During the 1940s American mobilization for war was a conservative operation in virtually every aspect, including the persistence of sex segregation both in the military sector and on the home front. Civilian Public Service, created by the federal government and administered by historic peace churches, reflected the conventional gender ideology of the era. Federally sanctioned provisions for conscientious objectors were directed solely toward men. As the alternative service program evolved, CPS administrators assumed that women would contribute in their habitual role as providers of moral and emotional support. In short, the architects of alternative service never envisioned that so many women would ultimately contribute to the program in so many ways.
Yet despite the limitations of this wartime institution, pacifist women stepped out of the gendered confines of tradition and worked in partnership with men. More than twelve thousand men were taking part in a national experiment in which they worked at government-assigned jobs without pay. The gradual and sustained involvement of several thousand pacifist women in this alternative service program -- none of them subject to the draft -- demonstrates the strong pull of nonconformity for both women and men whose family traditions emphasized religious community involvement over political and military participation.
In making choices that went against the broader culture, these pacifists held onto a long-cherished principle of avoiding participation in war. But the roots provided by religious subcultures, so stable in peacetime, were tested in wartime. Increasingly, American conscientious objectors became engaged in secular institutions, drawn by government-sponsored programs like Civilian Public Service that provided opportunities in health care, education, and social service. They hoped to demonstrate