Establishing The Peace Corps: Making Lemonade In The Maiatico Building, Post 21

The third recommendation that Shriver made to Kennedy in his memorandum was the appointment of a Peace Corps Director. That is, someone besides himself. Shriver listed people he thought should be the Director. Included in this list where Eugene Rostow of Yale, Carroll Wilson of MIT, Gilbert White of the University of Chicago, and Clark Kerr of UCLA. All of these men had had experience with small overseas service programs involving the training or replacement of American students in the Third World. Kennedy rejected all of them. According to Gerard T. Rice in his book The Bold Experiment, Kennedy wanted “the Peace Corps to be an adventurous foreign policy initiative and he did not feel that a bookish type of leader would be consonant with that ethos.”
     The Peace Corps in these heavy days was being covered closely by the press, especially by David Halberstam and Peter Braestrup of the New York Times.[While covering the establishment of the Peace Corps, Halberstam was also dating Nancy Gore, Al’s sister, and that kept him close to the Peace Corps offices,] at first only three rooms on the sixth floor of 806 Connecticut Avenue, the Maiatico Building. A photo of the building with the lights all abaze appeared in a Washington D.C. newspaper showing how the staff of the new agency was working around the clock to recruit and place Volunteers. The photo was taken after the Peace Corps grew so large it took over the whole building. A small pamphlet was developed to describe the early members of the staff in D.C. and how–unlike other government agencies–the Peace Corps staff was working over the weekend and into the long hours of the night. This building at 806 Connecticut Avenue has been completely updated today and, I’m afraid to say, the Peace Corps staff in D.C. is not working weekends and long into the night in their new building.
     The Peace Corps was very much the symbol of Kennedy’s New Frontier in those first months of his administration. On February 1, 1961, a Gallup Poll said that the ‘idea of a Peace Corps’ had a 71%approval rate, and that was across all age groups.
     On March 5, Peter Braestrup reported on Shriver’s formal nomination at Peace Corps director, and also the appointment of fourteen new staff members. Coates Redmon in her book on those days, Come As You Are, writes that people were showing up and going to work and did not know if they were being paid. Shriver came to work as a dollar-a-year-man and early on he went to the personnel director, Dorothy Jacobsen, to asked how he should go about getting government health insurance. “You can’t, Sarge,” she replied, “You don’t make enough money.”
     Kennedy signed the Peace Corps Act on September 22, 1961. When he did, he turned to Sarge and said his famous line about the creation of the Peace Corps, about how he, Kennedy, had given Sarge a lemon and Shriver had turned it into lemonade.

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