I-W Service (United States)

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I-W (1-W) Service. When the 1948 Selective Service law was passed by the United States Congress conscien­tious objectors were deferred from all service obli­gations. The amendment to the law passed in 1951, however, required conscientious objectors, in lieu of induction into the armed forces, to perform "civilian work contributing to the maintenance of the na­tional health, safety, or interest" for a period equal to that required for men inducted into the armed forces, that is, for a period of 24 consecu­tive months.

In anticipation of some such required period of service, the Selective Service System had prepared and recommended to Congress a system of govern­ment-operated camps for conscientious objectors sim­ilar to those operated under the former Civilian Public Service program. This plan was specifically rejected by Congress, and it was clearly stated that no "camps" were to be set up under the new law. As a result of further study by the Selective Service System in consultation with other government agen­cies and with church agencies representing conscien­tious objectors, the later service plan was devised and set up.

Under this service plan conscientious objec­tors were assigned to public agencies and to ap­proved nonprofit private agencies for the perform­ance of their required two years of service. Working conditions, pay, and leave arrangements for con­scientious objectors are expected to be the same as for other employees in the same grade and class in the same employing agency. (In a few states con­scientious objectors were engaged in state institu­tions at rates lower than those for other employees, but these discriminatory practices were grad­ually reduced.) Conscientious objectors were permit­ted to volunteer for approved work, and were usually assured of assignment to the work of their choice if it was within the approved category. About 85 per cent of the men who entered I-W service ex­ercised the privilege of volunteering and thus of choosing their place of employment. Those who did not volunteer could ordered to service by their local boards if they had reached the age at which men were being called for the armed services and if the local board had found an employing agency which was willing to hire them. Assignments could made to church agencies engaged in relief and other welfare services at home and abroad, and the men so assigned could used in foreign as well as do­mestic service. While dissatisfaction with service as­signments occurred in some instances, Selective Service statistics showed that out of a total of 6,000 persons assigned to I-W service (by the mid-1950s) only 25 had deserted their job, thus becoming delinquent. This may be compared with about 600 delinquents in the Civilian Public Service (CPS) period. The much better record was attributed to greater general satisfaction as a result of the much wider range of opportunities of service, and the lib­eral choices provided.

More than 1,700 governmental and private non­profit agencies had been approved by Selective Service by 1955 for the employment of conscientious objec­tors, but assignments had been made to less than half of this number. Assignments to public agen­cies were not approved if their employee needs could filled from the ranks of unemployed persons in the surrounding locality, and other limiting factors entered into some situations.

Most of the openings occurred in mental hospitals, general hospitals, and tuberculosis sanatoriums. In spite of unemployment in some parts of the country, there were usually more openings for conscientious objectors than qualified persons available to fill the openings.

The regulations establishing this new plan of service were issued in February 1952, but the first assignments were not made until July 1952. Because of a large backlog of available men, assignments continued at an accelerating rate so that in the pe­riod of October 1952 to September 1953 the average monthly rate was more than 300. With the backlog of men taken up, the rate of assignments dropped considerably and was not likely to exceed 100 per month and could be lower, depending on the rate at which men were called for the armed services. A peak was reached in September 1954, when almost 5,000 men were in service. After that time, while assignments continued at a reduced rate, large numbers completed their two years of service, thus reducing the total in service. Approximately 6,400 men were assigned during the first three years of the program's operation.

At the peak there were about 3,400 men in service from the churches of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) constituency, of whom about 45 per cent were of the Mennonite Church (MC), 15 per cent Old Order Amish, 14 per cent General Conference Mennonite, 5 per cent Conservative Mennonite, 5 per cent Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, 4 per cent each Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ, 9 per cent from the other groups, including independent congregations, in the MCC constituency.

In October 1954, 1,794 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ I-W's answered a questionnaire circulated by J. S. Schultz of the Mennonite Central Commit­tee. The following information was compiled by Schultz.

Mental and general hospitals employed more than two thirds of the men. If Veterans Administration Hospitals, tuberculosis sanatoriums and boys' train­ing schools were added, 80 per cent of the men were accounted for. Over half of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ men were employed in govern­ment-controlled institutions, either state, municipal, or federal. During the first three years of operation, an average of 8 per cent of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ I-W's chose to work in projects administered by their own church agencies. 75 per cent of I-W's were 20-24 years of age.

Nearly 45 per cent of the men were hospital attend­ants. The next largest group, consisting of only 14 per cent, worked on maintenance crews. Following closely in size were groups such as kitchen workers or janitors performing housekeeping duties, and those in specialized fields such as medical laboratory technicians or personnel directors. Only 5 per cent were doing farm work.

About 70 per cent of the men worked in urban cen­ters of more than 50,000 population. Mennonite and Brethren in Christ I-W's were employed by about 300 of the more than 1,700 approved institutions. They were serving in 37 states and 20 foreign countries. Fifty per cent were employed in Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Over 36 per cent were in the larger metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, California; Den­ver, Colorada; Chicago, Illinois; Indianapolis and Westville, Indiaan; Kansas City and Topeka, Kansas; Cleveland, Ohio; Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Sixty-five different denominations were represent­ed in the ranks of I-W men. I-W men from the MCC constituency made up 67 per cent of the total. This compared with approximately 40 per cent in the CPS period. Selective Service statistics showed 8,500 conscientious objectors who were either at work of would be assigned out of a total of 16,153,861 regis­trants (eighteen years and over). According to their statistics the percentage of conscientious objectors in the total population (.005) remained constant as compared with the proportion during the World War II period.

As in the World War II period, the Mennonite Central Committee was asked by its constituent churches to assume overall responsibility for the I-W program administration. All representation to Selective Service officials was channeled through the MCC. Services to the men themselves were adminis­tered by or coordinated through the MCC. The Mennonite  Relief and Service Committee (Mennonite Church), Elkhart, Indiana, and the Civilian Public Service Com­mittee (Church of God in Christ, Mennonite), Galva, Kansas, shared in this adminis­tration, particularly to the men of their own confer­ences. In addition to these well-organized efforts, numerous pastors, both on their own and at confer­ence request, made periodic calls on I-W men at their places of employment. Organization among the men themselves wherever they could be grouped was encouraged to provide opportunities for worship and fellowship and the strengthening and extension of their Christian witness.

The cost of administering the I-W Service was borne by voluntary contributions from the constituency. The administrative office for this department at the MCC headquarters was headed by William T. Snyder at least until January 1956.


Author(s) J. Harold Sherk
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Sherk, J. Harold. "I-W Service (United States)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 18 May 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=I-W_Service_(United_States)&oldid=113432.

APA style

Sherk, J. Harold. (1957). I-W Service (United States). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=I-W_Service_(United_States)&oldid=113432.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 56-58. All rights reserved.

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