Are Peace Corps applications really at an historic high? Well not exactly. They are evidently the highest since data was kept electronically, beginning in the late 90s. It has always been a numbers game and one brave RPCV staffer refused to play it. Long before Marian Haley Beil (Ethopia I 62-64) was publisher of Peace Corps Worldwide and before she partnered with John Coyne to promote Peace Corps Writers through newsletters and websites, she was one of the first women staffers at Peace Corps Washington From 11/1965 to 12/1969 Marian worked at the Peace Corps in the Reports and Special Studies Branch (cleverly named by her boss – RSS! These are the initials for Robert Sargent Shriver, Director of the Peace Corps, then ) of the Office of Volunteer Support, first as Deputy Chief of the branch and later as Chief. Among other things, the branch was responsible for all reporting of numbers of Volunteers and Trainees (which, incidentally were never combined together).
Marian describes how she kept those statistics:
“This was pre-computer and all information was complied by staff counting cards by hand that had been filled out by all trainees. We prepared bi-weekly, monthly and quarterly reports that were circulated throughout the agency. Individuals were counted by training program, sex, and Peace Corps status (trainee, training termination, Volunteer, early termination or completion of service) – information received on each individual from Country, and Training staff.”
And now a memo has surfaced that Marian wrote to her boss, JHV, Jack Hood Vaughn, when she discovered that an article in Newsweek had exaggerated the number of serving Volunteers.
Here is that memo:
Subject: The Peace Corps
[From: Marian Haley, RSS]
I am worried about the Peace Corps. My concern has been brought to a head by the January 15, 1968 Newsweek article – “The Peace Corps: Well Can She?”
One sentence in it reads, “The total number of volunteers overseas – 14.389 – is higher than ever, they (P.C. ‘officials’) noted and …” This statement is not only not true but far from true. As of December 31, 1967 the total number of Volunteers overseas was 12,228 – 2,161 less than stated. Newsweek‘s figure was even 1,146 more than the total on board at that time. [Vs & Ts].
Now, the second part of the clause – “… is higher than ever.” Attached is a table showing the number of Volunteers overseas at the end of each month for the last year and a half. The facts are: the count has never been as high as stated, it is less than the comparable figure of 1966, as well as less than eight other monthly totals during the time examined.
I realize that the weekly news magazines are not 100% accurate in their reporting, but they get their basic information from someone. And their articles are current – thus it should be possible for them to print timely information (after all, the conference they spoke of was only last week!).
My worry – is Peace Corps at the point where we must lie? I believe that the Peace Corps is a basic good and thus find it hard to accept such a necessity.
Total Volunteers overseas, but month
July 31, 1966 – Dec 31, 1967
Feb 12, 866
July 9,353 10,971
Aug 8,543 10,585
Sept 10,368 11,902
Oct 11,495 12,249
Nov 11,967 12,424
Dec 12,313 12,228
There is as Marian says a “back story” to the memo suddenly appearing. Contrary to some myths, Peace Corps Washington was not a government version of “Mad Men.” Women held important positions. Marian not only rose to the office of Chief of the Branch of Special Reports and Studies but she hired men, one of whom she later married, Don Beil. After he had left the agency, they were courting and Marian sent him a copy of her memo to Vaughn. Don has kept that memo all these years! That romantic gesture has preserved an important historic document.
I believe this statement from Marian’s memo should be engraved over the PR office at Peace Corps Headquarters:
“My worry – is Peace Corps at the point where we must lie? I believe that the Peace Corps is a basic good and thus find it hard to accept such a necessity.”