Charlie Peters’ Excellent Adventurers and their Peace Corps Evaluation Reports 1961-1967

Charlie Peters, lawyer, WWII Veteran, Kennedy campaigner,  Master’s in English and former West Virginia Legislator, was chosen by Shriver to head up the first evaluation unit in a federal agency.  He did so with relish, hiring professional journalists and fanning them out overseas to independently evaluate the fledging Peace Corps programs, many times to the consternation of those in the Program Department who had created those very same programs. ( See: Redmon, Coates, Come As You Are, Chapter six “Charlie Peters, the Burr under the Saddle”, Orlando, Florida, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1986). These reports compose the first real public record of the Peace Corps and the National Archives has preserved all of them in its vaults at College Park, Md.

The evaluators spent weeks or even months in-country traveling to sites and interviewing both staff and Volunteers. Upon their return, their reports circulated among staff at PC/DC as well as in-country. The original documents contain the handwritten comments of that staff, sometimes asking a question, sometimes angrily disputing a conclusion. Comprehensive typewritten responses by the staff are also included.

It was most telling to me that the reports did not circulate among Volunteers. This left me shouting rebuttals, almost fifty years later, in the hallowed halls of the Achives. Trust me, such outbursts are really frowned upon in that establishment.  But it may just be that the Archives staff did not know that Volunteers had voices.

All the reports are worth reading. I know only the Colombia reports. Because Colombia had the first Community Development program in Peace Corps, these evaluations provide especially valuable history.  Meridan Bennett reported (Colombia Rural Programs Overseas Evaluation – Colombia 1964),

“It is part of the genius of the Colombia operation that instead of allowing the whole program to waste away for lack of staff, a way out was found.” (page 5)

The way out was to create a network of Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders, whom Bennett felt did a much better job, at times, than paid staff. Bennett had high praise for the PCVL organization in Sandander del Sur.

Two years later, Evelyn Reed (The Peace Corps Community Development program in Colombia, November 28, 1967) wrote:

“When I arrived in Colombia October 1966 to begin a eight-month study of the community development project, Peace Corps/Colombia program orperations were in shambles.” (Page 1)

Reed also identified that some 12,000 site and program reports, of the type lauded by Bennett, were haphazardly stored in a warehouse and not in use. (After a yearlong FOIA quest, PC/DC responded in October of 2009 that there was no record of these PCV generated reports).

The Country Program Evaluations fill 26 Letter Archives Boxes, Standard size. To read the reports, one must travel to College Park, or pay to have a report copied and mailed, at a price of 75 cents a page. Both methods are too cumbersome for such valuable documents.  But absent funding to make the reports more accessible, those are the only way to read the reports in their entirety.

To find the identifying entry for all the Evaluations in the National Archives catalog, follow this path: nara.gov; Research our Records; Search Online; Archival Research Catalog (ARC); Record Groups and Collections (left hand side of page); Index to Record Group in ARC in numeric order by RG number; 400-490; RG 490 Records of the Peace Corps 1961-1991; Search within this record group; key in Evaluations in search box; scroll to Country Program Evaluations, compiled 1961-1967.

Here is the entry.  I have included the path as the hyperlink may not work.

Country Program Evaluations, compiled 1961 – 1967

ARC Identifier 1427406 / MLR Number A1 20

Textual Records from the Department of State. Peace Corps. Office of Planning and Evaluation. Division of Evaluation. (1961 – 1967)

Archives II Reference Section (Civilian), Textual Archives Services Division, College Park, MD

Series from Record Group 490: Records of the Peace Corps, 1961 – 2000

If you are visiting the Archives, you will find archivists very helpful. Show this entry to the archivists in the Research Room and they will help you request the specific reports. If you are searching online and want to know if the series include a specific country or date, email an archivist and ask. The email address is:  archives2reference@nara.gov

Make sure to copy all the above entry data into your request.

You may also ask how many pages are in a given report and/or how much it would cost to copy and mail the report to you.  They may be able to answer other questions as well. Within ten working days, you should receive a reply.

Then, thank the archivist and write your Congressional Delegation and say we need a Peace Corps Library!

4 Comments

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  • Joanne,

    I would love to put together a project to digitize all the reports and put them on the web. How many pages of reports do you think there are in all? If there are several thousand pages, then the cost of copying them would become prohibitive at 75 cents a sheet.

    Do you think they would allow someone to come in and photograph the reports a page at a time with a digital camera? That would probably work better anyway because there are services that will OCR jpeg images and turn them into text.

    Best Regards,

    Hugh Pickens

  • Hugh, That would be a great project!

    There are thousands of pages. The reports fill 26 Letter Archives Box which occupy more than 11 feet. The two reports I quoted are 89 pages and 66 pages, respectively. However, the cost of 75 cents a page is only for asking the archivist to copy and mail the report. The archives are open to the public. If someone is copying reports at the archives, it is only 15 cents a page.

    There are provisions for bringing in a digital camera and photographing each page. It may even be possible to bring in a laptop with scanning capacity. I have only used the copier machine when I was there, so I am not knowledgeable about how to go about using other kinds of technology. You certainly can email NARA at: archives2reference@nara.gov for more accurate information.

    I do have some reservations. I think the reports should absolutely be more accessible. But, the evaluators were very frank and opinionated in their comments about Volunteers, staff and Host Countries. Part of the protocol of making the reports publicly available is to “process “them. All personal identifying information is supposed to be redacted. The Bennet report had two copies. The first copy had all the personal information blacked out. The second did not. (That is where I found my name.) And of course, all these reports have been declassified. Many had been marked “Confidential.” Quite frankly, I think that even after 50 years, some of the comments could be damaging to how people in this and other countries view the Peace Corps. That is just my opinion. But, the Internet would make everything available, and maybe without proper context.

    The reason I advocate for a library is that librarians could be trained to make sure that the reports and all kinds of other public Peace Corps documents could be used in a way that would minimize any adverse impacts, at the same time making them available for history and research purposes.

    I know that your website, Peace Corps Online, is absolutely the best online archive for all kinds of Peace Corps material. It is an invaluable resource.

  • I would just like to add that it was an absolute delight to find, while researching my history of the Peace Corps, that the evaluation reports still existed and were available in the National Archives. For many years, Charlie Peters and other veterans of the evaluation division were sure they had been lost. I found the job of photocopying the reports I needed fairly easy and, at 15 cents a page, not too expensive. But there are a great many of them. I do not believe that it would be embarrassing to publicize these reports. After all, they are more than 40 years old, and have already been declassified. But there is a problem with the staff sections that exist in some reports. They should have been pulled out but were not. One other point: The handwritten comments in the margin are usually Shriver’s comments. You can often just tell from the tone. These are the words of the Boss. But I suppose you would need Charlie or the author of the evaluation or someone familiar with Sarge’s handwriting to verify this.

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