“The Peace Corps represents some, if not all, of the best virtues in this society. It stands for everything that America has ever stood for. It stands for everything we believe in and hope to achieve in the world.”
- Sargent Shriver
History of the Peace Corps during Shriver’s tenure as founder and the first Director (1960-1966):
The idea of the Peace Corps was born out of the optimism, idealism, and energy that coalesced around the presidential candidacy of President John F. Kennedy. It was on Oct.14, 1960, when then-Sen. Kennedy issued a challenge to students at the University of Michigan to serve their country and live and work in the developing world. Kennedy’s speech lasted only a few minutes, but he outlined a vision that would become the Peace Corps.
A few months later, President Kennedy was sworn-in and his inaugural address reverberated throughout the country and the world when he said, “Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves…” A large part of “our best efforts to help” would be realized through the Peace Corps, which was still a vague idea until President Kennedy called on his brother in law, Sargent Shriver, the next day, asking him to lead a task force to establish the agency.
Fifty years later, it seems all but unimaginable that Shriver and his task force, in just one month, could draft a report outlining the current mission and design of the agency and submit it to the White House. Soon thereafter, on March 1, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924, establishing the Peace Corps, and on March 4, he named Shriver the agency’s first director.
Then in August 1961 – just 10 months after President Kennedy’s speech at the University of Michigan – the first group of Peace Corps volunteers headed to their assignments in Ghana. Between March and September, Shriver found the time to travel to developing countries to ask foreign leaders to host Peace Corps Volunteers, to persuade Congress to pass legislation to fund and operate the Peace Corps, to oversee the initial staffing and running of a federal agency, and to ensure the agency’s independence from the foreign policy establishment. In September 1961, Congress approved legislation for the Peace Corps, giving us the mandate to “promote world peace and friendship.” Our mission remains the same today.
Sargent Shriver talks to a group of potential Peace Corps Volunteers. 1961
By December of 1961, there were more than 500 Peace Corps volunteers serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Pakistan, with an additional 200 Americans in training for service across the U.S.
By 1963, Shriver was leading an agency with more than 6,500 volunteers serving in nearly 50 countries. It was an extraordinary effort that only could have been accomplished by a leader with immense skill, audacious vision, and indefatigable energy. Shriver’s idealism and enthusiasm were essential to the creation and character of the agency; he is the founding father of the Peace Corps.
Shriver concluded his service as the Peace Corps’ first director on Feb. 28, 1966.
Since that time, Shriver’s spirit and dedication to service have remained ever present in the agency. Shriver once wrote: “Working with the Peace Corps should not be like working with another government agency. We have a special mission which can only be accomplished if everyone believes in it and works for it in a manner consistent with the ideals of service and volunteerism.”
The Peace Corps remains committed to Shriver’s principles and we are honored to call him our founding father.
Presidential Proclamation--50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps
50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PEACE CORPS
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps, forever changing the way America sees the world and the world sees us. Today, one of President Kennedy's most enduring legacies can be found in the over 200,000 current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have collectively given over a half century of service to the cause of peace. On its 50th anniversary, the United States Peace Corps remains an enduring symbol of our Nation's commitment to encouraging progress, creating opportunity, and fostering mutual respect and understanding throughout the world.
Over the past five decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have served in nearly 140 countries, bringing a wealth of practical assistance to those working to build better lives for themselves and their communities. From the first group of volunteers to arrive in Ghana and Tanzania in August 1961, they have been emissaries of hope and goodwill to the far corners of our world, strengthening the ties of friendship between the people of the United States and those of other countries. Living and working alongside those they serve, volunteers help address changing and complex global needs in education, health and HIV/AIDS, business and information technology, agriculture, environmental protection, and youth development. With each village that now has access to clean water, each young woman who has received an education, and each family empowered to prevent disease because of the service of a Peace Corps Volunteer, President Kennedy's noble vision lives on.
In our increasingly interconnected world, the mission of the Peace Corps is more relevant today than ever. Returned volunteers, enriched by their experiences overseas, bring a deeper understanding of other cultures and traditions back to their home communities in the United States. The lasting accomplishments of the Peace Corps continue to strengthen partnerships with leaders and countries around the world. This year, we also mourn the loss and pay tribute to the extraordinary life of Sargent Shriver, the founding director of the Peace Corps. The impact of his decades of public service will echo forever in countless places across the globe that have been touched by the Peace Corps.
On this anniversary, we honor the men and women from across the country who have carried forward our Nation's finest tradition of service, and we rededicate ourselves to fulfilling the dream and continuing the work of all those who aspire and yearn for peace.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 1, 2011, as the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that honor the Peace Corps and its volunteers, past and present, for their many contributions to the cause of global peace and friendship.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty eighth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
The Peace Corps is an American volunteer program run by the United States Government, as well as a government agency of the same name. The mission of the Peace Corps includes three goals: providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand U.S. culture, and helping Americans understand the cultures of other countries. Generally, the work is related to social and economic development. Each program participant, (aka Peace Corps Volunteer), is an American citizen, typically with a college degree, who works abroad for a period of 24 months after three months of training. Volunteers work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and entrepreneurs in education, hunger, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment. After 24 months of service, volunteers can request an extension of service.
It was established by Executive Order 10924 on March 1, 1961, and authorized by the Congress on September 22, 1961, with passage of the Peace Corps Act (Public Law 87-293). The act declares the program's purpose as follows:
To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.
Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and have served in 139 countries. Many former volunteers have risen to national prominence, not least the four who have served as Peace Corps Directors.
While President John F. Kennedy is credited with the creation of the Peace Corps, the first initiative came from Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr. (D-Minnesota), who introduced the first bill to create the Peace Corps in 1957—three years prior to the University of Michigan speech. In his autobiography The Education of a Public Man, Humphrey wrote,
"There were three bills of particular emotional importance to me: the Peace Corps, a disarmament agency, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The President, knowing how I felt, asked me to introduce legislation for all three. I introduced the first Peace Corps bill in 1957. It did not meet with much enthusiasm. Some traditional diplomats quaked at the thought of thousands of young Americans scattered across their world. Many senators, including liberal ones, thought it silly and an unworkable idea. Now, with a young president urging its passage, it became possible and we pushed it rapidly through the Senate. It is fashionable now to suggest that Peace Corps Volunteers gained as much or more, from their experience as the countries they worked. That may be true, but it ought not demean their work. They touched many lives and made them better."
Only in 1959, however, did the idea receive serious attention in Washington when Congressman Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin proposed a "Point Four Youth Corps". In 1960, he and Senator Richard L. Neuberger of Oregon introduced identical measures calling for a nongovernmental study of the idea's "advisability and practicability".
Both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed study, the latter writing the Reuss proposal into the pending Mutual Security legislation. In this form it became law in June 1960. In August the Mutual Security Appropriations Act was enacted, making available US$10,000 for the study, and in November ICA contracted with the Maurice Albertson, Andrew E. Rice, and Pauline E. Birky of Colorado State University Research Foundation for the study.
John F. Kennedy first announced his idea for such an organization during the 1960 presidential campaign, at a late-night speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14, 1960. On November 1, he dubbed the proposed organization the "Peace Corps". Critics (including Kennedy's opponent, Richard M. Nixon claimed the program would be nothing but a haven for draft dodgers.
Others doubted whether recent graduates had the necessary skills and maturity. The idea was popular among students, however, and Kennedy pursued it, asking respected academics such as Max Millikan and Chester Bowles to help him outline the organization and its goals. During his inaugural address, Kennedy again promised to create the program: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country".
President Kennedy in a speech at the White House on June 22, 1962 "Remarks to Student Volunteers Participating in Operation Crossroads Africa" acknowledged that Operation Crossroads for Africa was the basis for the development of the Peace Corps. "This group and this effort really were the progenitors of the Peace Corps and what this organization has been doing for a number of years led to the establishment of what I consider to be the most encouraging indication of the desire for service not only in this country but all around the world that we have seen in recent years".
The Peace Corps website answered the question "Who Inspired the Creation of the Peace Corps?", acknowledging that the Peace Corps were based on Operation Crossroads Africa founded by Rev. James H. Robinson.
Establishment and authorization:
On March 1, 1961, Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 that officially started the Peace Corps. Concerned with the growing tide of revolutionary sentiment in the Third World, Kennedy saw the Peace Corps as a means of countering the stereotype of the "Ugly American" and "Yankee imperialism," especially in the emerging nations of post-colonial Africa and Asia.
Kennedy appointed his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver to be the program's first director. Shriver fleshed out the organization with the help of Warren Wiggins and others. Shriver and his think tank outlined the organization's goals and set the initial number of volunteers. The program began recruiting in July, 1962.
Until about 1967, applicants had to pass a placement test that tested "general aptitude" (knowledge of various skills needed for Peace Corps assignments) and language aptitude. After an address from Kennedy, who was introduced by Rev. Russell Fuller of Memorial Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, on August 28, 1961, the first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania. The program was formally authorized by Congress on September 22, 1961, and within two years over 7,300 volunteers were serving in 44 countries. This number increased to 15,000 in June 1966, the largest number in the organization's history.