Mutual Aid

This summer, KHC features daily posts about the speakers and topics in the Humanities catalog. Today’s featured presentation is “How Kansas Mennonites Changed Mental Health Care” by Aaron Barnhart.

Article from the Topeka Capital, October 24, 1952. kansasmemory.org, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Article from the Topeka Capital, October 24, 1952. kansasmemory.org, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Few people were as unprepared for World War I as Kansas Mennonites. Opposed to military service for religious reasons, these mostly German farmers came under suspicion. “Issues of personal conscience versus authority to the state is a theme as old as human history,” says KHC presenter Aaron Barnhart.

In his Speakers Bureau talk, “How Kansas Mennonites Changed Mental Health Care,” Barnhart explores how the Mennonites, along with Quaker and Brethren churches, proposed a system of alternative service as the threat of World War II loomed. Through the Civilian Public Service program, many conscientious objectors were assigned to work in mental health facilities, where they witnessed patients suffering in horrendous conditions. Eventually these Kansas Mennonites and other conscientious objectors led reforms for more humane psychiatric care practices.

Aaron Barnhart

Aaron Barnhart

Aaron Barnhart is a freelance writer and co-author of the book The Big Divide: A Travel Guide to Historic and Civil War Sites in the Missouri-Kansas Border Region. His research interests are in history, civil society, and rural America.

Barnhart recognizes that these reforms resulted, in some ways, from young people being required to serve in the military or alternative service. “I like to end my talk by asking if mandatory service might be an idea whose time has come again. Now there’s a lively discussion!”

You can attend Aaron Barnhart’s “How Kansas Mennonites Changed Mental Health Care” on November 11th in Kansas City, November 14th in Greensburg, and November 15th in Moundridge. You can also bring this or one of the other presentations in the Humanities catalog to your community for FREE with a Resource Center Support Grant. It’s quick and easy! Visit the Speakers Bureau page to get started or contact Leslie Von Holten, director of programs, at leslie(at)kansashumanities.org for more information.