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Training Schools – And Civilian Public Service (1944)

Training Schools – And CPS

An article by Stephen L. Angell, Jr. in The Reporter, July 15, 1944

Editor’s Note: The Civilian Public Service (CPS) was set up to provide conscientious objectors in the United States an alternative service to military service during World War II.  CPS was operated primarily by the historic peace churches (Historic Peace Churches is a term widely used for three denominations which have for centuries held the position that the Bible forbids Christian participation in war and violence. These three are the Brethren, the Friends (Quakers), and the Mennonites.) and the U.S. Selective Service, coordinated through the National Service Board for Religious Objectors.

 From 1941 to 1947, nearly 12,000 draftees, willing to serve their country in some capacity but unwilling to do any type of military service, performed work of national importance in 152 CPS camps throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Draftees from the historic peace churches and other faiths worked in areas such as soil conservation, forestry, fire fighting, agriculture, social services and mental health.

No new problem is mental deficiency. Mental deficiency, feeble mindedness has been known in all civilizations; still remains as one of the great causes of pauperism, delinquency, crime. But concern for the care of the feeble minded is relatively new. Real work in the care of these unfortunates begun in the middle of the last century, was accepted as a state problem about the beginning of this.

First of the Civilian Public Service (CPS) units to work in training schools were Mansfield under the Brethren, Vineland under the Mennonites in March, 1943. (Cheltenham, a Friends unit, opened in November 1942, but Cheltenham’s boys are delinquents, not necessarily feeble minded.)

The opening of CPS units in training schools all followed the same general pattern. War industries with higher salaries lured many of the old employees from the tedious, nerve-wracking work in the schools. The draft got a few more. Expansion of buildings stopped and waiting lists grew longer. State training schools were under staffed and over crowded. “There is room for only 400 patients at Washington State Training School in Buckley and there should be 115 employees. Today there are 600 patients and only 99 attendants and that includes the 15 man CPS unit,” or “There are 190,000 mental deficients in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Overcrowded Pennhurst School is attempting to care for 2,500 of them; 1,500 more are on the immediate waiting list.”

Trouble was brewing in the institutions. “Riots or near riots had apparently been quite frequent events in the moron delinquency cottages in the District Training School.” Helped by a number of war time conditions, delinquency was rising all over the country; and many of the delinquents were feeble minded.

Civilian Public Service

Today there are 244 CPS men working in 14 state training schools, most of them in 15 man units. CPS men are largely attendants, cottage masters. “The day attendant in the Delaware State Training School at Stockley comes on duty after breakfast. He puts tooth paste on two dozen toothbrushes and sees that two dozen feeble minded men brush their teeth. He sees that a higher grade ‘worker-patient’ sweeps the floor, another scrubs the floor, another takes out the ashes. He stands over another as he picks up papers and waters the flowers and at the same times sees that the lower grade patients change their clothes. This goes on all morning. Comes noon, with the aid of the others he gets them washed and to lunch, watches them eat, seeing that they get enough, that they don’t steal anyone else’s food, don’t give their own away.”

“In the afternoon the lowgrades go back to the play yard, the highgrades go back to work. Supper is much the same as lunch. At bed time he sees that everyone is clean, gives more pills to the epileptics, bandages cuts, stops fights and then wears himself out seeing that everyone finally gets to sleep.”


Other assignees teach in the schools in the institutions, do maintenance, farm and clerical work. New Lisbon, N. J., State Colony is perhaps a typical example of CPS jobs in training schools. “Up to 16 (chronological age) the boys attend school and that is where the CPS men come in. Six of the unit have half day teaching assignments — two in physical education, two in music, one in handicrafts, one on the three R’s and woodwork.”

“Most of the older ‘boys’ (up to 70) work in the farms, in the dining rooms and about the grounds. Eight of the CPS men, too work on the farm. Two other CPS men have jobs conducting psychological tests, other assignees work in the laundry, in the hospital, do recreational and cottage work, and work in the Supervisors office where the duties range from clerical work to hair cutting.”

(It is interesting to notice that almost all of the institutions refer to the patients as “boys” or “children” though in some of the schools such as Rosewood and New Lisbon the chronological age of the patient goes as high as 70. “We speak of the wards as halls or home, too, and the institution as the school,” wrote a CPS man from Buckley, “This is just part of the program to make the school seem a home to these unfortunate people.”)

Other jobs CPS men fill: power house attendants, bus and truck drivers, TB ward workers, Bible class teachers, occupational therapists, art teachers, printing teachers, playground builders.


“Being near the industrial centers has its disadvantages, too; many of the former employees have been drained away by better paying war jobs in the vicinity,” reported an assignee from the Southern Colony and Training School, Union Grove, Wis. “Because of the acute labor shortage, married CPS men were especially welcome when the Mennonite Central Committee established this unit in November, 1943. Thirteen CPS wives are employed in wards, at the switchboard, in the office and dining rooms.” CPS wives are working along with their men in most of the units. In addition to the three CPS wives working at the Exeter School in Lafayette, R. I., two COGs are helping too. (COGs are volunteer Conscientious Objector Girls.)


“Most of the children in the Pownal, Me., State School are assigned here by probate courts after application by their family or other guardians, and upon recommendation of the Superintendent of the School. A few are assigned by municipal courts when the children are involved in a delinquency charge.

“About 35 per cent of the patients are high grade defectives many of whom can be trained and rehabilitated to outside communities. At the present time there are 18 Pownal patients who are out on trial visits and some of these may be discharged eventually.

“A child may be discharged in three ways: by recommendation of the staff of Pownal to the State Commissioner of Institutional Service, by the sole action of the Commissioner, or by action of the Justice of the Superior Court when further detention is unnecessary in his opinion.

“School recommendations are based on the progress the child has made in his mental age, his rating on social maturity tests, and the desirability of the environment to which the child will be sent.”

An assignee from the American Fork, Utah, State Training School wrote, “The State of Utah has a law which provides for the sterilization of the feeble minded. A majority of the patients at this school who are paroled to homes or to jobs, or those that are allowed to marry are first sterilized.

“Some of the children seem a little sorry about it, but most of them are eager to get it over with because they are then given more opportunities to get out on their own.

“Of the 1,260 children who have been committed since the school opened in 1931, about 600 have been paroled or discharged. Some of the children remain in the school for a few months, a few will be there all their lives. We have five children from each of two families, great numbers of brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, etc. Death rates in an institution of this kind are several times as high as in normal life.”

And a report from Pennhurst says that the institution has been reluctant to release some of its better worker patients since professional personnel to train others has not been obtainable.


A typical report on public relations of training schools comes from the Brethren unit at Mansfield (Conn.) State Training School: “It cannot be said that the patients either like or dislike us, since their attitudes change quickly and are apt to be irrational. By and large, we get along with the patients as well as the other employees and in many cases the basic attitude of the CPS men has made a noticeable difference in the reactions of the patients. . .

“Frankly it is to be doubted if the administration, in general, or the employees really understand the motivation of the CO’s (conscientious objectors) position. The large group of employees who are cooperative and friendly seem to feel we are short of help and since you won’t fight you might as well be doing this.’

“The CPS unit cannot be praised publicly. A recent article by a trustee of Mansfield; which praised the work of the unit brought down a barrage of criticism by other employees.

“Criticism varies. CPS men are accused of being lazy, careless, incompetent which in this unit is simply not true. When a man does so well that the results are glaringly obvious, when it is said after all, what difference does it make if he does do well — he should be out helping his country.'”

Public relations at the Laurel, Md., District (of Columbia) Training School are unusually good. All employees are invited to all public occasions sponsored by the unit; the school allows two hours off a week for relief and reconstruction study; on-job education is conducted each week by the Superintendent or another staff member.


The unit at the Rosewood State School in Maryland is in a less favorable position. The State of Maryland allots about $250 a year for each of 1,100 patients at the school. This comparatively small amount (Washington State spends about four times that much) makes any recreational, educational work for patients difficult. “When the unit first arrived there was considerable antagonism displayed by the children of the higher mental level. This has virtually died down except when a piqued patient reminds us of our status in uncomplimentary terms. With but a few exceptions our relations with other employees have been formal and impersonal. It is rather that we are regarded as a useful but not entirely acceptable group. Though it is recognized that their work burden is much lighter than it would be without us, several of the specialist and professional staff openly resent our stand. Relations with the administrative body are almost intolerable.

“CPS men at Rosewood have no educational director, no educational program, work 12 hours a day under unfriendly conditions; are still accomplishing a lasting job.”


The men at the New Lisbon unit work from 50 to 70 hours a week. In addition to their regular assignments CPS men organize Boy Scouts, chase runaways, take weekend recreational assignments with the patients whose major interest include such strenuous pastimes as baseball, hiking and comic books. In their off time the men continue language study in French or German; area study for relief work, relief problems. The AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) has sent down a number of experienced speakers on relief subjects. Studies relating to the work at the school are going on, too: the superintendent gives a weekly talk on group therapy, delinquency, accounting practices in institutions. This is a more ambitious program than most of the units have, though almost all have some type of job training and religious program.


“But it is the intangible contribution, that is most important and most difficult,” wrote an assignee working in a training school. “Every child needs to be near some one he knows will always protect him, never hurt nor ridicule him, always lend a sympathetic ear. At the same time the attendant must constantly instruct, criticise and, when necessary, discipline the children.

“The attendant has three or four hours a day when he can teach the lowgrades to dress, clean, or feed themselves. He can play simple games or make toys for them. And all of this is a never ending job. So far, it’s the most rewarding one I’ve had.”


In the 1860’s, top-hatted, long whiskered visitors to the Maryland penitentiary came back with some amazing stories. Eleven children less than twelve years old were sentenced there, “one of these but five years old, so small as to be able to creep through the prison bars.” A Grand Jury report of 1867 tells of one child in the Baltimore City Jail for stealing three loaves of bread; another child in jail for stealing 3 cents. Another Grand Jury report for 1871 tells of children “scarcely more than infants” serving time in the City Jail.

Something had to be done. White children caught in the toils of the law had a special institution, the House of Refuge, but Negro children were herded in with hardened, adult criminals. A group of public spirited citizens, including a number of Baltimore Quakers, studied the new “cottage system” for schools, raised some $40,000 and inaugurated the “House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Children.” With state and city aid the school opened on Feb. 4, 1873.

By the end of 1873, there were 72 boys ranging from seven to 20 years old. Only three “could write a little,” four could “read books generally,” 36 did not even know the alphabet.

Rather pathetic stories can be found in the early records of the boys in school: “Does not know he had a father and mother. Was taken from them at an early age (the effects of slavery).” Another: “Very good boy in every respect. Escaped.” Or. “Sent to Infirmary May 16, 1887 and I think he died there.”


In 1937 the State of Maryland assumed complete control of the school; renamed it the Cheltenham State School for Boys. The first CPS unit to work in a training school opened here Nov. 7, 1942, under the administration of the American Friends Service Committee.

“Cheltenham,” wrote one of the CPS men, “is one of the most challenging projects in CPS. The problem of delinquency is accentuated by wartime conditions and the need for adequate personnel in institutions for delinquents is consequently more pressing. Cheltenham is not an institution of permanent custody; every child must be prepared for return to the community as soon as possible.

“Most of the 240 boys remain in school here for about one year, some for even shorter, some for longer periods. In most cases the boys are neither psychotic or feeble minded; for the most part the institution is dealing with emotionally disturbed or untrained children. The job, therefore, is principally concerned with restraining boys while they are in school and making adequate plans for their release on parole.”


Each of the six cottages has almost fifty boys, and four of the cottages are manned completely by CPS men. Running a cottage (there are two men to a cottage) is a twenty-four-hour job. “The work is largely routine — supervision of cleaning, seeing that the boys get off to work detail or to school, handling of discipline, settling of disputes between boys, giving haircuts, checking on clothes, answering a few hundred questions and numerous telephone calls, checking the whereabouts of all boys at all times — that is the life of a cottage master.”

The Psycho-Social Clinic was established in the school about three months after the arrival of the CPS unit. All psychological testing for the school is done by one psychologist — a CPS man, and the two social case workers — both CPS — handle 80 percent of the case work done in the school. This involves counseling the boys when they come into the school, keeping in contact with them during their stay, planning for their paroles when they have earned their release.

Another CPS man has been acting as Medical Attendant in the hospital. He has been instrumental in establishing connections with the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington; securing medical treatment for the boys not available through the school’s own infirmary.

There are three men working in the school business office. The oldest from the point of service at Cheltenham is a CPS man who doubled as the school dietician for three months.

CPS men have at various times served as work detail supervisor, have supervised the boys’ and staff dining rooms; had various other duties such as serving as members of the School’s Discipline committee or searching for runaways. One member of the unit has done an outstanding job in transforming the shoe repair shop from the level of low grade maintenance work to a program of shoe repair vocational training and still kept up the necessary maintenance work.

Members of the CPS unit have aided in art classes, singing groups, organized athletics, organized a Boy Scout troop which is well on its way toward becoming a functional unit of the school.


“Men frequently tend to evaluate their work in terms of immediate results. When working with delinquents this is not possible, for frequently a seed planted does not bear fruit for years to come. One must face the fact that in dealing with human personality and behavior in this field the “unknowns” are infinite. Then there are the frustrations of the jobs and Cheltenham certainly has its share; the inability of responsible State officials to understand the proper function of a training school, the continual dissatisfaction with continuing racial discrimination and segregation and the general irritations of Institutional setting. These could make the job unbearable; on the other hand the opportunity to participate in human rehabilitation effectively is the kind of job that is worth taking on, even though at times the difficulties in the path of concrete achievements seem insurmountable.”

— Stephen L. Angell, Jr.

Psychology: According to psychologists, idiots are people whose mental age will never exceed that of a two year old child; the mental age of imbeciles is between two and seven, that of morons between seven and twelve. All of these unfortunate people are loosely, classed as feeble minded.

All three types are found in the training schools. Idiots are almost helpless, higher grade morons can often be rehabilitated; sent out into the community to do useful jobs.

No. 14

The fourteenth CPS unit to work in a training school was approved in May, 1944. The project : New Jersey State Village for Epileptics. The administrative agency: The American Baptist Home Mission Society, their first unit. Present personnel: Pulitzer-Prize Winner Carleton Mabee.

Carl Mabee is assistant director and is now making arrangements for the rest of the unit which will be transferred in after the summer fire season.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Angell, S.L. (1944, July 15). Training schools and CPS. The Reporter.  Retrieved [date accessed] from

Source:  Disability History Museum,

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