Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Denny Wilcher Collected Papers, 1941-1946

Collection: CDG-A

Contact Information
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081-1399 U.S.A.
Telephone: (610) 328-8557 (Curator); Fax: (610) 328-8544
Email: wchmiel1@swarthmore.edu (Curator)
URL: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/peace/

Descriptive Summary
The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is the official repository for these papers/records.
Wilcher, Denny (1914-1993)
Denny Wilcher Collected Papers
Inclusive Dates
Call Number

Language of Materials
Materials in English
1.3 linear feet [papers only]
This collection documents the experiences of Wilcher (and his friends), while in Civilian Public Service, and after he left CPS and was imprisoned at McNeil Island Federal Prison Camp.

Administrative Information
Restrictions to Access
Usage Restrictions
Alternate Form of Material
Acquisitions Information
Gift of Juniper Neill, July 2009 [Acc. 09A-035]
Processing Information
Processed by Anne Yoder (Archivist), August 2009
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Denny Wilcher Collected Papers (CDG-A), Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law

Online Catalog Headings
These and related materials may be found under the following headings in online library/archival catalogs.
See tripod record

Related Collections
Henry Leroy Finch Jr. (Roy Finch) Papers (DG 195)
Center on Conscience and War (DG 025) [Part I, Series E, Box 88]

Historical Background
James Dennis Wilcher was born August 25, 1914. He was a member of the Methodist Church, but attended Friends Meeting. He received his A.B. in English, B.D. in Religion, and had completed 1.5 years of his doctorate in Philosophy of Education at Yale University by the time that he was drafted. Wilcher had been employed in 1940-1941 as the Director of Religious Activities at Washington and Lee University. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, and was ordered to report for alternative service, in Civilian Public Service (CPS), in June 1941. Wilcher was first sent to CPS Camp #10 in Royalston (Massachusetts); he was transferred to Camp #14 in Merom (Indiana), and then to Camp #37 in Coleville (California). He became the assistant director of the Royalston and Merom camps. In November 1943 Wilcher went AWOL from Camp #37. He was arrested and paroled (?) until his trial on February 25, 1944. During his parole Wilcher worked for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Committee on Conscientious Objectors in Washington (DC). He was sentenced to prison, and wrote from the Sacramento County Jail on April 6, 1944: "Days of imprisonment here have meant much. There is the intellectual insight which comes from a month of living on the 'other side of society.' There is also the emotional identification with a group of men, many of whom are no more 'guilty' than the society which sent them there. There is a real ministry we can offer here. Our backgrounds of experience and contacts have been of tremendous value, I find." Wilcher was transferred to McNeil Island Federal Prison Camp, where he was a prisoner from circa June 1944 through circa January 1945.

After his release Wilcher's life is primarily undocumented by his papers. However, it is known that he, along with Roy Kepler, Lewis Hill, and E. John Lewis helped start the first listener-sponsored radio station (KPFA), and Pacificia Foundation, a larger umbrella organization, which connects KPFA and other public radio stations. Wilcher, with other pacifists, started the Walden Center and School in Berkeley (California) in the late 1950s, as they did not want their children to have to endure the "brainwashing" of the public school system. Wilcher went on to work for the Sierra Club for 20 years, where he served as the assistant to the Executive Director and developed the Club's books division.
The Denny and Ida Wilcher Award of the Sierra Club was established to honor Wilcher's outstanding leadership in developing the Club's fundraising programs. In 1980, Wilcher co-founded the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which has an award in his honor that recognizes youth for their activism. Wilcher's wife, Ida Shagaloff, was a professional dancer and an exhibiting artist.

Collection Overview
This collection documents the experiences of Wilcher (and his friends) while in Civilian Public Service, and after he left CPS and was imprisoned at McNeil Island Federal Prison Camp. Correspondence (one or more letters) may be found to/from Allen Barr, Corbett Bishop, James E. Bristol, Casey Buford, Rex Corfman, Julien Cornell, J. Passmore Elkinton, Roy Finch, Caleb Foote, Paul French, Paul Furnas, Harry Geiger, Philip Isely, Rufus Jones, Thomas E. Jones, Charlie Koethen, Carl Kraus, Henry Maier, Samuel W. Marsh, James P. Mullin, A.J. Muste, John Nason, George Reeves, Crane Rosenbaum, Dr. Clarence P. Shedd, David Stafford, Douglas Steere, David E. Swift, Ian Thiermann, Evan Thomas, Norman Whitney, Agnes Young, and Bob Zigler. Also of significance are a small number of letters written to/from his parents, who were less than pleased with their son's conscientious objection stance.

It is difficult to know why there are letters in this collection that were not written to, from or about Wilcher. It may be that there was a system to "round-robin" correspondence and that some stayed in Wilcher's hands. He and others debated the future and the legality of CPS and of the oversight by the American Friends Service Committee of various CPS camps, as well as the nonviolent witness of men who walked out of CPS to go to prison, and many of the letters express these concerns.

Items removed:
- photograph

Arrangement of Collection
Most of this collection relates to CPS, as noted above, though there is a very little from before and after the World War II era. Of note is a short 1932 letter by John Dewey (it is unknown why Wilcher had this in his papers). There were not enough folders in the collection to make series designations necessary.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Box 1
Biographical information
Family information
Work as Director of Religious Activities, Washington and Lee University, 1940-1941
Correspondence, 1955 (November 5), 1966 (December 26), 1992 (March 5)
Financial Aid Department for students [CPS?]
Writings; notes
Correspondence sent, 1941-1945
Correspondence sent to / received from parents, ca. 1942-1943, 1945, undated
Correspondence sent (while at McNeil Island Federal Prison Camp) to Crane Rosenbaum, 1944 (June) - 1945 (January)
Correspondence received from Crane Rosenbaum (while at CPS Camp #119 [a state training school], New Lisbon, NJ), 1944-1945
Correspondence received, 1941
Correspondence received, 1942
Correspondence received, 1943 (January-July)
Correspondence received, 1943 (August-December)

Box 2
Correspondence re: possibility of a Habeas Corpus test case, 1943 (August-October)
Correspondence received, 1944
Correspondence received, 1945-1946
Correspondence received, undated
CPS experiences
CPS conferences attended
Future of CPS, etc.
CPS Camp #14 (Merom, Indiana) run by the American Friends Service Committee: correspondence, etc.
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers (none by/about/to Wilcher)
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers (none by/about/to Wilcher): chain letters
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: Rex Corfman, 1942-1943
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: Roy Finch, 1942-1945
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: Paul French (and letters of H. Mont. Smith), 1941-1942
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: Paul Furnas, 1942-1943
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: Philip Isely (mostly to Roy Finch), 1942
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: Crane Rosenbaum to the "corporation" (included excerpts from letters of others in CPS) [many pages are loose]
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: sent to Crane Rosenbaum by others (partly about Wilcher), 1942-1945
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: John Schmidt, 1942 (March, May)
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: David Stafford (and Felix Greene), 1941 (August-October)
Correspondence by/about/to CPSers: David Swift, 1942

Box 3 (1/2 box)
Reference material: statements of men who walked out of CPS
Reference material: newsclippings re: CPS [removed from scrapbook, which was discarded]
Reference material: CPS
Reference material: songs re: CPS
Reference material: CPS Union
Reference material: letter by John Dewey, 1932 (March 21)
Reference material: Japanese student relocation
Reference material: general

This finding aid was last updated on August 21, 2015