The Peace Corps traces its history to a speech given by Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960. In the midst of the Cold War and a presidential campaign, Kennedy, on October 14th, challenged University of Michigan students to travel abroad giving their time and talents to nations around the world. “How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” Kennedy asked in an unplanned speech.
Those in attendance followed up with a petition which was eventually signed by one thousand students who affirmed their willingness to leave the comforts of the United States to work in developing countries. Their signatures and commitment to service inspired the Peace Corps. Once elected, President Kennedy followed up on his challenge and issued Executive Order 10924 establishing the Peace Corps on a temporary basis.
In a statement announcing the Peace Corps’ establishment on March 1, 1961, Kennedy acknowledged the real challenges waiting ahead for participants. However, he stressed that the rewards, compared to the challenges, would be far greater. Kennedy claimed, “For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”
On August 28, 1961, President Kennedy hosted a ceremony honoring the first group of volunteers, Ghana I and Tanganyika I, in the White House Rose Garden. Days later, fifty-one Ghana I volunteers arrived in Accra to serve as teachers. Less than a month later, the Peace Corps became a permanent federal agency with the Peace Corps Act.
“About Us.” Peace Corps. http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/
“Peace Corps.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-in-History/Peace-Corps.aspx
All images are courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.