There was also, as there has always been, a search for a new frontier. That feeling was loose in America. The historian Frederick Jackson Turner has written about how America has continued to grow because of this search for another frontier. The Peace Corps gave all these young people a New Frontier.
A new generation
The Baby Boom had struck. 50 percent of the population was under 25 in 1960. For the first time a college education was within the grasp of the majority of young people. Unprecedented material wealth freed this new generation to heed their consciences and pursue their ideals. This spirit of generosity and participation had been sorely missed under Eisenhower. As one Peace Corps administrator puts it in Gerry Rice’s book: “The 1950s made ancient mariners of us all - becalmed, waiting and a little parched in the throat. Then we picked up momentum on the winds of change that Kennedy brought in - the New Frontier, the fresh faces in government, the vigorous, hopeful speeches, the Peace Corps.”
Founding Fathers
Two key people in Congress, Henry Reuss and Hubert Humphrey, both proposed the idea of the Peace Corps in the late 1950s.
Reuss voiced it in 1957 when he was a member of the Joint Economic Committee and traveled to Southeast Asia. He, by chance, came upon a UNESCO team of young teachers from America and other countries who were working at the village level. For three years after that, Congressman Reuss talked to student conferences about establishing a “Point Four Youth Corps” and wrote articles about it in magazines. In January of 1960, Reuss introduced in the House of Representatives the first Peace Corps-type legislation. It sought a study of “the advisability and practicability to the establishment of a Point Four Youth Corps.”
In the Senate, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was a member of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the late 1950s, he, too, suggested the enlistment of talented young men and women in an overseas operation for education, health care, vocational training, and community development. The idea was liked in the Senate, but the State Department was against it. Humphrey began to research the possibilities of such a program with his staff and realized there was a groundswell of popular support for the idea which he advocated during his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in the spring of 1960.
In June of 1960, Humphrey introduced in the Senate a bill to send “young men to assist the peoples of the underdeveloped areas of the world to combat poverty, disease, illiteracy and hunger.”
What’s important here is this bill - Senate S. 3675 - was the first to use the specific name “Peace Corps.”
Now it was too late in the session for his proposal to have any hope of passing into legislation, but he wanted the bill to be printed and appropriately referred so as to focus the Congress and the public on the Peace Corps idea at a critical moment - just before the presidential election of 1960.
Meanwhile, Reuss’s bill was added as a rider to the Mutual Security Act which authorized $10,000 for a study of a Point Four Youth Corps.
Also in 1960, several other people were expressing support: General James Gavin; Chester Bowles, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to India; William Douglas, associate justice of the Supreme Count; James Reston of the New York Times; Milton Shapp, from Philadelphia; Walt Rostow of MIT; and Senator Jacob Javits of New York, who urged Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon to adopt the idea. Nixon refused.