Over the next year, leading up to the 50th Anniversary, I’ll be blogging short pieces of background information on the creation of the agency. I’ve done some of this already, as you know, but what follows is more details and facts on the ‘idea’ of a Peace Corps, and the first group of staff and PCVs.
So, here’s # 1
Beginning in March of 1961, the Peace Corps had no Volunteers, little staff, no application form, no tests or testing centers, no selection process, no training program, no projects, no evaluation system, and no agreements with nations wanting Peace Corps Volunteers.
There was intense interest–30 to 40,000 letters following the JFK’s speeches outlining the idea for a Peace Corps. There was authority, the March 1, 1961 Presidential Executive Order, 10924. And there was some research. Remember the Colorado State study Congress had conducted?
There were also criticism, skepticism, disbelief and fear.
It was between the horizons of hope and fear the Peace Corps took root.
The idea for a Peace Corps was not unique, as we know.
What was unique was that in 1960 and ‘61 the idea was joined with the power and the desire to implement it. That was key.
The philosophical underpinnings of the Peace Corps certain go back to William James’ “The Moral Equivalent of War,” with its suggestion for an “army enlisted against Nature.”
Also, when the Peace Corps was coming into being, other volunteer groups and missions, were carrying on similar programs. For example, Teachers For East Africa out of Columbia University.
It was from these programs that came the proposals of Representative Reuss for a Point Four Youth Corps, and of Senators Humphrey for a Peace Corps. They led to enactment of Section 203 (c) of the Mutual Security Act of 1960 which authorized expenditure of not more than $10,000 to help pay for a study of a Point Four Youth Corps by a non-government organization. That contract, as I mentioned previously, went to the Colorado State University Research Foundation.
In late January, 1961, JFK set up a Task Force under Sargent Shriver, his brother-in-law and the President of the Chicago Board of Education, to study the feasibility of a Peace Corps.