tutored them and with whom they had built warm and long-lasting friendships. (in Sareyan p. 253)
For more information on this unit and other mental hospital 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.
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.
See also Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-47. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952.
Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Camp periodicals database.
For a more in depth treatment of mental health units and training schools, see Steven J. Taylor, Acts of Conscience: World War II, Mental Institutions, and Religious Objectors. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2009.