Changes in the 60 Years of the Peace Corps

 

 

Established by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961, via Executive Order, the concept for the public service agency was first introduced months prior in an impromptu presidential campaign speech delivered to college students.

“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?” then-Senator Kennedy asked the students. “I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.”

The response was swift and enthusiastic. Since the Peace Corps’ founding, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 142 host countries. Here’s a look back at some of the agency’s major accomplishments and milestones:

  • 1961: President Kennedy hosts a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden in honor of the first group of volunteers departing for service. Congress approves legislation for the Peace Corps. The first volunteers arrive in Ghana.
  • 1977: Carolyn Robertson Payton is appointed Peace Corps Director by President Jimmy Carter. She’s the first female and first African American to serve in this role.
  • 1985: The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program, a graduate fellowship program offering financial assistance to returned volunteers, as well as opportunities to continue service in underserved communities, is established.
  • 1995: The Peace Corps sends volunteers to the Caribbean island of Antigua to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Luis. This pilot program, Crisis Corps (now called Peace Corps Response), provides short-term humanitarian service to countries worldwide.
  • 2005: For the first time, volunteers are deployed domestically when the Peace Corps Response program assists the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief operations in the Gulf Coast region following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
  • 2007: The Peace Corps Prep program is established, offering an undergraduate certificate program that helps students build skills needed to be effective volunteers, giving them a competitive edge when applying for Peace Corps service.
  • 2014: For the first time, Peace Corps applicants can choose the programs and countries they apply to, selecting the path that best fits their skills, languages, and personal and professional goals.
  • 2016: The Peace Corps gets a makeover with the adoption of a new look and logo.
  • 2020: The Peace Corps initiates its first global evacuation in its history in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, what’s the status of the Peace Corps today? Currently, the agency is working to return to service and is accepting applications to serve. Interested applicants can connect with a recruiter to learn more and get the application process started by visiting peacecorps.gov.

From partnering with local communities, to mitigating the impacts of climate change, to teaching digital literacy, today’s Peace Corps service opportunities look different than they once did; however, they all continue the agency’s original and inspiring mandate to “promote world peace and friendship.”

4 Comments

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  • John, thank you so much for this interesting/valuable summary of our amazing and inspiring work that hasn’t lost any meaning or strength over 60 years. There is nothing more important now than getting our Volunteers back in the field safely and productively so Peace Corps can enjoy another 60! Thank you for all you do and have done to keep our mission alive.

  • Some changes at peace corps not included in your list:
    1) pc doctors program in 1964 an attempt to find a way for more medical people to serve
    2) operation peace pipe-in 1965 a Shriver initiative to try and include Native Americans in Pace Corps service
    3) peace corps Families Program—1965 an initiative to allow couples with children to serve as PCVs
    4) in mid-sixties there was a partnership with blue collar trade unions to enable plumbers @ electrician types to join

    All of the above were attempts to broaden the pool of pc applicants and skills and make the PC relevant to a wider swath of Americans than the mostly recent college graduates and also meet skill needs of the host countries all of them were later dropped for either ineffectiveness or due to budget cuts— that said, they reflect the creativity and willingness to experiment at the PC

    The above does not include the myriad declarations and plans implemented by PC Direvtors that PC will make special efforts to recruit man norities and, older volunteers

  • Other changes:
    a) somewhere along the way PC launched a School-to-School program,, does it still exist?
    b) Also sometime in the ’70s PC created a Volunteer Project fund of some kind that would grant funds to PCVs for projects in their communities; does it still exist?
    c) Big change—in the early ’70s Peace Corps stopped sending to each PCV a footlocker full of paperback books, many of which became the foundation of village school libraries
    d) by 1970 PC stopped subscribing to TIME magazine for all its PCVs (budget cuts in the Nixon Administration I believe)

  • PEACE CORPS BEGINNING MEMORY: Edward Mycue

    I have told my story before about 1960 as an intern at WGBH-TV
    meeting JFK twice, once seeking the Democratic Party nomination and the second time AS the nominee, both when he was the guest on Louis Lyons’ (Nieman Journalism Foundation’s Curator, Harvard) news program on which I was the assistant. On one, I think the first, Lyons spoke about Hubert Humphreys’ idea (of what would be called the Peace Corps, then unnamed as something similar to the American Friends Service Committee program abroad). The then Senator John Kennedy replied in his best almost happy/ smart manner that it was a good idea (saying good ideas from another candidate were GOOD ideas) and that “When I am president, I will start such a program” (or words pretty close to that, and ending with his handsome head cocked to the side and smiling — you know like the cat that ate the cream). I was 23 then and it thrilled me, not just the idea for beginning such an organization but as much for the joyful intelligence and daring-do in a politician.
    P.S. As a Peace Corps Volunteer HEADING to Ghana in late August 1961 in the White House, I met PRESIDENT Kennedy both in the Rose Garden and in the Oval Office along with the other volunteers from 3 groups (Columbia, Tanganyika, Ghana).
    Note: this was a reply to a Sept 11, 2015 posting by John Coyne on his and Marian Hailey Beil Peace Corps World Wide Writers Site (see just below):
    Peace Corps Worldwide
    where returned Volunteers share their expertise and experiences

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