Interview with Verna Curtis

Interview with Verna Curtis

The following are excerpts from an interview with Verna Curtis (Russell Curtis's wife) for the Tulare County Years of Valor Project in which she discusses her and Russell's time in Civilian Public Service Camp 103, the economic hardships, and the relationship of the camp with the community:


"After Pearl Harbor, I thought I should drop out and become a nurse instead of finishing a degree. But I was talked out of that and proceeded to finish and met the young man I married and, of course, the main thing in all our lives was your draft number. And that was the subject of every conversation. Once the draft number was called, it was necessary to make plans to do what the judge instructed us to do, to go to a camp.

Your husband was given a draft number that sent him to a camp. What kind of camp was it? He came to Tulare County as opposed to going to the war front. Could you explain a little more about that?

Our major socializing, of course, was with young people who were Quakers, and Quakers or Friends, as they are otherwise called, are one of the major peace churches. They show their religious opposition to war and they very strongly feel that a war doesn't solve anything. It only makes problems worse. So beyond that, one's life, besides objecting to a world war, should be working on the problems and the injustices that cause a war.


Were you given rationing as a spouse of a young man assigned to do his Conscientious Objector term?

Yes, I think we shared the same numbers of rationing coupons that everyone did. It didn't seem to matter a lot because there was more of a subsistence life in Three Rivers. There was some need for a little money, because the men were not only not paid, but they had to pay to stay in this camp, so the $30 a month that was needed was soon exhausted from anybody's small savings. It was up to the wives to try to find a little money. I remember I painted the interiors of houses and did a little caring for children.

...We managed somehow and we were really very happy. Best of all was experiencing the community and I remember the community consisted of three groups. There were the ranchers, who were the cowboy type, and they were, for certain, the largest group. And, then there was a group of remnants of a Kaweah colony, a utopian community had been formed [in] the last part of the last century, and so there were still remnants of that community. People who stayed on and were socialists and liberals from various parts of Europe. The third group was a small group of artists and sculptors and painters.

It sounds like you were able to enjoy this community during that period of time. Was there any event or any circumstance where you didn't feel welcom or where you found difficulty living in this small town during those war years?

I could describe a little bit about the first section of the community. It was certainly a difficult time for the families here who were suffering war time separation and losses. The pacifists were often considered slackers or traitors. I do recall that at the Saturday night dances it was okay for us to do-se-do and swing your partner. But then on Sunday mornings there were people who turned away from us and refused to shake hands. That was a reaction of that part of the community."


For the full interview see: Years of Valor, Verna Curtis.

Used with permission from Tulare County Library.