In 1962 the Peace Corps received 20,000 applications, compared with 13,000 in 1961. Nevertheless, Recruitment couldn’t keep up with the staggering period of growth.
For example, in 1961 the Peace Corps was in 9 countries. A year later they were in another 32 countries. Then, in the early months of 1963, there was a dramatic decline in applications, and the Peace Corps suffered its first shortfalls. This happened just as more and more countries were asking for Volunteers.
The head of Recruitment–called then ‘Chief of the Division of Colleges and Universities–was the former Dean of Men at Vanderbilt University, Samuel F. Babbitt. Sam Babbitt was a low-key kind of guy. His idea for recruitment was to set up a single Peace Corps faculty contact on campuses all across the country with instructions to conduct a continuous but unaggressive information program.
Babbitt wanted to win the Peace Corps a reputation for honesty and thoroughness which, he told everyone, “would produce a consistent flow of high-quality applicants. He believed that any sort of hard-sell campaign might bring immediate results but would eventually damage the Peace Corps’ image and attract the wrong type of applicant.”
Babbitt wasn’t someone to be pushed around. As a junior at Yale he enlisted in the Army and got caught up in the Korean War. Going through combat at Hungnam Reservoir he was evacuated with the shattered Third Division from Korea and left the army as a master sergeant in 1951 to return to Yale and earn his B.A. in American studies. Then he got his M.A. and became the Dean of Men at Vanderbilt where he was asked to become the university’s liaison officer with the Peace Corps. He was there as a dean when Bill Moyers called and asked him to join the new Peace Corps. The only thing you might hold against Babbitt was that he was a member of the famed Whiffenpoofs at Yale, singing bass. He was also one of the founders of the Baker’s Dozen, which, I think, still sings on the Yale campus.
All of his qualifications aside, he was the target at the Mad Men & Mad Women Conference Table in the Maiatico Building. And things could get rough around the edges at the 5th floor Conference Table with all of those oversize egos. Staff meetings were brutal. Gale told me of one ferocious debate when an ‘ill-informed’ staff member fled a meeting and consequently offered his resignation. Shriver took it.) Now in March of ’63 at the conference table everyone was screaming: where are the Volunteers?
Bob Gale (then chief of Special Projects) spoke up, criticizing the Peace Corps’ recruitment methods as “amateurish” and argued that efforts on college campuses should be intensified. He advocated an in-depth, professional “sales” campaign. He attacked the methods being used, i.e., a lone recruitment officer on campus putting up a notice from time to time and then waiting for interested students to appear. He had a better idea on how to recruit Peace Corps Volunteers.