There are unfortunately few books about the early days of the agency, how it was formed and who was involved in those weeks at the Mayflower Hotel and in the original Peace Corps Office, the Maiatico Building, located at the edge of Lafayette Park and within sight of the White House.
Who were the people who built the agency? Harris Wofford’s book, Of Kennedys & Kings Making Sense of the Sixties (1980) devotes a chapter to the Peace Corps. The Bold Experience: JFK’s Peace Corps by Gerard T. Rice (1985) tells of the political maneuvering to create the agency, as does to a certain degree, All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (1998).
However, Come As You Are: The Peace Corps Story by Coates Redmon (1986) a press writer at the Peace Corps in its first days, gives the background of many early employes—who they were and how they why they wanted to work for the Peace Corps.
So, in an attempt to “put down on paper” (or at least on the Web) the names and stories of the people who created the agency, I am going to draw on a few sources, and the recollections I have of those days, some old writings as well, and get down in one place what it was like in the early ’60s inside HQ. I invite everyone to add these stories (as comments) of the first years when the Peace Corps was located at 806 Connecticut Avenue.
One source that I have is a small pamphlet entitled Who’s Who in the Peace Corps Washington, printed and published, not at government expense, in 1963. It gives short bios of many of the key people who came to Washington in 1961.
The first Peace Corps Staff in Washington, D.C., came from every background, from all economic levels and from every part of the country. They were skiers, mountain climbers, big-game hunters, prizefighters, football players, polo players and enough Ph.D’s. (30) to staff a liberal arts college.
They also included 18 attorneys, of whom only four continued to work strictly as attorneys in the General Counsel’s office and the rest (including Sargent Shriver) applied their lawyer’s training to other jobs in the agency.
The first Peace Corps Staff was composed of people who showed all the individual differences seen in the first Volunteers selected to service.
Figures from WW II indicated that 30 persons were required to support every soldier in the front lines. In peacetime, in the early 60s, the ratio changed from one person in Washington to every four Volunteers overseas.
The Peace Corps in the early days was organized with the goal of ten Volunteers on the job for very administrative or clerical person in support, and that meant everyone—clerks, typists and overseas administrators included.
Shriver knew that such a ratio was only possible because of the high quality of the Volunteers overseas and because their support people in Washington worked as hard as the Volunteers did around the world.
Next, I’ll write about what Shriver had to say about the first Staff working days, nights and weekends in the Maiatico Building.
Note: The photo above is from the front pages of the Washington Post showing the Maiatico Building ablaze with lights. It showed that the Peace Corps Staff was working far into the night. They were the only federal employees so engaged.