Category Archives: Uncategorized

Darrel Young in Colombia

Place of Service: San Pablo

Service Type: Community Development

Dates in Service: 1961-1963

Keywords: Community Development

Accession Date: December 17, 2015; October 15, 2022

Access: No restrictions

Collection Size: 0.1 linear feet (located in Friends of Colombia, Box 50)


Document Types

  • Publications


Finding Aid:

  • “Peace Corps Random Writings/Designs,” 2015
  • “Peace Corps Random Writings/Designs,” 2022 update


“To The New Volunteer:” Helpful Letters in a New Place

Starting Peace Corps service has often been a time of unknowns for volunteers. They are living in different countries, often speaking languages that are new to them, and adjusting to cultures that they are unfamiliar with. Such was the case for Jessica Vapnek, who served from 1985-1987 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire). She taught high school English, music, and girls’ health classes in Kirumba, a remote small town in the northeast of the country. [1] While her living conditions were well-off compared to her neighbors, her small house had no electricity, and Vapnek was the only Volunteer in Kirumba. However, she did have one unexpected guide.

Guidance From Previous Volunteers

Within her first few days of living in Kirumba, Jessica Vapnek found two lengthy letters in an envelope titled “To The New Volunteer in Kasando” (a name of a tiny town near Kirumba).[2] Two authors wrote these letters: Sheila Kemper, who served in the town from 1979-1981, and Carol Buffum, a Peace Corps Volunteer that likely served between 1981-1983. They were probably left by the volunteer who had served in Kirumba before Vapnek, from 1983-1985. The letters contained key information that an incoming Volunteer to Kirumba would have been unlikely to know. Kemper’s letter was typed (with some handwritten notes from Buffum) and contained information about the Volunteer’s house, buying food, communicating with the Peace Corps, medical care, and more.[3] Buffum’s pages of handwritten notes contained updates and advice about getting along with other teachers, students, and townspeople.[4] Such information would have been a lifeline for any Volunteers who read the letters, since they were in the process of adjusting to a town and a routine of living that they were incredibly unfamiliar with.

The envelope of the letter packet that Jessica Vapnek found. American University Archives, Washington, D.C.

After her service, Vapnek took the letters home with her because the Peace Corps closed her volunteer post when she left. She planned to send them to the next volunteer in Kasando if the post reopened.[5] However, the Peace Corps closed its Zaire programs entirely in 1991, so Vapnek held on to the letters until she donated them to the archive.[6] Jessica Vapnek also received an additional private letter from another Kasando Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and the two wrote letters during part of Vapnek’s service.[7]

The first page of Sheila Kemper’s letter to future Volunteers. American University Archives, Washington, D.C.

Volunteers Helping Each Other

This series of letters greatly assisted Jessica Vapnek and the Volunteers who served before her. It also demonstrates the kindness and solidarity of the Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Kirumba over the course of nearly a decade. While none of them met, they made each other’s lives less stressful in new situations by adding or preserving key information for a new Peace Corps Volunteer. Vapnek thought the idea was fantastic and found the packet and her correspondence to be incredibly helpful.[1] As such, the letters are a very inspiring read. They lead me to the question: What are ways that you and I can help people in new environments?



[1] Bruce J. Cohen. “Description of Peace Corps Volunteer Service.” July 23, 1987. American University Archives, Washington, D.C.

[2] Jessica Vapnek in discussion with the author, February 14, 2023.

[3] Sheila Kemper memo to new volunteer, 1981. American University Archives, Washington, D.C.

[4] Carol Buffum to new volunteer, c. 1983. American University Archives, Washington, D.C.

[5] Jessica Vapnek in discussion with the author, February 14, 2023.

[6] “Countries,” Peace Corps, 2023,

[7] Jessica Vapnek in discussion with the author, February 14, 2023.

[8] Jessica Vapnek in discussion with the author, February 14, 2023.

[1] Jessica Vapnek in discussion with the author, February 14, 2023.

Joanne Trabert (Ashton) in Guatemala

Country of Service: Guatemala
Service Project Title: Community Health Project
Dates in Service: 1996-1998
Keywords: (Choose From) Community Development, Education, Health, Youth
Accession Date: December 2, 2022
Access: No restrictions
Collection Size: 0.5 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Film/Video

Finding Aid:

Box 1

  1. Documents
    1. Correspondence
      1. General Correspondence and Related Materials, c. 1995-early 1996
      2. General Correspondence and Related Materials, February-June 1996
      3. General Correspondence and Related Materials, July-December 1996
      4. General Correspondence and Related Materials, January-July 1997
      5. General Correspondence and Related Materials, August 1997-c. April 1998
      6. Letters to Parents, 1996-1998
      7. Cards to Gloria Hiller, 1996-1997
    2. General Documents
      1. Peace Corps Documents, c. 1995-1998
      2. Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook, c. 1996
      3. Close of Service Report, 1998
      4. End of Service Documents and Training Certificate, 1996, 1998
    3. Other Papers
      1. Reading Log, c. 1996-c. 1999
      2. Maps, c. 1996
  2. Other Materials (Box 2)
    1. DVD with image slideshow (DVD-2006, slideshow-1998)
    2. Flash Drive with correspondence (besides cards) and photos (see below)
    3. Three photo albums in a matching box, c. 1996-1998

Rosemary Casey in Micronesia

Country of Service: Micronesia

Dates of Service/Place of Service/Service Project:

  • Education Volunteer, Rota Island in the Northern Mariana Islands (June 1969-May 1971)
  • Peace Corps Contract Trainer and Coordinator of Language Curriculum Development Projects in Peace Corps/Republic of the Marshall Islands, Peace Corps/Micronesia (Federated States of Micronesia and Palau), and other assignments with Peace Corps/Philippines, Peace Corps Pacific countries of Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Western Samoa and Tonga; (June 1987-November 1989)
  • Associate Country Director and Program and Training Officer, Peace Corps/Micronesia (Federated States of Micronesia and Palau), August 1989-March 1992.

Keywords: Education, Peace Corps Staff, Peace Corps Training

Accession Date: November 5, 2021

Access: No restrictions

Collection Size: 1.25 linear feet

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Documents
  • Photographs
  • Publications

Related Items in Other Repositories

Finding Aid:

Box 1

  1. Documents
    1.  Correspondence
      1. Correspondence (1 of 4)
      2. Correspondence (2 of 4)
      3. Correspondence (3 of 4)
      4. Correspondence (4 of 4)
    2. Other Documents
      1. Washington, D.C. Staff Training, 1989
      2. Application Materials
      3. Continental Air Micronesia Airline Magazine Map of the Pacific
      4. “Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Palau,” 1991-1992
      5. Newsletters and Reports, 1969-1975
    3. Publications
      1. Micronesian Reporter, 1969-1970
      2. Peace Corps Times, 1987, 1991
    4.  Photos and Related Materials
      1. Solomon Islands
      2. Xavier High School Weno, Chuuk/FSM [Federated States of Micronesia], Site of Several Peace Corps Trainings
      3. Republic of Palau
      4. Personal Peace Corps Service 1969
      5. Kosrae State, 1989
      6. Yap Staff/FSM
      7. Chuuk
      8. Chuuk 1990
      9. Yap Outer Islands 1989
      10. Washington, D.C. Staff Training 1989
      11. Xavier High School Pre-Service Training, Weno/Chuuk FSM
      12. Peace Corps Micronesia Staff 1991
      13. Pacific Regional APCD Conference, Pohnpei 1991
      14. Pohnpei 1991
      15. Yap
      16. Departure from PohPei/FSM, March 1992
      17. 25th Anniversary, Palau Peace Corps
      18. Yap 1990 Pre Service Training
      19. Yap Peace Corps
      20. Close of Service Training Yap/Palau
      21. Certificates
      22. Pre-Service Training Pohnpei 1989
      23. Mid-Service Training Guam 1989
      24. Mid-Service Training 1991
      25. Pre-Service Training Pohnpei 1990
      26. Peace Corps/FSM Palace Staff
      27. Peace Corps/Micronesia
      28. Peace Corps Pacific Associate Country Directors Conference Fiji 1987
      29. Chuuk Language Project 1987-1988
      30. Micro- Gen’l
      31. Pohnpei 1989-1992
      32. PC/Washington staff
      33. Samoa
      34. Storyboards
      35. Pohnpei, FSM 1987
      36. Republic of the Marshall Islands
      37. Pohnpei Summer 1988
      38. Philippines Contract, 1988-1989
      39. Papua New Guinea
      40. Fiji, c. 1988
      41. Rota pictures
      42. Tonga, May 1987-May 1989
      43. Micronesia Close of Service Training, c. 1989-1991
      44. Mid-Service Training, 1991

Box 2
5. Three T-Shirts

Processed by Rebecca Kaliff and Emily Messner

Arnold and Marian Zeitlin in Ghana

Country of Service: Ghana

Place of Service: Accra

Service Type: Education

Dates in Service: September 1961-July 1963

Keywords:  Education, Youth

Accession Date: April 15, 2022

Access: No restrictions

Collection Size: 1 linear foot

See Also: American University Library has copies of Zeitlin’s book, To the Peace Corps With LoveZeitlin’s donation also features in the blog post “The Case of the Peace Corps Fellow and the Mysterious Napkin.”

Document Types

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Reports
  • Publications
  • Film/Video

Finding Aid:

  1. Papers
    1. Correspondence
      1. Correspondence, July-September 1961
      2. Correspondence, October-December 1961
      3. Correspondence, 1961 undated
      4. Correspondence, January-May 1962
      5. Correspondence, June-September 1962
      6. Correspondence, October-December 1962, 1962 undated
      7. Correspondence, January-March 1963
      8. Correspondence, April-June 1963
      9. Correspondence, July 1963-December 1965, 1963 undated
      10. Correspondence-Politics, Grouped together, undated
      11. Correspondence on Peace Corps Writings, 1964-1981
      12. Peace Corps Papers
        1. Ghana Training Materials, c. 196
    2. Peace Corps Papers (Start of Box 2)
      1. Other Peace Corps Papers, c. 1961-1963
    3. Reunions
      1. Ghana I, Reunions and Contacts, 1970-2011 (includes 1 DVD)
  2. Publications
    1. Newspaper and Magazine Articles
      1. Ghana Article Drafts, c. 1961-1963
      2. Newspaper Articles by Arnold and Marian Zeitlin, 1961-1986
      3. Newspaper Articles by other Authors, 1961-1991
    2. Peace Corps Studies and Pamphlets, 1963-1984
      1. Peace Corps Studies and Pamphlets (1 of 2)
      2. Peace Corps Studies and Pamphlets (2 of 2)
    3. Other Publications
      1. The O’Reilly Journal, Vol. 1 No. 3, 1964
  3. Other Materials
    1. Fabric
      1. Cloth Ghana I anniversary materials, 1986-2011
    2. Photos and Miscellaneous
      1. Photos, c. 1961-1996, undated
    3. Larger materials (Start of Box 3)
      1. Napkin with psychological test phrases, c. July 1961
      2. Saturday Evening Post issue, January 1, 1966 (The Zeitlins wrote an article in this issue)
      3. Letters From the Peace Corps, ed. Iris Lee (features some of the Zeitlins’ letters)
      4. Photo Album, c. 1961-1963

A Peace Corps Murder Mystery

Happy Halloween! In honor of the upcoming holiday, today we present to you the story of a special Peace Corps-themed whodunnit. Author Rosemary Yaco served in the Peace Corps in Togo from 1983-1986. [1] She then served as a Fulbright professor in Togo before working as the Director of the English Language Program, which was at the United States Information Agency American Cultural Center in Benin, until 1996. [2] From 1998 to 2006, Yaco published a series of four murder mystery novels whose main character, Lynne Lewis, solved crimes in the West African settings where Yaco had worked. [3] The first book in this series, titled Murder in the Peace Corps, reflected Yaco’s service in Togo. It drew on a tragic event that happened during her time as a Volunteer, while also involving several twists, turns, and an enigmatic group of suspects.

Inspiration From Tragedy

(Content Warning: This section contains discussions of murder and police violence.)



Rosemary Yaco’s 1983 Peace Corps group included Jennifer Rubin, a young woman who started her own project to help Togolese women make more efficient earthen stoves, reducing the work needed to gather firewood for cooking. [4] In 1984, she realized that the daughter of the family she rented an apartment from, a close friend, was stealing her belongings. When Rubin mentioned this to the father, he turned his daughter into the police, who beat her until she confessed. A few days later, when she was released, she contacted two men from another village, who killed Rubin. [5] The two men who killed her were sentenced to life in prison. [6] This senseless death of a Peace Corps Volunteer clearly impacted Yaco, as can be seen in her book. Murder in the Peace Corps begins when Lynne Lewis hears word of a fictionalized account of this murder, and Lynne’s sadness and hope to find a resolution grounds the mystery in the shadow of Rubin’s death. [7]

Thickening the Plot

Just as in real life, the Peace Corps and Togolese government in Murder in the Peace Corps quickly resolve this first murder. However, when Lynne and the other Peace Corps Volunteers assemble to grieve and obtain more information about the murder, the Ambassador of the United States to Togo dramatically dies in front of them. Lynne quickly sets off on a cross-country adventure, involving both help and hindrance from the American Embassy, her fellow Volunteers and supervisors, and the local Togolese people. Rosemary Yaco weaves intrigue, romance and surprise into her plot, and the mystery is resolved through several unexpected twists. In addition, she includes details that clearly come from her own Peace Corps experience, such as the delicious food Lynne eats or the types of housing she lives in. However, not all of these specifics are delightful. Not unlike many other thrillers, the sexual orientation of multiple characters is used to signal “deviance” and suggest the characters have malicious or jealous motives because of their suppressed sexual orientation.  Yaco’s Peace Corps Volunteers also sometimes get angry at the cultural differences between the United States and Togo, assuming theirs are always superior, or they exoticize the Togolese they come into contact with. Yaco also underscores the isolation and difficulty adjusting that can occur when Volunteers have isolated posts, or the irritation which comes when they don’t get along with each other. [8]

The Final Conclusion

Rosemary Yaco’s Murder in the Peace Corps is a mystery that uses more than just suspense to spin a tale. By incorporating real-life experiences, Yaco transports readers to Peace Corps service in 1980’s Togo, accompanied by a plucky heroine and an intriguing set of supporting characters. Interested readers can find the digitized book online in Yaco’s collection within the Peace Corps Community Archives, here.






[1] “September 1, 2001: Headlines: NPCA: Fortieth Anniversary: Custom Conference: Who signed up for the original Peace Corps 40th – sorted by Country of Service (Part 3),” Peace Corps Online, Accessed September 28, 2022.

[2] “Lynne Lewis: West Africa Murder Mysteries,” Sonia Yaco, Accessed September 28, 2022.

[3] Rosemary Yaco, Murder in the Peace Corps (Anlex Computer Consulting, 1998), 1,; Rosemary Yaco, Murder at a Small Embassy: Evil in Benin (Anlex Computer Consulting, 2006), 6, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/

[4] “Jennifer Rubin ’83 (Togo, 1983-84),” Hamilton Online Review, Fall 2007, in “Jennifer Rubin,” Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project,, accessed September 28, 2022.

[5] “AN IDEALIST’S SHORT LIFE ENDS IN A KILLING IN A TOGO VILLAGE,” The New York Times, July 4, 1984,, accessed September 28, 2022.

[6] “3 ARE CONVICTED IN TOGO OF KILLING AMERICAN: Three residents of the West African country of Togo have been found guilty of killing a 23-year-old Peace Corps worker from Oneonta, N.Y. in June, a spokesman for the Togo mission to the United Nations said yesterday,” The New York Times, September 20, 1984,, accessed September 28, 2022.

[7] Summary taken from Yaco, Murder in the Peace Corps.

[8] Summary taken from Yaco, Murder in the Peace Corps.

Voting in the Peace Corps, Then and Now

At the time of writing, the 2022 midterm elections are approaching, and many Americans (this author included) are making their preparations to vote by mail. For decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have been among the voters who need to use mail-in ballots. This included Susan Anderson, who served from 1968-1972 in Malawi and Mali. Before she even reported for training, the Peace Corps sent her an article, included in the January 1968 edition of the Peace Corps Volunteer, to explain the process of voting overseas. Written by Elizabeth White, a Peace Corps employee and former Volunteer, the article “How to vote in ‘68” attempted to lay out both the importance of and obstacles to voting.

“How to vote in ’68,” by Elizabeth White. This article highlights the difficulties of voting overseas for Peace Corps Volunteers.

Voting by Mail in 1968

White’s article is only meant to be a brief introduction to mail-in voting for Volunteers who were or would be overseas for the primary or general elections that year. It includes encouragement to raise the very low number of Peace Corps Volunteer votes from 1964 and provides key information geared towards first time voters. (In 1968, the minimum voting age was still 21, so a large number of Volunteers would not have voted before starting their service.) However, White’s main point was the self-responsibility of each Volunteer- every state and locality had slightly different rules, and most greatly restricted the participation of overseas or otherwise absentee voters. For example, six states required voter registration in person, so any unregistered Volunteers from these states who were already training or serving could not vote at all. Seven states did not accept the Federal Post Card Application (the federal forms to permit voting overseas), so Volunteers from these states were warned not to waste time filling out these forms and contact their state and local governments directly. Five states had either partial or total restrictions on mail-in voting for primaries. Alabama and Mississippi directly prohibited mail-in voting if a Volunteer had never voted in person before. White also acknowledged that there were several other restrictions and deadlines on a state-by-state level. She noted that, at the end of the day, Volunteers had to decide for themselves if all of these restrictions were too prohibitive to attempt voting. [1]

Voting by Mail Today

In the years since, federal and state governments have made changes that have made it easier for Peace Corps Volunteers to vote by mail during their service. While many states still have various levels of restrictions for voting by mail, several of these laws provide exceptions for those overseas, including Volunteers. [2]  The federal government has passed several different rounds of voting-related legislation, which has also smoothed this process. Most important was the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, passed in 1986, and amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act in 2009 (though only fifteen states have fully implemented the amendment). This legislation allows members of the U.S. military and other U.S. citizens living abroad to vote in federal elections and receive their ballots forty-five days before an election. [3]  Today, the Peace Corps continues to help Volunteers vote, and they include necessary information and forms on their website.[4] While access to voting overseas and in the Peace Corps has changed since 1968, the importance of voting has not. So don’t forget to cast your vote this November in person, absentee, or by mail!



[1] Summary from Elizabeth White, “How to vote in ’68,” Peace Corps Volunteer, Vol. 7 No. 3 (January 1968), 16, American University Archives, Washington, D.C.

[2]  Information from “Absentee Ballot Rules,”, Accessed September 27, 2022. For anyone looking for voting resources, is a great place to start.

[3]  “The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act,” The United States Department of Justice, last updated February 18, 2020,; “Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act,” Ballotpedia,, accessed October 4, 2022.

[4] “Voting Assistance,” Peace Corps,, accessed October 4, 2022.


The “Peace Corps Postcard”: A Brief History of Peace Corps Critiques

The Postcard Incident

Marjorie Michelmore was a 23-year-old Smith College graduate when she applied to the Peace Corps in 1961. Selected to serve as an English teacher in Nigeria, Marjorie became a member of the first cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) sent to the country. After two months of teacher training at Harvard University, the volunteers flew to Nigeria to complete phase two of training at University College in Ibadan. On October 13, 1961, Marjorie Michelmore wrote a postcard to her boyfriend back in Boston. She drew a scene of the city of Ibadan on the front of the postcard and wrote on the back: 

“Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard.  I promise a letter next time.  I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in.  With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush.  We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience.  Everyone except us lives on the streets, cooks in the street, sells in the street, and even goes to the bathroom in the street.  Please write.


P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world” [1].

The postcard, however, was never mailed. In a 2011 interview for the Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Smith College’s alumnae magazine, Margery recalled: “I either dropped the postcard or it was taken out of the mailbox. I have no idea how it was found” [2]Either way, a Nigerian student found and made copies of the postcard and distributed them throughout the university.  The students were furious. They attended rallies and passed resolutions that denounced PCVs as “America’s international spies” and their teaching program as “a scheme designed to foster neo-colonialism” [3]. The story appeared in nearly every Nigerian and U.S. newspaper. While the “Peace Corps Postcard” incident is a well-known story, it is also telling of the agency’s flaws. Marjorie Michelmore’s story sheds light on the most prevalent critiques of the early Peace Corps and allows us to consider the agency’s role in both the past and the present. 

“Kennedy’s Kids” & Naiveté

Marjorie Michelmore represents the ideal PCV in the agency’s early years—a young, recent college graduate. At the heart of the Peace Corps mission was the idea that America’s young people were motivated and enthusiastic global citizens with a deep commitment to humanitarian service. The notion of sending young, unskilled college graduates abroad to fix the world’s problems, however, received ample criticism. President Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to the Peace Corps as a “juvenile experiment” [4].  The nick-name assigned to the first wave of volunteers, dubbed “Kennedy’s Kids,” reflects public perceptions of amateurism. This critique certainly holds some truth.  In the 2019 documentary A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps, Christopher Dodd —Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and former U.S. Senator from Connecticut—says:

The idea that I—an English Literature major—it was a presumptuous idea that I was somehow going to eradicate ignorance, poverty, and disease.”

    Christopher Dodd (RPCV: Dominican Republic, 1966-1968)
A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps (2019) 

Dodd’s reflection puts words to the ultimate paradox of the Peace Corps. Although thousands of young Americans were inspired by President Kennedy’s call to action, PCVs often found that their efforts were not enough to make a large-scale impact. While naiveté is a prominent critique of the Peace Corps, the same concept—that young Americans could go abroad and fix complex global problems—brings forth questions of neo-colonialism.

Decolonization & Neo-Colonialism

The Peace Corps emerged during the post-war era of decolonization.  After World War II, dozens of countries in Africa and Asia gained independence from European empires. In the 1950s and 1960s, international development volunteering organizations emerged across the globe—Australia’s Volunteer Graduate Scheme (VGS) in 1951, Britain’s Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) in 1958, and the United States’ Peace Corps in 1961, to name a few.  Development volunteering models, including the Peace Corps, exacerbated a neo-colonialist distinction between “developed” and “developing” nations [5]. In the case of Marjorie Michelmore, Nigerian students condemned the Peace Corps’ teaching program as a “scheme to foster neo-colonialism.” Nigeria had been independent for just one year at the time of the postcard incident. Many newly independent nations were reluctant to allow PCVs into their country to begin with. Margery’s discussion of “primitive” conditions and her blatant use of the word “underdeveloped” not only broke the trust of host country nationals, but also echoed the colonial rule that the country had just broken free from. 

Cold War Competition & Suspicion

After seeing the ways in which Marjorie Michelmore described their country, Nigerian students  suspected PCVs were “international spies.” This allegation reveals another dimension of Peace Corps critique. The Peace Corps was, in many ways, a response to the Cold War—an era of heightened international tension, suspicion, and fear. Founded at the height of the Cold War, motivations for the establishment of the Peace Corps certainly venture outside of promoting “peace and friendship” abroad. Was the goal of the agency to foster peaceful international relations? Was it to assist in the development of emerging nations? Was it to show the Soviet Union and the world the power of American democracy and capitalism? Or, was it to “win” the allegiance of unaffiliated countries? With historical hindsight, we can infer that it was all of the above.

The founders of the Peace Corps were keenly aware of the pervasiveness of Cold War ideology, however. President Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, and others worked hard to allay fears that the Peace Corps would harbor secret agendas or become a tool of the CIA by requiring countries to request volunteers. To this day, previous work with an intelligence agency automatically disqualifies citizens from Peace Corps service. Despite these measures, host countries were still suspicious of the Peace Corps. Concerning Marjorie Michelmore, Nigerian students almost immediately questioned the motives of American volunteers. While the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961 cannot be divorced from the political climate in which it emerged, it is also difficult to overstate the significance of the establishment of the Peace Corps, an agency devoted to peaceful engagement with the world, amidst Cold War international tensions.

During his presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy said in regards to the establishment of a peace corps: “I want to demonstrate to Mr. Khrushchev and others that a new generation of Americans has taken over this country…young Americans [who will] serve the cause of freedom as servants of peace around the world, working for freedom as the communists work for their system” [6]. This quote and the above cartoon, published in the Washington Post on June 26, 1962, demonstrate the influence of the Cold War on the establishment of the Peace Corps. Not only did the United States want to compete with the Soviet Union for the allegiance of newly independent nations, they also wanted to promote American democracy abroad.

Poster denouncing the Peace Corps in Colombia. Translation: “The Peace Corps is: 1) an international affiliate of the FBI-CIA, 2) a military corps that supports dictatorships, and 3) yankee mercenaries of the oligarchies. What do they do: 1) plot coups, 2) defend yankee interests, and 3) prepare attacks against democratic and nationalist leaders.”

The Peace Corps has remained a controversial agency throughout its history.  I address additional questions and critiques briefly below.

The Peace Corps vs. the War Corps

Early proponents  called for the implementation of a program like the Peace Corps to provide a “moral equivalent to war” [7]. Richard Nixon, however, famously deemed the Peace Corps a “haven for draft dodgers.” In 1966, as war raged in Vietnam, over 15,000 PCVs were promoting peace and friendship abroad. There is no greater demonstration of the tension between the altruistic idealism and the harsh political realities that defined the sixties in America [8].  More firmly, the Peace Corps is a crystallization of American attempts to engage with the world in a different, more peaceful way. Considering the Peace Corps in tandem with the U.S. military also poses evocative questions. Is service in the name of peace just as worthy of respect and remembrance as that of war?

Is the Peace Corps an apolitical agency?

The Peace Corps was established as an independent agency within the State Department to avert influence from short-term foreign policy goals. Throughout its history, however, the Peace Corps has struggled to navigate the dynamics between the White House, policymakers in Washington, DC, Peace Corps leadership, and volunteers abroad. To date, the agency has operated under 12 U.S. presidents and 20 Peace Corps directors. The Peace Corps has, at times, strayed from its mission and promoted the White House’s foreign policy goals to remain relevant. For example, when the Cold War ended, President George H.W. Bush eagerly sent Peace Corps Volunteers to Eastern Europe to “impart capitalism” [9].

Volunteer Safety

In 2009, Kate Puzey was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the West African country of Benin. Puzey believed a Peace Corps employee was sexually harassing female students at the school where she taught and sent an email to her country’s headquarters to inform them. Although she asked to remain anonymous, Puzey was found dead shortly thereafter. President Barack Obama signed the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Protection Act in 2011, designed to protect Peace Corps Volunteers and improve the agency’s response to acts of violence and sexual assault [10]. Nevertheless, in 2021, many RPCVs came forward and expressed their disappointment in the Peace Corps after experiencing sexual assault during their time of service, and not receiving support from the organization [11]. Kate Puzey, however, is just one PCV who died during service. Engage with The Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project  to learn about the more than 500 PCVs who died during service.

BIPOC & Queer Volunteers

Race, sexual orientation, and gender identity greatly influence Peace Corps experience. African American, Asian American, and Latino PCVs have been questioned if they are really Americans in their host countries. What does this say about perceptions of Americanism abroad? Identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is illegal in many countries.  Queer volunteers often have to weigh coming out to their community with the potential danger that it may put them in. View Many Faces of Peace Corps, 60th Anniversary and explore the former LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Association website to learn more about how race and  identity shape Peace Corps service.

Does the Peace Corps make any positive impact on host countries? 

The everlasting question of impact has haunted the agency since its inception. Does Peace Corps service primarily benefit the volunteers? Volunteers have the opportunity to live abroad, add to their resume, and receive eligibility for government jobs upon their return.  Many volunteers do report that they gain much more from the international communities they serve than they give. Historically, the Peace Corps has struggled to quantify its success because it is typically on an interpersonal level. 

Is the Peace Corps still relevant today?

If the Peace Corps is a Cold War relic, is it still relevant? RPCV Lacy Feigh writes for the Washington Post’s Made By History: 

“At 60 years old, has the Peace Corps outgrown its time and relevance? Viewed as an organization meant to provide foreign aid and development, maybe. But as a vehicle to build relationships, empathy, and experiences, it is as important as ever” [12].

Just as the Peace Corps faced challenges at home and abroad in the 1960s, the organization faces challenges today. In 2020, for the first time in its history, the Peace Corps evacuated all volunteers from their posts due to COVID-19. During that time, the agency reflected on how they can redefine their mission to remain relevant today. Read the 2020 National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) report, Peace Corps Connect to the Future, to learn about the future of the Peace Corps.

Abolish the Peace Corps?

While some view the mission of the Peace Corps as more important than ever, others are vying for its abolishment. Shortly after being evacuated from Mozambique due to COVID-19, 3 PRCVs founded Decolonizing Peace Corps—a project to abolish the Peace Corps. Functioning primarily through Instagram, Decolonizing Peace Corps collects data from volunteers and host country nationals with the hope of inspiring the abolishment of the Peace Corps by 2040 [13].

The Peace Corps has been a contentious agency since its inception in 1961. While it is difficult to disentangle the Peace Corps’ idealistic fervor from its shortcomings, understanding and recognizing criticism of the agency allows us to better understand its complex history and rethink the ways in which it can or should exist in society today. 



[1] John Coyne, “Our Most Famous and Infamous RPCV: Marjorie Michelmore (Nigeria),” Peace Corps WorldWide, November 2, 2019

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stanley Meisler, When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and its First Fifty Years (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 39.

[4] Meisler, When the World Calls, 42.

[5] Agnieszka Sobocinska, “How to Win Friends and Influence Nations: The International History of Development Volunteering,” Journal of Global History, 50-51.

[6] Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), 606.

[7] “Peace Corps Fact Book, April 1961,” From Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President’s Office Files. Departments and Agencies. Peace Corps, 1961: January-June.

[8] Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 10.

[9] Meisler, When the World Calls, x-xi

[10] Angela M. Hill and Randy Kreider, “Obama Signs Kate Puzey Volunteer Peace Corps Protection Act,” ABC News, November 21, 2011.

[11] Donovan Slack and Tricia L. Nadolny, “Sexual Assault rises as Peace Corps fails its Volunteers,” USA TODAY, April 22, 2021. 

[12] Lacy Feigh, “Now 60 years old, the Peace Corps can be more than a Cold War artifact,” Made By History at the Washington Post, 5 March 2021. 

[13] Shanna Loga, “Should the US Abolish the Peace Corps?,” Medium, September 20, 2020.