WORLD WAR I CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR DATABASE
This database was created as a tool for my personal research on conscientious objectors during World War I, but it is being shared with a wider audience now as it may be of use to others as well. The public should be aware that as a Mennonite, much of my research has been done at Mennonite archives and historical libraries. It is also heavily influenced by the archives I work in at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Many of the SCPC's primary sources from or about WWI conscientious objectors (American and British) have been scanned and transcribed and are available online at https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/
In addition, primary sources from the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society are available on the same website.
One unofficial source states that 3,989 men declared themselves to be conscientious objectors when they had reached the camps: of these, 1,300 chose noncombatant service; 1,200 were given farm furloughs; 99 went to Europe to do reconstruction work for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); 450 were court-martialed and sent to prison; and 940 remained in camps until the Armistice was discharged. These numbers have been rounded off, but at least give a general picture of how many C.O.s could appear on this database if enough information was readily available (unfortunately, I don't have time to visit the National Archives or other repositories to research their records).
The C.O.s in World War I were sent to army camps where they had to convince officers & other officials that they were sincere in their conscientious objection to war. The camps were [not sure if C.O.s were sent to all of these camps]: Beauregard (Alexandria, Louisiana), Bowie (Fort Worth, Texas), Cody (Deming, New Mexico), Custer (Battle Creek, Michigan), Devens (Ayer, Massachusetts), Dix (Wrightstown, New Jersey), Dodge (Des Moines, Iowa), Doniphan (Lawton, Kansas), Forrest (Georgia), Frémont (Menlo Park, California), Funston (Fort Riley, Kansas), Gordon (Georgia), Grant (Rockford, Illinois), Greene (Charlotte, North Carolina), Greenleaf (Georgia), Hamilton (New York), Hancock (Augusta, Georgia), Humphries (Virginia), Jackson (Columbia, South Carolina), Kearny (California), Lee (Petersburg, Virginia), Lewis (Washington), Logan (Houston, Texas), MacArthur (Waco, Texas), McClellan (Alabama), Meade (Admiral, Maryland), Oglethorpe (Georgia), Pike (Arkansas), Sevier (South Carolina), Shelby (Mississippi), Sheridan (Montgomery, Alabama), Sherman (Chillicothe, Ohio), Slocum, Spartansburg (South Carolina), [Zachary] Taylor (Louisville, Kentucky), Travis (San Antonio, Texas), Upton (Long Island, New York), Wadsworth (South Carolina), and Wheeler (Macon, Georgia), as well as Ft. Douglas, Ft. Jay (New York), Ft. Leavenworth (Kansas), Ft. Lewis (Washington), Ft. Riley, Ft. Sill, Ft. Thomas, Ft. Washington. The absolutist C.O.s who refused to drill or do any noncombatant service were court-martialed and sentenced to many years in federal prison at Alcatraz Island or Ft. Leavenworth U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.
Some C.O.s were held in local jails/prisons before being sent to army camps or to federal prisons. These included the Tombs (New York, New York), and Jefferson Barracks (Missouri).
Most C.O.s who had been imprisoned were released by May of 1919, though some of those thought to be the most recalcitrant were kept until 1920. Some C.O.s were released in 1917 or early 1918 from camps because of health problems or "mental" problems -- the latter were probably made up in order to get rid of these annoying men who would not cooperate. The camp psychologist at Camp Cody (Henry T. Moore), on the other hand, seemed to go out of his way to find the C.O.s he interviewed to be unintelligent, defiant malingerers who did not deserve anything but imprisonment, and his "evidence" was used in court-martials.
Names for this database have been gleaned from various lists of C.O.s, collections of personal papers of or about C.O.s, and the records of organizations that worked on behalf of C.O.s. The fields in the database for the most part reflect the time period of World War I -- for instance the address field is filled in with the city and state where the C.O.s were living during the 1917-1920 period.
The lists and card file used had varying degrees of information on them, so that the records for C.O.s may differ widely in scope and content. Some names showed up on more than one list as noted in the source field, and at times the spelling of a name etc. did not coincide; when this happened, the alternative is noted in brackets. Most lists included the men's religious affiliation. Some men were religious without being part of any denomination; in that case, you will see [Christian] in brackets in the denomination field. Little attempt was made to be consistent in how information was recorded in the database records, though if I have time later I will try to clean them up.
In Mennonite circles, Melvin Gingerich is known as an important historian for the church. His research on World War I C.O.s of Mennonite & Amish affiliation provided much information for this database. He or his assistants interviewed many of these men during the 1950s; their addresses were provided on his resultant lists. Many of the men still lived in the same towns they had in 1917-1919; when their address had changed, I included it in the note field. James Junkhe is another important Mennonite historian who has done wonderful work in directing an oral history project for interviewing C.O.s and others who remembered World War I; he also directed a project whereby over 300 court-martial records of Mennonite, Amish & Hutterite C.O.s, that were found at the National Archives, were microfilmed. These make for fascinating reading.
The official names of the archives/libraries used are:
- Goshen Archives, Historical Committee, Mennonite Church USA, 1700 South Main Street, Goshen, IN 46526;
- Historical Library and Archives, Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania, 565 Yoder Road, P.O. Box 82, Harleysville, PA 19438-0082
- Menno Simons Historical Library & Archives, Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Road, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2462
- Swarthmore College Peace Collection, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081-1399
- Virginia Mennonite Conference Archives, c/o Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Road, Harrisonburg, VA 22802-2462
There are many documents regarding Mennonite and Brethren WWI conscientious objection/objectors that have been scanned for the Plowshares Initiative. Go to http://replica.palni.edu/cdm/search/collection/gopplow/searchterm/war%20and%20response%20world%20war%20I. Note that information from the questionnaires was added to this database.
This database list was started in May 2002; last updated on March 9, 2020.
A FileMaker problem, in which the notes field was not delivering the proper information, was fixed in March 2020.
Anne Yoder, Archivist, Swarthmore College Peace Collection
For more information, contact me at 610-328-8030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.