Aaron Barnhart presents KHC program about Kansas Mennonites in WWI

Kansas Humanities Council News Release

Contact: Aaron Barnhart, ab@aaronbarn.com
             Leslie Von Holten, Kansas Humanities Council, (785) 357-0359

From World War I Resisters to Mental Health Reformers: The Remarkable Story of Kansas Mennonites 

In a small Kansas town on November 11, 1918 — Armistice Day — an unruly mob seized a Mennonite farmer and had him tarred and feathered. His crime? Refusing to purchase Liberty Bonds in support of the American effort in World War I. This mindless act of patriotic zeal would have ended in a lynching had the Harvey County sheriff not stepped in.

Though an extreme case, this was just one of many actions taken against the thousands of religious believers who declared themselves conscientious objectors in “the Great War,” including many Kansans of German Mennonite heritage. The federal government failed to give direction to local draft boards on dealing with COs, and church leaders were caught off guard as
many of their members were interrogated, jailed, even tortured. When war clouds loomed over the world some two decades later, the traditional “peace churches” — Mennonites, Quakers, and Brethren — worked to avoid a repeat of World War I. 

Working with the Roosevelt administration, they created a national service program that would ensure COs could serve their
country in a way consistent with their beliefs. What happened next is the subject of a lively new presentation sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council. Aaron Barnhart, longtime Kansas City Star writer and presenter with the KHC Speakers Bureau, will present From Resisters to Reformers: How Kansas Mennonites Changed Mental Health Care, at the following venues:

  • Tuesday, November 11, 2014 (Veterans/Armistice Day), 6:30 p.m. South Branch, Kansas City Kansas Public Library, 3104 Strong Ave, Kansas City, KS 66106
  • Friday, November 14, 2014, 7 p.m. Kiowa County Senior Center, 431 S Main St, Greensburg, KS 67054
  • Saturday, November 15, 2014, 7 p.m. Wellness Center, Pine Village Campus, 86 22nd Ave, Moundridge, KS 67107

Using primary source materials, Barnhart will tell the little known story of Civilian Public Service, an agency that took World War II conscientious objectors and put them to work in alternative service. Much of this was carryover work from the New Deal, but when the country’s mental hospitals were dangerously low on workers, thousands of CPS workers volunteered for the thankless duty. What they saw in those hospitals changed them forever, and after the war they would change mental health care. One of the shining models of postwar psychiatric care, Prairie View in Newton, Kansas, grew out of that mission.

KHC talks are designed to encourage public conversations, and Barnhart will engage audience members in dialogue about mandatory service, patriotism, and the public good during his talk, one of the Untold Stories of World War I. 

Aaron Barnhart wrote about television and media for the Kansas City Star for 15 years. Along with his wife Diane Eickhoff, he is author of The Big Divide: A Travel Guide to Historic and Civil War Sites in the Missouri-Kansas Border Region. They have written about the Civil War for the New York Times’  “Disunion” section and have published a biography, Revolutionary Heart: The
Life of Clarina Nichols
. He lives in Kansas City.

For more information on the Kansas Humanities Council programs, visit kansashumanities.org.

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