It is interesting to see what the public reaction was to the agency in its first days. Here is part of an editorial from the Norristown, Pennsylvania Times Herald back on February 15, 1962.
WHEN THIS ADMINISTRATION entered office, one of its most novel proposals was for creation of the Peace Corps. The idea was, and is, that numbers of dedicated young people with particular talents and education would be sent to underdeveloped countries to aid them in becoming responsible nations. Members of the Corps would, so far as possible, live with the people, and accept a more or less comparable standard of living.
The proposal was nonpartisan — and it was met with a nonpartisan response. Members of both parties greeted the plan with enthusiasm — and other members of both parties shook their heads in doubt. In any event, Congress approved, and the President appointed his brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver, to take over, on a non-paid basis.
That happened about a year ago. Now numbers of Peace Corps young men and women have been recruited, indoctrinated, given varied training, and dispatched to underdeveloped areas. So the testing time, which will show whether or not the plan is wise and workable, is at hand.
. . .
Writing in The Reporter — a magazine of the liberal persuasion, which is favorable in principle to the Corps — John P. Nugent tells of the work of the Peace Corps in Tanganyika — its duties, its intentions, and its problems. As he puts it,
The Peace Corps operation in Tanganyika may well prove to be the first decisive test of R. Sargent Shriver’s entire program; indeed, a failure in Tanganyika might be the death knell of the Corps itself. For it is here that the volunteers will come face to face with more difficult challenges than any of their colleagues are apt to meet around the world. The difficulties are not only those of climate, man, and beast, but also the problems of being involved in the birth and growth of a new nation.
These problems, it is clear, are more numerous and more complex than the young Peace Corps volunteers anticipated — and many of them were not touched on in the manuals they read and the lectures they listened to. For instance, there is one civil engineer in the whole of the 360,000 square miles inhabited by 9.2 million Africans, Asians, and Europeans.
Living conditions are primitive in the extreme. The country is alive with poisonous snakes, vicious, disease-bearing mosquitoes, and dangerous animals. The natives have ancient tribal beliefs and customs that can lead to serious trouble — a government geologist was speared in the back for desecrating a burial ground, and such grounds are usually unmarked. The work gangs are very different from those the volunteers may have had experience with in their home country. In many instances, Corps members have been given cold welcomes by natives and Europeans alike.
So the Corps’ future is up in the air. No doubt Corps members in other parts of the world are now facing similar, even if lesser, problems. And, going beyond the Corps, this illustrates the difficulties propounded by emerging new nations, which have come into being by the dozen in late years. As the poet Tennyson wrote, ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” In the case of these nations, no one can now say with certainty what the new will be like.