Held at: Swarthmore College Peace Collection [Contact Us]500 College Avenue, Swarthmore 19081-1399
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
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.
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.
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.
The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is the official repository for these papers/records.
Gift of Juniper Neill, July 2009 [Acc. 09A-035]
For the catalog record for this collection, and to find materials on similar topics, search the library's online catalog
Processed by Anne M. Yoder, Archivist, August 2009
Photograph removed to Photograph Collection.
- Conscientious Objectors -- United States -- History -- Sources
- Draft resisters -- United States -- History -- Sources
- Pacifists -- United States -- History -- Sources
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Draft resisters -- United States -- Sources
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Prisoners and prisons -- United States -- Sources
- Japanese Americans -- Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945 -- Sources
- Swarthmore College Peace Collection
- Access Restrictions
- Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
- Use Restrictions
removed from scrapbook, which was discarded