Retro Action, March 1, 1961: America's Newest Army: JFK Establishes Peace Corps

Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
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Who, me? Sargent Shriver acts surprised at being made Peace Corps director by his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy. (Photo: Reuters)

It's been an American institution for more than 50 years, a government-sponsored haven for a few generations of socially conscious college grads, and it's mission is to "promote world peace and friendship."

But the Peace Corps hasn't always been popular here at home. In the heat of the 1960 presidential campaign, detractors called it "Kennedy’s Kiddie Korps" and derided the program as a refuge for draft dodgers. 

Once in office, JFK warned volunteers that the Corps wasn't just another destination for hippies with a travel bug. 

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Peace Corps Cambodia volunteer English teachers swear in at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Reuters/Chor Sokunthea)

"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy," said the President. "There will be no salary, and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs.

"Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language."

Since 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and have served in 139 countries. Famous graduates include Ray director Taylor Hackford (Bolivia, 1968-69) and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (Swaziland, 1983-85).  


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