[In an attempt to bring together all the loose threads of the ‘Peace Corps’ early days, if not under one roof, than one blog, here is my quick summary of the reasons, causes, studies, movements, persons, and congressional legislation that resulted in the creation of the agency. I have written about some aspects of this in other blogs, but this is an attempt to pull the events into some sort of order, (if only my own!) for those of us who are tracking the development of the Peace Corps as we reach the magical half century.]
In early 1960, Maurice (Maury) L. Albertson, director of the Colorado State University Research Foundation, received a Point-4 (precursor to USAID) contract to prepare a Congressional Feasibility Study of the Point-4 Youth Corps called for in the Reuss-Neuberger Bill, an amendment to the Mutual Security Act. The Youth Corps was “to be made up of young Americans willing to serve their country in public and private technical assistance missions in far-off countries, and at a soldier’s pay.”
Then in late 1961, Public Affairs Press in Washington, D.C. published, New Frontiers for American Youth: Perspective on the Peace Corps written by Maury Albertson, and co-authored with Andrew E. Rice and Pauline E. Birky. The book was based on their Point-4 study. According to the authors, “The roots of the Peace Corps idea . . . stretch wide and deep, . . . .” They were referring to a number of volunteer programs that were early instances of dedicated service abroad: the “Thomasites” who taught English in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, the young men who worked along the Labrador Coast with Sir Wilfred Grenfell, and the volunteers who served with the American Friends Service Committee in relief work after World War I .
There were other examples as well. During the depression years, civilian service in the United States came with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Simultaneously the development of voluntary “work camps” in the United States brought to this country a form of service which had originated with Pierre Ceresole in Europe in the 1920s as the International Voluntary Service (Service Civil Internationale.) Also, in World War II we had the experience of Civilian Public Service Camps for conscientious objectors.
After the war numerous people volunteered for constructive work overseas. By 1960 the Unesco Coordination Committee listed at least 133 work camp opportunities in 32 countries sponsored by 80 different organizations.
One such program is the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) organized privately in Britain in 1958 when it began to send volunteers to British territories and Commonwealth countries. Australia and Germany also had small service programs.
With this as background, the authors in New Frontiers for American Youth: Perspective on the Peace Corps detail the first steps taken in the U.S. Congress that later became the Peace Corps that we know today, four decades later. This excerpt is taken from “The Background,” a chapter in their book.
Only in 1959, however, did the proposal [national program of service abroad] first receive serious attention in Washington when Congressman Henry. S. Reuss of Wisconsin advanced the ideas of a “Point Four Youth Corps.” In 1960, he and Senator Richard L. Neuberger of Oregon introduced identical measures calling for a non-governmental study of the “advisability and practicability” of such a venture. Both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed the idea of a study, the latter writing the Reuss proposal into the Mutual Security legislation then pending before it. In this form it became law in June 1960. In August the Mutual Security Appropriations Act was enacted, making available $10,000 for the study, and in November ICA contracted with the Colorado State University Research Foundation to make the study.
Meanwhile, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey had introduced at the same session a bill actually to establish a Peace Corps. The Humphrey measure received no formal consideration but attracted wide attention from interested groups. It proposed a separate government agency, a three-year enlistment (one for training and two of actual work) and an initial size of 500 growing to 5,000 by the fourth year.
During the fall of 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy endorsed the Peace Corps idea in campaign speeches, notably in his Cow Palace address at San Francisco on November 2. His proposal received warm public response and, coupled with the Colorado State University study then getting under way, led to a number of public and private statements endorsing the idea. Among the most comprehensive of these was a report prepared, at the request of the President-elect, by Professor Max M. Millikan, Director of the Center for International Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; a privately-circulated study by Professor Samuel P. Hayes of the University of Michigan; and a report by the Committee on Educational Interchange Policy sponsored by the Institute of International education. About the same time President Eisenhower’s Committee on Information Activities Abroad, headed by Mansfield D. Sprague, recommended a program of long-term aid to foreign educational development including service by young Americans in teaching and community development work overseas.
On February 27, 1961, the Colorado State University Research Foundation issued a preliminary report entitled A Youth Corps For Service Abroad, which gave strong affirmation to the advisability and practicability of a Peace Corps.
A month earlier, in his first State of the Union message, President Kennedy reiterated his belief in a Peace Corps: “An even more valuable national asset is our reservoir of dedicated men and women – not only on our college campuses but in every age group – who have indicated their desire to contribute their skills, their efforts, and a part of their lives to the fight for world order. We can mobilize this talent through the formation of a National Peace Corps, enlisting the services of all those with the desire and capacity to help foreign lands meet their urgent needs for trained personnel.”
To carry forward this commitment, President Kennedy asked Harris Wofford, Jr. a Special Assistant to the Chief Executive, and R. Sargent Shriver, Jr. to undertake a survey of the feasibility of an early start for Peace Corps operations. This survey, conducted by a small temporary staff drawn from both inside and outside the government, led to a report to the President by Mr. Shriver and to an Executive order creating the Peace Corps as a temporary agency in the Department of State. Supplementing his Executive Order of March 1, President Kennedy sent a message to Congress, requesting the enactment of permanent legislation.
On September 22, 1961, Congress established the Peace Corps as a permanent, semi-autonomous agency within the State Department. For operations during fiscal year 1962, Congress approved an appropriate of $30 million and authorized a ceiling of $40 million.
As of early October, 1961, approximately 400 Peace Corpsmen were already in the field and several hundred more were in training. Of those in the fields, 60 were in Colombia, 40 in Chile, 50 in Ghana, 38 in Nigeria, 33 in Tanganyika, 16 in the West Indies, 128 in the Philippines, and 30 in Pakistan. About 2,700 volunteers are expected to be in the Corps by June, 1962.
The rapid development of the Peace Corps from a little known idea scarcely a year ago to a vigorous operational program today is the most dramatic testimonial to the unusual appeal of the underlying concept. The favorable reaction of Congress and the enthusiastic backing of the President, in fact, accurately reflect an unusually high measure of public support. As early as January the Gallup Poll reported that 71% of the American people favored the idea and that only 18% opposed it.