In 1986 the Peace Corps celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. As part of the preparation for that event, an effort was made to establish a repository for the personal papers of returned volunteers relating to their experience in the field. This project was carried forward after the anniversary by a small committee of RPCVs, including Suzy McKee Charnas (Nigeria 1961-62), Roger Landrum (Nigeria 1961-62), Margaret Pollock (Korea 1966-68), and myself under the auspices of the then NPCA known as the Natonal Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
While the official records of the Peace Corps are preserved in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., no institution at the time had been systematically saving personal papers and documents of the former Volunteers and staff. With the passage of time it had become increasingly urgent to gather and preserve the irreplaceable records and observations of PCVs service all over the world. That is one reason Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962-64) and I started our newsletter Peace Corps Writers & Readers in April, 1989. It was our small way to collect, publish, and promote the writings of RPCVs.
As part of that RPCV committee I began in 1987 a systematic survey of college and community libraries seeking a “home” for RPCVs documents. Among several colleges eager to obtain the material were Notre Dame University and Georgetown. I thought we could find a ‘grander’ home for our records and I also called the Kennedy Library and spoke to the chief archivist. In my mind, and the committee’s thinking, no group symbolized President Kennedy’s commitment to public service more than Peace Corps Volunteers.
The Kennedy Library agreed.
In early 1988, the committee recommended and the National Council accepted that the new collection be permanently housed in the John F. Kennedy Library. The purpose of the collection was to document the experiences of Peace Corps Volunteers and staff by collecting and preserving letters, diaries, manuscripts, books, photographs,audiotapes, films, drawings, and other items created during or after one’s service.
The official announcement of the new collection took place on November 30, 1988 in a ceremony at the Kennedy Library.
What we did not know at that time was that the Kennedy Library only wanted the papers of Volunteers who had served during the Kennedy years.
So, since then there have been other Peace Corps collections started by RPCVs in Portland, Oregon, and at American University in Washington. The collection at American University was started by Patrica Wand (Colombia 1963-65) who worked at American U. In addition, there are now Peace Corps papers of individuals at universities and colleges across the U.S.
What would be wonderful is a listing of these locations and collections readily available for PCVs, RPCVs, and future historians. Is there anyone in our RPCV community who could step up and undertake this challenge? It is certainly a great way for an RPCV to fulfill the Third Goal of the Peace Corps.