Category Archives: National Peace Corps Association

Proudly Serving: the LGBTQ+ Volunteer Experience

Even as we move into November, I would like to return to October. Many may know it as a month of horror movies, candy, and spooky decorations, but it also happens to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History month.

I originally intended to highlight stories about LGBT+ volunteers serving in the Peace Corps—the only issue is that donors do not usually disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity when offering  their materials to the PCCA. However, we do have some items related to heterosexual couples and marriage during Peace Corps service. You can view the corresponding blogs here and here.

Since the PCCA is home to  personal collections for over 200 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RCPVs), I have reason to believe that at least a few identify within the LGBT+ community. Yet, even if I were to find traces of homosexuality or transgender experiences, it feels unethical to disclose personal information without the donor’s permission.

That said,  I poked around online and found quite a few Peace Corps groups that offered guidance and support to LGBT+ volunteers, as well as blog posts written by LGBT RPCVs.

Julie Andrews as Queen Clarisse Renaldi in Princess Diaries 2 says

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, 2004.

In this belated LGBT+ history month post, I want to formally request Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Asexual RPCVs (From 1961 to present-day) to consider donating their materials to the PCCA so that we can represent a vast array of PCV experiences.

I would also like to emphasize the incredible work of Jim Kelly and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Association, while touching on the milestones of LGBT+ Peace Corps history.

A Brief LGBT+ History of the Peace Corps

In many countries around the world, identifying openly (or “coming out of the closet”) as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is illegal. In others—including the United States— LGBT+ continue to face discrimination, violence, and even death. Those who appear to fit into the heterosexual societal expectations of gender and sexuality incur the trauma of loneliness and shame from the lack of recognition and acceptance for who they are. LGBT+ Peace Corps Volunteers often have to choose between the call to “promote world peace and friendship” and their own mental or physical health.

When Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, the organization’s stance on homosexuality corresponded with that of the United States federal government. During the 1950s and ‘60s, the United States collectively feared Communist spies. Government agencies rooted out potential security breaches, focusing largely on anyone suspected of being a homosexual.

In this cultural environment, RCPV Jim Kelly applied for the Peace Corps. Kelly recounts the application process and facing the survey question: “Are you a homosexual?”

For a young gay man in the 1960s, his only option was to commit perjury—and convince all of his friends to lie as well. While he enjoyed his service in El Salvador, Kelly mentioned feeling anxious of discovery and lonely for a community supportive of his true self.

Listen to Kelly’s 2017 interview at OUTSpoken in Chicago:

Fast forward to 1992, Kelly completed a master’s thesis called “Hidden dimensions of diversity: gays and lesbians in the Peace Corps,” where he interviewed 80 RPCVs and recommended widespread institutional changes to the Peace Corps. Kelly’s study was foundational to initiating worldwide conversations around sexual orientation and gender identity within the organization.

The National Peace Corps Association currently encourages LGBT+ applicants and same-sex couples to serve abroad. Considerably more resources and support systems are available to volunteers during their time overseas, however individual experiences vary depending on the person and social climate of the country. Presently, the Peace Corps reports 18 countries with medical clearances to support HIV+ volunteers and allows applicants to choose specific countries of service.  

Do you identify as a LGBTQ+ Peace Corps Volunteer? The PCCA is interested in preserving your materials and understanding how your identities shaped your service. We accept both digital and physical blogs, journals, correspondence, videos, photographs, training materials, and more! Reach out to us at archives@american.edu.

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Answering the Call: Exhibiting at the Kennedy Center’s REACH Opening Festival

What did you do last month? Associate archivist Leslie Nellis, American University library consultant Robert Newlen, and I took the archives on the road for the opening festival at the REACH building of the Kennedy Center. The event was a collaboration between the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, DC (RCPV/W), and the REACH.

The PCCA exhibit features several posters on easels behind a blue table with seven more documents, two binders, and an IPad. A woman stands in front of the exhibit. Robert Newlen and Leslie Nellis stand behind the exhibit to answer questions.

Robert Newlen (left) and Leslie Nellis (right) speak with visitors about the Archives, September 22, 2019

In a room known the Peace Corps Place, PCCA launched “Answering the Call” –a temporary exhibit highlighting RCPVs experiences using their donated materials. Sixteen other exhibitors joined us, including booths by the Peace Corps Oral History Project and the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience.

We spent the day greeting visitors and describing our efforts to collect, preserve, and make available the materials donated by RPCVs. Close to 300 visitors—many of them RPCVs with their families—flipped through examples from the current collections, listened to Geer Wilcox’s recorded letters sent home, and shared their own memories of their time in the Peace Corps.

Packing lists from the ‘80s spurred conversations between old and new RCPVs about what has changed and what has not. One woman laughed and said “They told me to pack a meat-grinder.” Others snapped photos of President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 letter to volunteers or the poster that read “She taught me how to write my name, I taught her how to say it.”

Merged photo of two women. One holds a signed postcard and the other holds a binder with the same image featured on the postcard.

RCPV woman (left) and Debby Prigal (right) pose with Prigal’s donation.

About halfway through the day, RPCV Debby Prigal discovered her own donated materials within the exhibit and reproduced on free postcards. “That’s me! That’s mine!” She exclaimed, pointing at her entry in the copy of a “Close of Service” Newsletter. For a moment, Debby achieved celebrity status as others asked for her to autograph their postcards.

The entire day was a perfect example of PCCA’s goals to enrich the Archives through partnerships with Peace Corps affiliates, exhibit materials that document the impact of individuals who volunteered, increase the awareness of the history of the Peace Corps, and of course, make some new friends!

If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about donating to the collection, please visit the “Donate” tab or email us at archives@american.edu.

Exhibits on Display: The Peace Corps and its Volunteers

 

Alongside the annual conference of the National Peace Corps Association held in Washington, D.C. in September 2016, AU Archives and Special Collections is debuting two exhibits highlighting its Peace Corps Community Archive. One exhibit will be a physical exhibit on campus and the other online.

The Peace Corps through the Lens of its Volunteers will be on display through the end of the semester on the third floor of the Bender Library.

PCCA Exhibit Screenshot

The Peace Corps and Its Volunteers, the online companion exhibit, will go live this Friday August 26.

Both exhibits draw from the Peace Corps Community Archive and showcase the experiences of Peace Corp Volunteers through journals, letters, and photographs from the 1960s to the present.

For more information, please visit the Peace Corps Community Archive website. To use the collections or make a donation, please contact the AU Archives at archives [at] american.edu.

Strengthening Female Education Worldwide

Earlier this month, the Peace Corps announced it would partner with Michelle Obama to expand educational opportunities for women around the world. This partnership plans to accomplish this goal through specialized community training, raising public awareness and support for international partnership programs, and recruiting and training hundreds of new Peace Corps Volunteers working to serve as advocates for female education.

The Peace Corps Community Archive’s holdings reflect the Peace Corps’ continuing commitment to promote female education. From 1968-1970, Christine Hager served in Colombia working as a community developer. Part of her duties included educating women about self-sustainable work such as cooking and sewing. Winifred Boge worked on the Health Nutrition Project from 1965-1967, which educated men and women in India about healthy daily practices. The more recently announced initiative by Michelle Obama and the Peace Corps will build upon the already impressive work of the Peace Corps in addressing the need for increased female educational opportunities throughout the world.

Winifred Boge with female students in India

Winifred Boge with female students in India. PCCA

American University Celebrates Peace Corps Week

In celebration of Peace Corps Week, on Tuesday, March 2, American University hosted Peace Corps recruiter Chuck Cascio and more than 10 Returned Peace Corps volunteers, many of them American University students and alumni. Along with the opportunity to talk with Peace Corps volunteers, the event included displays of photos and objects related each RPCV’s service. These RPCVs shared their Peace Corps experiences, demonstrating how they each made a difference in their respective communities.

Last month, the Peace Corps ranked American University as one of the top medium-sized colleges and universities producing Peace Corps volunteers. As shown by Tuesday’s event, American University will continue its already strong relationship with Peace Corps service.

RPCV Lauren Kovach (Zambia, 2012-2014) and Rachel Teter (Panama, 2011-2013) inform American University students about the merits of Peace Corps service.

RPCV Lauren Kovach (Zambia, 2012-2014); left, and Rachel Teter (Panama, 2011-2013) ; right. inform American University students about the merits of Peace Corps service.

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps!

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps. 54 years later, the Peace Corps still reflects its original mission to “promote world peace and friendship.”

This year’s celebration of Peace Corps Week includes the video challenge, “Host Country Heroes: Who do you wish Americans knew from your Peace Corps country?”, digital “video chats” with Peace Corps Volunteers serving around the world, and multiple Peace Corps “festivals” and information sessions taking place throughout the country.

The Peace Corps Community Archive reflects the variety of contributions and experiences of 54 years of Peace Corps service. From training materials and community development reports, to photographs and correspondence, our collection helps document the 54 years of continued international service of the Peace Corps.

The photos from our collection below, feature Peace Corps volunteers in action.

PC Boge- Rose Ann Crimmins edit

Winifred Boge served in India from 1965-1967.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22. This is our boat that will take us up the river on our spray mission. These boats are flat-bottomed, with automobile engines mounted on long propeller shafts.

Jonathan Green served in Thailand from 1973-1975.

 

 

Randall Children 2002

Alanna Randall served in Belize from 2001-2003.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace Corps Director Visits the Peace Corps Community Archive

Left to right; RPCV Pat Wand, University Archivist Susan McElrath, and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Raadelet.

Left to right; RPCV (Colombia, 1963-1965) and Emerita University Librarian Patricia Wand, University Archivist Susan McElrath, and Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Raadelet.

On January 13, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet spoke at American University’s School of International Service. Her conversation focused on the merits of Peace Corps service. Before her talk, Hessler-Radelet visited the Peace Corps Community Archive.

Hessler-Radelet is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer herself. She served in Western Samoa from 1981-1983. During her visit, Hessler-Radelet viewed highlights and representative items of our collection. Our display included materials from the 1960s-2000s.  This included letters, photographs, newspapers, training materials, and reports. Items from South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East showed the geographical variety of our collection.

University Archivist Susan McElrath shows Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet items from the Peace Corps Community Archive.

University Archivist Susan McElrath shows Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet items from the Peace Corps Community Archive.

Besides her own Peace Corps service, Hessler-Radelet’s aunt, Ginny Kirkwood, served with individuals represented in our collection. Kirkwood served with Ed and Karen De Antoni in Turkey (1964-1966). She took pictures of their materials on display for her aunt.

Click here to listen to Hessler-Radelet’s conversation with James Goldeier, Dean of American University’s School of International Service.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet recognizes Karen and Ed De Antoni, two PCVs who served with her aunt in Turkey during the 1960s.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet recognizes Karen and Ed De Antoni, two PCVs who served with her aunt in Turkey during the 1960s.

Charlotte Daigle-Berney in Uganda

Charlotte Daigle-Berney

Country of Service: Uganda
Place of Service: Masaka, Mbale
Service Type: Education
Dates in Service: 1966-1968
Keywords: Masaka, Mbale, Sebei College

Accession Date: December 22, 2014
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Collection of African superstitions
  • Training materials
  • CD of photographs from RPCVs submitted to the New Mexico Peace Corps Association commemorating the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary

“The Comrade Corps”

During a speech at San Francisco’s Cow Palace on November 2, 1960, soon to be President Kennedy spoke of the need for Americans to take action to ensure friendly relations abroad. He told the audience, “Out of Moscow and Peiping and Czechoslovakia and Eastern Germany are hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, studying in those institutes, prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism… being prepared to live their lives in Africa as missionaries for world communism.” Kennedy therefore proposed, that the U.S. create “a peace corps of talented young men and women, willing and able to serve their country in this fashion for 3 years as an alternative or as a supplement to peacetime selective service.” Even before the election, Kennedy had already a foundation for what would become the Peace Corps.

While serving in Africa, several Peace Corps volunteers worked alongside what one American termed “the Comrade Corps.” This organization consisted of teachers and volunteers the Soviet Union sent to developing countries, the same men and women Kennedy spoke of in his speech at the Cow Palace.

In 1965, Ray Silverstein, a Peace Corps volunteer, wrote to the Tilley Lamp, a Nigerian Peace Corps Volunteer newsletter, chronicling his encounter with these Russian volunteers. He told readers, “One has to seek them out. Once this is done, many of them will open up, eager to socialize and talk English with someone “who can correct” them…One girl that I met acknowledged the West’s superiority in twist music and rock n’roll, and mentioned that the Charleston is the rage in Russia now.”

Elizabeth Cobb Hoffman discusses Russian volunteers and PCV relations in Ghana in her 1998 work All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s, “The volunteers’ attempts to be friendly towards the Russian youth would…prove the intention of the United States to wage the Cold War peacefully…The Peace Corps teachers, who shared accommodations with volunteers from other countries, reported that the Russians returned their sociability (Hoffman, 162).”

Despite Cold War tensions, Russian and American youth workers shared cultural experiences and perspectives with each other during their respective service across the world.