Marjorie Michelmore Peace Corps Postcard (Nigeria) # 1

[A number of people have emailed me to ask about my mentioning of the “Marjorie Michelmore Peace Corps Postcard.” It is a story that they never heard before. What was that, they ask. Well, here’s the full story again (I first blogged it back in 2009), in ten short blogs.]

Marjorie Michelmore was a twenty-three-year-old magna cum laude graduate of Smith College when she became one of the first people to apply to the new Peace Corps in 1961. She was an attractive, funny, and smart woman who was selected to go to Nigeria. After seven weeks of training at Harvard, her group flew to Nigeria. There she was to complete the second phase of teacher training at University College at Ibadan, fifty miles north of the capital of Lagos. By all accounts, she was an outstanding Trainee.

Then on the evening of October 13, 1961, she wrote a postcard to a boyfriend in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here is what she had to say:

Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no ideas what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives on the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the street. Please writer. Marge.

P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.

Margery Michelmore in white shirt, at Peace Corps training camp

Margery Michelmore in white shirt, at Peace Corps training camp

The postcard never was mailed. It is said that it was found on the grounds of University College at Ibadan near Marjorie’s dormitory, Queen Elizabeth Hall. The finder was a Nigerian student at the college. Copies of the postcard were made and distributed. Volunteers were immediately denounced as “agents of imperialism” and “members of America’s international spy ring.”

The protest made front-page news in Nigeria and it sparked a minor international incident. As the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States put it, “No one likes to be called primitive.”

Smack in the middle of this “international incident” was Murray Frank, the thirty-four-year-old Western Regional Director of the Peace Corps in Nigeria, who had arrived in-country only weeks before the Trainees and was busy developing sites for the Volunteers when the infamous postcard was found.

[Part 1]

2 Comments

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  • John–great story–because of Marjorie’s initial response to what she found in Nigeria which was similar to what I felt when I arrived in Sierra Leone. Also because it reflects the resentment which exists in some countries towards the United States. When I was in Guatemalan more than a few asked about my relationship with the CIA. So one must tread lightly. Cheers, Mark

  • Mark, Interesting about “CIA r’laship”. I served in Jamaica 2009-10, as a 50+ PCV. I was told then, that country nationals in JA have had the impression since the 60’s, that “all PCV are part of the CIA!”. 🙂

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