“to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.”
Since 1960, more than 190,000 people have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 139 countries.
The Peace Corps works by first announcing its availability to foreign governments. These governments then determine areas in which the organization can be involved. The organization then matches the requested assignments to its pool of applicants and sends those volunteers with the appropriate skills to the countries that first made the requests.
Following the end of the Second World War, various members of the United States Congress proposed bills to establish volunteer organizations in Developing Countries. In 1952 Senator Brien McMahon (D-Connecticut) proposed an "army" of young Americans to act as "missionaries of democracy." Privately funded nonreligious organizations began sending volunteers overseas during the 1950s.
While President Kennedy is credited with the creation of the Peace Corps, the first initiative came from Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr. (D-Minnesota) when he introduced the first bill to create the Peace Corps happened in 1957—three years prior to JFK and his University of Michigan speech. In his autobiography The Education of a Public Man, Hubert Humphrey wrote: "There were three bills of particular emotional importance to me: the Peace Corps, a disarmament agency, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The President, knowing how I felt, asked me to introduce legislation for all three. I introduced the first Peace Corps bill in 1957. It did not meet with much enthusiasm. Some traditional diplomats quaked at the thought of thousands of young Americans scattered across their world. Many senators, including liberal ones, thought it silly and unworkable idea. Now, with a young president urging its passage, it became possible and we pushed it rapidly through the Senate. It is fashionable now to suggest that Peace Corps Volunteers gained as much or more, from their experience as the countries they worked. That may be true, but it ought not demean their work. They touched many lives and made them better."
Only in 1959, however, did the proposal for a national program of service abroad first receive serious attention in Washington when Congressman Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin advanced the ideas of a “Point Four Youth Corps.” In 1960, he and Senator Richard L. Neuberger of Oregon introduced identical measures calling for a nongovernmental study of the “advisability and practicability” of such a venture. Both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed the idea of a study, the latter writing the Reuss proposal into the Mutual Security legislation then pending before it. In this form it became law in June 1960. In August the Mutual Security Appropriations Act was enacted, making available $10,000 for the study, and in November ICA contracted with the Maurice Albertson, Andrew E. Rice, and Pauline E. Burkey of Colorado State University Research Foundation to make the study.
John F. Kennedy first announced his own idea for such an organization during the 1960 presidential campaign at a late-night speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14. During a later speech in San Francisco, California on November 1, he dubbed this proposed organization the "Peace Corps." Critics of the program (including Kennedy's opponent, Richard M. Nixon) claimed the program would be nothing but a haven for draft dodgers. Others doubted whether college-age volunteers had the necessary skills. The idea was popular among college students, however, and Kennedy continued to pursue it, asking respected academics such as Max Millikan and Chester Bowles to help him outline the organization and its goals. During his inaugural address, Kennedy again promised to create the program: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
On March 1, 1961, Kennedy signed an Executive Order 10924 that officially started the Peace Corps. Concerned with the growing tide of revolutionary sentiment in the Third World, Kennedy saw the Peace Corps as a means of countering the notions of the "Ugly American" and "Yankee imperialism," especially in the emerging nations of post-colonial Africa and Asia. On March 4, Kennedy appointed his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver to be the program's first director. Shriver was tasked with fleshing out the organization, which he did with the help of Warren W. Wiggins and others. Shriver and his think tank outlined the three major goals of the Peace Corps and decided the number of volunteers they needed to recruit. The program began recruiting volunteers that following July. Until about 1967, applicants to the Peace Corps had to pass a placement test that tested "general aptitude" (knowledge of various skills needed for Peace Corps assignments) and language aptitude. After an address from Kennedy, who was introduced by Rev. Russell Fuller of Memorial Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, on August 28, 1961, the first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania. The program was formally authorized by Congress on September 22, 1961, and within two years over 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers were serving in 44 countries. This number would jump to 15,000 in June of 1966, the largest number in the organization's history.
The effect of the Peace Corps at this time was minimal. By 1966, more than 15,000 volunteers were working in the field, the largest number in the Peace Corps' history. In July 1971, President Richard Nixon, an opponent of the program, brought the Peace Corps under the umbrella agency ACTION. President Jimmy Carter, an advocate of the program, said that his mother, who had served as a nurse in the program, had "one of the most glorious experiences of her life" in the Peace Corps. In 1979, he declared it fully autonomous in an executive order. This independent status would be further secured when Congress passed legislation in 1981 to make the organization an independent federal agency.
At this time, the Peace Corps began branching out past its traditional concerns of education- and agriculture-related projects. In 1982, President Reagan appointee director Loret Miller Ruppe initiated several new business-related programs. For the first time, a large number of conservative and Republican volunteers joined the contingent of overseas volunteers, and the organization continued to reflect the evolving political and social conditions in the United States.
Funding cuts during the early 1980s dropped the number of volunteers to 5,380, its lowest level since the organization's early years. Funding began to increase in 1985, and Congress passed an initiative to raise the number of volunteers to 10,000 by 1992.
After the September 11, 2001, attacks alerted the nation to growing anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East, President George W. Bush pledged to double the size of the organization within five years as a part of the War on Terrorism. For the 2004 fiscal year, Congress passed a budget increase at $325 million, $30 million above that of 2003 but $30 million below the President's request.
The Peace Corps intended to double the number of volunteers it sent abroad by 2007 in accordance with President Bush's request in 2002. According to Joseph Kennedy, "The American reputation has taken a hit in the last couple of years. The need for the Peace Corps couldn't be more urgent. The Peace Corps shows what is best in America, the generosity of spirit." The Peace Corps is trying to get more diverse volunteers of different ages. This is important so that the Peace Corps can look, according to former director Gaddi Vasquez, "more like America." An article published by the Harvard International Review in 2006 argues that the time has come not only to expand the Peace Corps but also to revisit its mission and equip it with new technology to transform it into a 21st-century engine for peace through the global sharing of knowledge.
In 1961 only 1 percent of volunteers were over 50, compared with 6 percent today. Peace Corps spokesperson Gretchen Learman states, "Age is no barrier to joining the Peace Corps. In many cases, it's an asset, since senior volunteers bring so much knowledge to their work. Married couples are welcome and can work together.
Peace Corps Response, formerly named the Crisis Corps, was created by Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan in 1996. On November 19, 2007 Peace Corps Director Ronald Tschetter announced that Crisis Corps will be changing its name to Peace Corps Response.
This change is the result of an ongoing effort by the Peace Corps to better define the work of its volunteers. The change to Peace Corps Response will allow Peace Corps to broaden their approach to their five programming areas to include projects that do not necessarily rise to the level of a ‘crisis.’
The program sends former Peace Corps volunteers to foreign countries to take on short-term, high-impact assignments that typically range from three to six months in duration.
Peace Corps Response volunteers generally receive the same allowances and benefits as their Peace Corps counterparts, including round-trip transportation, living and readjustment allowances, and medical care. Minimum qualifications for Crisis Corps volunteers include completion of at least one year of Peace Corps service, excluding training, in addition to medical and legal clearances.
The Crisis Corps title will be retained as a unique branch within Peace Corps Response, designed for volunteers who are deployed to true “crisis” situations, such as disaster relief following hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and other catastrophes.
|Director||service dates||appointed by||notes|
|1||R. Sargent Shriver||1961–1966||Kennedy||Three days after President Kennedy signed an Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps, Shriver became its first director. Deployment was rapid: volunteers arrived in five countries during 1961. In just under six years, Shriver developed programs in 55 countries with more than 14,500 volunteers.|
|2||Jack Vaughn||1966–1969||Johnson||Vaughn took steps to improve Peace Corps marketing, programming, and volunteer support as large numbers of former volunteers joined the Peace Corps staff. He also promoted volunteer assignments in conservation, natural resource management, and community development.|
|3||Joseph Blatchford||1969–1971||Nixon||Blatchford served as head of the new ACTION agency, which encompassed U.S. domestic and foreign volunteer service programs including the Peace Corps. He created the Office of Returned Volunteers to help volunteers serve in their communities at home, and initiated New Directions, a program emphasizing volunteer skills.|
|4||Kevin O'Donnell||1971–1972||Nixon||O'Donnell's appointment was the first for a former Peace Corps country director (Korea, 1966–70). He worked tirelessly to save the Peace Corps from budget cuts, and believed strongly in a non-career Peace Corps. He resigned as director six years after first joining the Peace Corps.|
|5||Donald Hess||1972–1973||Nixon||Hess initiated training of volunteers in the host country where they would eventually serve. With this came the greater utilization of host country nationals in the training programs. The training provided more realistic preparation, and costs dropped for the agency. Hess also sought to end the down-sizing of the Peace Corps.|
|6||Nicholas Craw||1973–1974||Nixon||Craw sought to increase the number of volunteers in the field and to stabilize the agency's future. He introduced a goal-setting measurement plan, the Country Management Plan, which gave a firm foundation for increased congressional support and for improved resource allocation across Peace Corps' 69 countries.|
|7||John Dellenback||1975–1977||Ford||Dellenback worked to make the best possible health care available to volunteers. He also placed great emphasis on recruiting generalists. He believed in taking committed applicants without specific development skills and providing concentrated training to prepare them for service.|
|8||Carolyn R. Payton||1977–1978||Carter||Payton was the first female director and the first African American. As director, she believed strongly in reflecting America's diversity in the corps of volunteers and worked tirelessly to convince young people that Peace Corps service would enrich their lives.|
|9||Richard F. Celeste||1979–1981||Carter||Celeste focused on the role of women in development and was successful in involving women and minorities in the agency, particularly for staff positions. He invested heavily in training, including the development of a worldwide core curriculum, so that all volunteers had a common context in which to work.|
|10||Loret Miller Ruppe||1981–1989||Reagan||Ruppe was the longest-serving director and a champion of women in development. She launched the Competitive Enterprise Development program to promote business-oriented projects. She also established the Caribbean Basin Initiative, the Initiative for Central America and the African Food Systems Initiative to help address regional challenges. Ruppe was highly regarded by volunteers for her tireless energy and enthusiasm.|
|11||Paul Coverdell||1989–1991||G.H.W. Bush||Coverdell established two programs with a domestic focus. World Wise Schools enabled U.S. students to correspond with volunteers serving overseas in an effort to promote international awareness and cross-cultural understanding. Fellows/USA assisted Returned Peace Corps volunteers in pursuing graduate studies while serving local communities in the U.S.|
|12||Elaine Chao||1991–1992||G.H.W. Bush||Chao was the first Asian American to serve as director. She expanded Peace Corps' presence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by establishing the first Peace Corps programs in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and other newly independent countries.|
|13||Carol Bellamy||1993–1995||Clinton||Bellamy was the first RPCV (Returned Peace Corps volunteer) (Guatemala 1963–65) to be director. She reinvigorated relations with Returned Peace Corps volunteers and launched the first Peace Corps web site.|
|14||Mark D. Gearan||1995–1999||Clinton||Gearan established the Crisis Corps, a program that allows Returned peace Corps volunteers to help overseas communities recover from natural disasters and humanitarian crises. He supported expanding the corps of volunteers and opened new volunteer programs in South Africa, Jordan, Bangladesh and Mozambique.|
|15||Mark L. Schneider||1999–2001||Clinton||Schneider was the second RPCV (El Salvador, 1966–68) to head the agency. He launched an initiative to increase volunteers' participation in helping prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and also sought volunteers to work on information technology projects to enhance development of overseas communities.|
|16||Gaddi Vasquez||2002–2006||G.W. Bush||Gaddi H. Vasquez was the first Hispanic American to serve as director. His focus as director was to revitalize the Peace Corps through a comprehensive outreach and recruitment program focused on attracting a diverse group of volunteers and staff.|
|17||Ron Tschetter||September 2006 - present||G.W. Bush||The third RPCV to head the agency, Tschetter served in India in the mid 1960s. Confirmed by the Senate September 13, 2006 and sworn in on September 26, 2006.|