Not only did the Peace Corps experience provide opportunities to travel and develop skills, but also led to the development of romantic relationships between volunteers. Norm Heise noted the Peace Corps’ reputation for “being the best ‘unofficial matrimonial agency’ going at the time.” The PCCA collection includes several stories of volunteers’ dating escapades, but there are also two instances where volunteers married during their service.
August 18, 1963, St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University
Norm and Janet served as teachers at Toro Teaching Training College, in Northern Nigeria, from 1963-1965. After meeting in training at Columbia University, Norm Heise proposed to Janet Driggs. The two had known each other for less than a week. The couple married in August before departing in September for their assignments in Nigeria. As a result of their marriage, Peace Corps altered their placements to ensure the couple traveled, lived, and shared the experience together. Their collection includes photos and stories of their work in Nigeria.
Norm and Janet Heise in Toro, Nigeria, 1963
The DeAntoni’s story is a bit different. Both members of Turkey IV, Ed and Karen met during training and maintained contact while working in separate towns. The two friends began a romantic relationship, in the midst of their service, after connecting at a party. Karen wrote her parents on August 12, 1965, “I’m afraid this will come as an awful surprise, but then it’s more fun that way—last night I got engaged!” Because of the distance and the realization her parents did not know Ed, Karen anxiously awaited their response. Ed informed his parents by writing, “Before you start reading this, sit down, get composed, light a cigarette…In a word, it’s too good to be true. Karen and I became engaged last night, and I’m so happy I could cry.” Their collection of letters uniquely presents their same experiences from different points of view.
Karen’s letter to her parents announcing her engagement to Ed DeAntoni, August 12, 1965
Karen’s letter (pg. 2), August 12, 1965
Karen’s letter (pg. 3), August 12, 1965
Although Ed and Karen initially planned to return to the US to marry, they quickly decided to hold a wedding in Ankara, Turkey. Their desire to travel together, avoid inconveniencing roommates, and being in love seemed sufficient enough. The approaching marriage influenced many of the couple’s letters home—especially Karen’s—discuss wedding plans, financial needs, and concerns about family planning.
The DeAntoni’s wedding invitation, 1966
It is not surprising that living closely with other volunteers and sharing life-changing experiences established lasting bonds—both friendly and romantic. In a letter to his parents, Ed explained, “This common experience has given us a tremendous basis for learning about each other, a common feeling for so many things, and the ground for our love to grow and flourish.” For many volunteers, this experience of surviving a new place, establishing relationships, and sharing similar goals fostered the development of many romantic relationships.