As part of the on-going process of integrating the historical
activities of the former General Conference Mennonite Church
and the Mennonite Church (MC) into the new Mennonite Church
USA, we begin with this issue a cooperative effort in publication
with Mennonite Life. Published by Bethel College (not by the
General Conference or its historical committees), Mennonite Life
has been closely associated with the Mennonite Library and Archives
and General Conference historical activities. The Mennonite Historical
Bulletin was the periodical of the Mennonite Church (MC) Historical
Committee and continues as a publication of the Mennonite Church
USA Historical Committee. Starting with the December 2002 issue
of Mennonite Life and January 2003 issue of Mennonite Historical
Bulletin, we plan to publish one joint article per issue in an
effort to make each of our readerships more aware of historical
publications in the current context. Mennonite Life is published
online at http://www.bethelks.edu/mennonitelife/mlabout.html
Rachel Weaver Kreider and the ROTC Controversy
at Ohio State University, 1934-35
by James C. Juhnke
On January 12, 1934, when George W. Rightmire, president of
Ohio State University, suspended seven conscientious objectors
who refused military training, Rachel Weaver Kreider was working
on a term paper about "my people, the pacifist Anabaptists."
Kreider was a graduate student at OSU, making progress toward
a Master of Arts degree in philosophy. Her Mennonite peace convictions
drew her into a public protest movement against the university's
repressive militarism. The event marked her coming out as one
of the early Mennonite women peace activists.
Rachel Weaver had absorbed peace concerns from her parents.
She was eight and nine years old during World War I (1917-18)
when her father, Sam Weaver, served as a counselor to Amish and
Mennonite draft-age young men in Lagrange County, Indiana. Rachel
listened intently and stood wide-eyed as her father notarized
papers certifying the convictions and church membership of the
worried draftees. She was proud that her father knew so much
and was so important that people came to him for help. He had
been superintendent of the Shipshewana elementary and secondary
schools, but had resigned in 1917, partly for health reasons
and perhaps partly because of wartime pressures upon Amish and
Mennonite pacifists. This war was serious business.
Rachel's father was also a pastor at the Forks Mennonite Church
1904-16. He had studied at Valparaiso University and had graduated
from Goshen College in 1911. A framed copy of his graduation
certificate from Goshen hung on the Weavers' living room wall,
a sign for Rachel of the importance of higher education. Rachel
excelled in elementary and secondary school, and went on to Goshen
College herself, graduating in 1931 with a major in Latin. At
Goshen she took classes under professors Harold S. Bender (history)
and Guy F. Hershberger (sociology), both of whom became prominent
Mennonite denominational peace leaders.
While Rachel Weaver was absorbing peace as a core Mennonite
value, she and her family were scarred by the church's conservative
adherence to separatist practices that the Weaver family considered
unimportant. The church enforced a rigid dress code for women,
including, at the Forks Church, a rule requiring strings attached
to the regulation bonnet. Rachel's mother, Laura Johns Weaver,
took off the strings, and the church held her back from communion.
When Sam Weaver resigned from the ministry in 1916, he was discouraged
with the church's legalism and its opposition to education. In
1923, when a growing Mennonite cultural crisis led to the closing
of Goshen College, Weaver and his family joined a more open and
liberal congregation-the Eighth Street Mennonite Church in Goshen.
At Goshen College Rachel met and fell in love with Leonard
Kreider, from Wadsworth, Ohio. They delayed marriage because
they were poor and the country was in an economic depression.
After graduation in 1931, Rachel got a job teaching English and
Latin in the small town of Roann, Indiana. Rachel and Leonard
were married in the summer of 1933, and began life together in
a small attic room near the Ohio State University campus in Columbus.
Leonard studied for a Ph.D. in chemistry. Rachel took courses
in religion and philosophy. There were about twenty-five Mennonites
By the early 1930s, military training had become a bone of
contention on university campuses across the nation. The U.S.
Congress had encouraged military training in public schools in
National Defense Acts of 1916 and 1920. The War Department provided
colleges and universities with funds and staff for Reserve Officers'
Training Corps. By 1927, eighty-six colleges and universities
had mandatory ROTC, and forty-four offered it as an elective.
National peace organizations mobilized opposition to the military
training. The Fellowship of Reconciliation led the way with a
"Committee on Militarism in Education."
Ohio State University instituted compulsory military training,
but exempted members of historic peace churches. The exemption
reflected the government's policy for conscientious objectors
during World War I. In 1931-33 the number of conscientious objectors
at Ohio State University began to increase, a reflection of a
growing peace movement throughout the country. Dr. Robert Leonard
Tucker, a Methodist pastor in the university district, influenced
idealistic young men from his denomination to refuse ROTC. Initially
the university administration responded to the growing number
of conscientious objectors by extending the exemption to students
not from historic peace churches. But by the 1933-34 school year,
the number of applicants rose to nearly forty. Administrators
thought the situation was getting out of hand. The president
instituted a new system for evaluation of the conscientious objectors,
substituting a four-hour course on "Preparedness" and
two hours of physical education for those judged sincere. On
January 12, 1934, seven students judged insincere were notified
that they had been suspended from the school.
Rachel Kreider was midway through her first year at the university
when the seven students were suspended. She became "thoroughly
interested" in the controversy. During the following school
year she made a point of being "somewhere in the neighborhood
when the issue would be raised." She reported that "military
propaganda is exceptionally strong here and there are big fat
army men all over the place." A Pacifist Club was established
on the same day as the suspension of the CO's, and it published
several issues of a newsletter, "The Ohio State University
Peace News." Roy Zook, secretary of the Pacifist Club, and
Kenneth Burkholder, visited Leonard and Rachel and asked whether
she could get help from some Mennonite leaders. Zook doubted
that the Ohio Mennonite ministers would support the effort. Mennonite
leaders wanted their young people to attend Mennonite schools.
Some students attended state universities as a way out of the
In the fall of 1934, Ohio State University announced that
no freshmen or sophomore men would be excused from military drill
except for physical reasons. The various peace groups, including
members of the National Student League (a communist-affiliated
organization), attempted to increase their effectiveness by cooperating
in an organization called the United Front Committee (UFC). Rachel
did not officially join the UFC, but she did show up in October
1934 when the group met with President Rightmire. At that meeting
she presented the Mennonite viewpoint. In her words: "I
told the president that if our boys are true to the four hundred
years of history behind them they will not bear arms and are
therefore barred from a state institution, a rather unjust discrimination
against a law-abiding tax-paying people like the Mennonites of
Ohio." Rachel was slightly embarrassed when the campus
newspaper, The Lantern, in reporting the encounter, said that
someone had represented the Mennonites. She had spoken as an
Another focus for peace activist witness was the Ohio state
legislature. At the initiative of some church leaders in Ohio,
a bill was introduced to make ROTC voluntary in state universities.
Students wrote letters to church leaders to mobilize support
for the bill. Rachel wrote one letter to Dr. Jacob C. Meyer,
a Mennonite professor of history at Western Reserve University
in Cleveland. She hoped Meyer might use his connection with Newton
D. Baker, who had been Secretary of War during World War I, and
who was now on the Ohio State University board of trustees. At
that point, the peace activists were attempting to get the bill
sent to the Schools Committee rather than to the Military Affairs
Committee, where it would not get support. Rachel also wrote
letters to Ohio Mennonite pastors in Bluffton (Irwin W. Bauman),
Wadsworth (Wilmer Shelly), Dalton (Austin R. Keiser), and Canton
(Otis Johns). Several of these men responded, but not in time
to be helpful in the legislative process.
The bill was sent to the Military Affairs Committee, and Rachel
attended the hearing when testimony was presented from both sides.
She said it was "a most interesting experience." The
main witness for the bill was the Methodist pastor, Dr. Tucker.
A Quaker and a student representative from the YMCA also spoke.
But the peace testimony was overwhelmed by the other side. A
former State Commander of the American Legion dramatically accused
the students of using the issue "to pump people full of
communist propaganda." A Legion Post chaplain railed against
the "pseudo-conscientious objectors." The vice president
of Ohio State University then "in his calm, serene way surely
took the starch out of our side." He said the university
was doing what the state legislature wanted, what the university
faculty had voted for, and what would contribute most to national
defense. The bill died in committee. But the process had contributed
greatly to Rachel's education in peace activism.
Rachel was distressed that the various groups and individuals
protesting the university policy-Pacifist Club, YMCA, Fellowship
of Reconciliation, communists, and others-had had difficulty
cooperating with each other. The attempt to form a United Front
Committee failed, in part because the communists were so aggressive
that others had trouble working with them. The YMCA decided not
to cooperate with the United Front. On November 29, 1934, Rachel
wrote a strongly-worded letter to the YMCA leaders, urging them
to reconsider their decision. "We never needed union more,"
she wrote. "I am sure there is a way to rise above our divisions
if we will and we will if we mean what we say." Later she
admitted that she became "a little wiser in knowing how
the Communists work."
On April 12, 1935, students across the country participated
in a "strike" against war organized by religious pacifists
and left-wing student groups. Some 150,000 students nationwide
were involved. At Ohio State University the communist-dominated
National Student League took over the demonstration. Their main
speaker attacked both American imperialism and the pacifists.
A crowd of students, one third of whom were uniformed ROTC men,
showed up. The speech prompted loud boos from the ROTC supporters
and embarrassment on the part of the peace groups. Rachel reported,
"I never saw so little sense shown, and the whole group
of pacifists had to bear the brunt of it."
The peace groups, Communists excluded, managed to organize
another demonstration on May 29, 1935, the day before Decoration
Day. President Rightmire had dismissed classes for the holiday.
Ernest Fremont Tittle, a prominent Methodist pacifist from Chicago,
was to address a large outdoor gathering. But it rained hard
that day and the meeting was held in University Hall. Rachel
was one of five students on the stage but had no role in the
program. Later that same day Rachel had her Master's oral examination.
Despite tension and exhaustion, she passed the exam.
Today we know about Rachel Kreider's peace activism at Ohio
State because her former teacher, Guy F. Hershberger, was collecting
information for the archives at Goshen College about Mennonites
and peace. He asked her what had happened in Columbus, and she
responded with a seven-page single-spaced letter, along with
newspaper clippings, correspondence, and other information. In
her letter, Rachel got in a dig at Mennonites who put "bonnet-wearing
and pacifism . . . on the same level." She asked that Hershberger
return most of the materials when he was done with them, but
he kept them for the archives.
In Rachel's final year at Ohio State, lack of funds kept her
from taking courses toward a Ph.D. degree. While her husband
Leonard finished his degree, she worked on a genealogy project
to trace both the Weaver and Kreider family lines. By the time
Leonard was ready to send his dissertation to the bindery, Rachel
also had an impressive manuscript completed. The manuscript began
with the term paper on "my people, the pacifist Anabaptists,"
and concluded with the genealogy. They had both documents bound,
representing significant achievements by both husband and wife.
Later in her career, Rachel Kreider became a distinguished genealogist
and church historian, best known for the magisterial work co-authored
with Hugh Gingerich, Amish and Amish Mennonite Genealogies.
In the midst of her Ohio State peace activism, Rachel wrote
an entry in her personal journal reflecting on her personal style
No matter how much I aim to stay quiet and irresponsible I
always get myself into some situation eventually where I'm exceedingly
busy and trying to push something through and yet never being
an obvious member of anything. The latest thing is this matter
of compulsory military training.
Rachel Kreider's self-characterization of 1935 applied to
her continuing peace work over the next seven decades. She was
usually a mover and shaker in secondary roles, as her role as
homemaker and mother of three children allowed. At times she
hesitantly accepted committee chairmanships. In North Newton,
Kansas (1937-49), she chaired for several years the local chapter
of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In
Wadsworth, Ohio, she continued WILPF work, and helped the American
Friends Service Committee to start a "pilot project"
in community peace organizing that she sustained as secretary
over the decades. She served on the Peace Committee of the General
Conference Mennonite Church. In Goshen, Indiana (1982- ), she
continued a lively interest in world affairs, writing to her
representatives in Congress. She attended meetings of the local
Seniors for Peace. When President George Bush threatened war
against Iraq in the fall of 2002, Rachel Kreider, ninety-three
years of age, offered her peace testimony as firmly and passionately
as she had at Ohio State University in 1934-35.
James C. Juhnke serves as a member of the Mennonite Church
USA Historical Committee, and retired recently from teaching
history at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas. His latest book
is The Missing Piece, The Search for Nonviolent Alternatives
in United States History, published by Pandora Press.