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Voices of Spencer Creek



The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Different Peace

And a different kind of war time romance

By Lois Barton

Posted on Oct 5, 2005

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During WWII several thousand men received classification as conscientious objectors (COs) to military service and were assigned to work of national importance instead of being in the army or other branches of service.

Hal Barton, my future husband, was one of those men. He went first to a forest service camp in California where the men fought forest fires and did other work to support the Forest Service. He eventually transferred to a mental hospital near Philadelphia, Pa. After several months of working as an attendant on the wards and learning of the terrible conditions under which mental patients were housed, he and three other men at the Byberry (Philadelphia) unit were given detached service to develop a Mental Hygiene Program for CPS (Civilian Public Service).

They created a monthly magazine for attendants--the lowest echelon of employees caring for those patients and who basically were given no training at that time. They surveyed state laws regarding care of mentally ill. They collected case histories, including photos of conditions in hospitals and training schools across the country.

Their collection of information was more complete than had ever been achieved previously. This information provided the subject matter for an expose in Life magazine, later picked up by Readers Digest in 1946. Those four men eventually established the National Mental Health Foundation, supported by many nationally known persons including Pearl Buck, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs Harry Truman, Walter Reuther, Reinhold Niebur and former Chief Justice Owen J. Roberts, who became the national chairman.

Several books have been written about that experience of COs, among them THE TURNING POINT by Alex Sarayen, OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND by Frank Lloyd Wright, and an inclusive chapter in SOME FORM OF PEACE by Marvin Weisbord.



Hal Barton as a young conscientious objector


I spent one summer of college vacation as an attendant at Byberry, and our daughter asked me the other day to write up my experiences of that summer. The following account is what I put together for her. I decided to share this story with my readers.

My time at Byberry in 1944-45

Byberry was a place name for an area where the State mental hospital was located about 15 miles from the Philadelphia suburb of Frankfort The only other building I remember with that name was a Friends Meeting nearby. The contiguous village to the hosptial was named Somerton.

My cousin, Walter Kirk, was in the CPS unit at the hospital in 1944. He used to send me copies of the camp paper put out by the COs. He'd been encouraging me to apply to the AFSC for a place in the women's unit at that hospital. I was in college in Cleveland, Ohio and pondering summer vacation plans. The previous summer I'd gone home to the farm north of Lisbon, Ohio to help Dad with farm work.

An issue of the camp paper which came to me had a note on the back page which read "George wouldn't have died last night if you'd been here to help." That appeal somehow helped me to decide to apply as Walt was urging me to do. A major incentive for my decision was the knowledge that there were 120 young men of conscience working there. I learned later that the same note on the camp paper reached the forest camp in California where Hal was assigned. It helped him decide to apply for transfer to Byberry. This huge institution had 6000 patients.

All this was 60 years ago and my memory does not retain many of the details. I did get into the womens' unit and arrived to begin work as an attendant on the wards. There were perhaps 15 girls in the unit. We had a leader from American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) named Phoebe. The unit met weekly to discuss problems and procedures. I've no recollection of the content of those meetings.

We lived in a dormitory on the hospital grounds along with other regular attendants. The building included a dining room where the COs and other lower echelon workers, both male and female also ate their meals. Cousin Walt had married Ruby Dahlke who was the dietician responsible for meals in that building. Probably 30 to 50 persons at a time came there for their meal three tiimes a day depending on which shift they worked.

I was 26 years old and looking for a husband. I was very conscious of the potential, but I was shy and didn't have a comfortable line among members of the opposite sex. Hal told me later that when he saw me come in that first time and choose to sit with some of the regular attendants he was disappointed because he thought I couldn't be one of the women's unit and therefore wouldn't be sympathetic to the COs.

I had been a dues paying member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom for several years and was clear in my mind about pacifism and similar good causes. But I had never taken any initiative for such causes, and don't remember that my intention at Byberry was directed in that way. We had no real preparation for our work as attendants. We all wore white uniforms at work and carried a jangly bunch of keys because all the doors were locked on the wards and often one must get through several locked doors to reach the assigned work place.

As I remember I was assigned to the Infirmary where patients requiring medical attention, basically unable to manage meals and regular daily routines for themselves, were housed. At first I worked on upper floors. There were meals to distribute to the beds, help with baths, beds to make, etc. I have no actual memory of what I did there from day to day. The nurse who arranged our work assignments told our unit leader that she wished she had many more young ladies of my competence--more mature and less flappable.

What I do remember is the elderly, physically small nurse in her white cap who was in charge while I was on duty. I remember talking to her, trying to learn more about what to do. I was amazed that she thought our first duty was to pray for individuals. Another striking recollection was helping bathe a bedfast patient who had something between her legs that on a man might have been distorted testicles. The nurse told me it was a prolapsed uterus, but nothing was being done to remedy the situation.

Before long I was assigned to the basement section in the building which was familiarly known as Hydro. There was a room there in which hydrotherapy treatments were given. I remember two bathtubs in the room which were filled each day by selected patients. The water they soaked in was kept just above body temperature. There was a sheet-like cover fastened over the patient who stayed in that water for several hours. I don't know who selected the patients and supervised the process. I always felt that I'd be thoroughly chilled if made to stay at that temperature for hours.

I worked swing shift much of the time Most of the patients in Hydro were restrained--strapped to a bench or in their beds. I seem to remember there were 25 to 30 patients there. I do not remember any reading material or games or other entertainment available. An atmosphere of fear prevailed. Whenever things seemed about to erupt--noisy or possibly violent behavior, the nurse would shut herself in the little office, and call the guards on the phone to come help. Those guards were older men in uniforms resembling police, usually fairly husky types with a club attached to their belts.

Two outstanding recollections of my time there come to mind. One older woman strapped to a bench at the far end of one room had a bedpan for use. When she needed to pee she'd use the bedpan and then drink the urine. The other unforgettable scene was produced by a 15 year old girl who somehow got cigarettes and smoked them as she wandered around. She delighted in burning the arm or leg of a tied-down patient with the lighted end of her cigarette. We could not stop her when she got into this pattern, and the guards were called to restrain her.

As I look back I realize I was an unsophisticated country girl in a stressful situation way beyond any experience I'd ever had, without leadership from my superiors at work. I do not think I ever initiated any creative responses. Nor can I remember any specific things we did on the wards that were of a therapeutic nature. I have more a sense of "riding herd" on the imprisoned humans. Even so, the girls in the womens' unit cooperated with the men who were collecting case histories for their work. We filled out their blanks based on our experience and observations.

The outstanding part of the summer was due to the organized off-duty activities of the men's unit. I remember being part of a study group under a tree near the men's dorms when Hal walked by and our eyes met briefly, sending an electric charge through me. The men had a weekly evening devoted to a choral group with a skillful leader. I stood next to Hal to sing, and experienced the thrill of touching his arm as we held the song book together. They had classes and other entertainment. One class I sat in on with Hal was a group who hoped to get into the Friends China unit and studied Chinese. We went swimming when off duty, riding bikes 7 miles to an available pool. Hal was the only one who could duck me in the pool. I played tennis with him a time or two.

Walt and Ruby invited me to dinner the evening I was to go back to college at the end of summer and encouraged me to bring along my favorite CO. I was shy to ask Hal and Ruby threatened to do it if I didn't. He accepted the invitation and went with me downtown to the bus after dinner... His parting words were, "God be with you 'til we meet again."

We corresponded after I got back to school. He came on furlough at Christmas time, first to Cleveland to hear the college choir in a Christmas concert at a city church, then to Lisbon for a few days. We were married in March. Then I went back to the hosital to work. I no longer lived in the hospital dormitory. Hal had achieved detached service classification to work on the Mental Hygiene program and we rented a third floor apartment within walking distance of the hospital.

Author Lois Barton as a young bride


I worked primarily in the medical library, knowing nothing about the books there but I think I was then head, at the hospital, of the womens' unit. I remember being responsible for showing visitors around the wards who were interested in the work the men were doing to promote improvements .

An unforgetable memory was going with such a visitor to Building 11 on the women's side at meal time. Many of the women in that building were naked when we got there. Their food came on a big rack as is usual in such places. Each plate had a few boiled, unpeeled potatoes on it. I felt the food on those uncovered plates must be cold, and I don't remember much of anything else on them but the spuds. I think I must have been on the hospital payroll at that time. Else how could we have paid rent when Hal's income was $15/mo?

Alice Calder Miles was a member of the women's unit, and she and Ward were married at Frankford Meeting in the edge of Philadelphia June 15, 1946. I had quit work at the hospital some time earlier, being pregnant with Edie. Hal and I attended that wedding. Going back home I was obliged to stand for the 15 miles on that bus. The water broke soon after we got home and Edie was born the next morning.

Not long after that the Mental Hygiene Program of CPS was moved out of the small building on the hospital grounds to office space in an old school building on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia, and we moved there to live in an AFSC co-op house a couple of blocks away.

We were married sixty years March, 2005. Hal died August 1, thirty days short of his 89th birthday.

August 29, 2005

Copyright © 2005 by Lois Barton



Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 86 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.



Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including:

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Hal and the Mountain

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Rogue River Adventure

Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Obituary for a Country Cat

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Cortesia Sanctuary

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Tree and Me and Lady Slippers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By Northwest.org online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife–The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.



© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By Northwest.org

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