# 21 Mad Men At The Peace Corps: Samuel Babbitt (Washington, D.C.)

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.

Sam Babbitt in later years

Sam Babbitt in later years

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.

 

4 Comments

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  • I think this always has been something of a mystery, and never clarified by the Peace Corps agency: Has the numbers of serving volunteers (against original aspirations) the result of lack of applications, lack of suitability of applicants (personal suitability or skills), insufficient agency budget, or lack of requests by host countries. Or something else. Over the years I have heard ALL of these. Whatever it was (or IS), it seems it would be significant to lots of things like NPCA advocacy for bigger budgets, More emphasis (incl RPCV participation) in recruitment, or project development, incl how BIG a project ought to be.

    • John, it is a simple answer. Every congressional season Congress votes to expand the number of PCVs to at least 10,000 and it never happens. The funding is never given to the agency to support that many PCVs. Every year the agency has more requests than they can fill. They just don’t have the Volunteers. The largest number of PCVs overseas was in 1966 at 15,556. The question now is will we even have a Peace Corps in the future….given President-elect Donald Trump’s world view.

      • I have a feeling that the reply is the cancel option.
        Will it happen that the Peace Corps goes out before we pass by?
        Will our country end submerged in some alien power?
        Will the Peace Corps and the volunteers be recalled in the next generations?

        At bottom because of Marian Hailey Beil and John Coyne there is a chance that our time’s hopes will exist in this story of stories (from people including Phyllis Noble, Robert Klein, Joanne Roll, Bill Moyers, Georianna McGuire, Alice O’Grady, the Arias brothers among them).

        WE COME FORWARD

        how the excluded or ignored come forward:

        identities merge
        doors closed, open
        Anthony and Cleopatra exchange clothes
        David and Jonathan switch ‘em

        real story is how excluded, ignored come forward
        wheels-up, square-long

        mundane-ecstatic’s quotidian
        daily vocabularies
        bubbles of ancient air alive in glaciers

        knocking in ordinary wrong places
        making-nothing-happen witnessing
        from life because the real story is
        we come forward.

        © copyright Edward Mycue

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