On September 22, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Peace Corps Act, securing the long-term continuation of an ideal inspired nearly a year before by candidate Kennedy. Since then, nearly a quarter of a million Americans have volunteered to serve the developing nations of the world in 141 countries.
The idea for the Peace Corps was just that—an idea—spoken by John Kennedy during a campaign visit to the University of Michigan on October 14, 1960. Kennedy had arrived late in Ann Arbor, but to not disappoint a crowd of 10,000 Michigan students waiting to hear him, he agreed to speak at 2 AM for a few minutes. During those remarks, he posed the idea of young Americans volunteering abroad:
“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.”
Almost immediately, Michigan students and other began volunteering to do just what Kennedy had asked—even though no program existed. The idea was so popular, however, with polls showing 71% approval rate, that Kennedy began using it as a core part of his final drive to win the election.
And as soon as he was elected, he assigned R. Sargent Shriver to get the project started. With Shriver’s encouragement, President Kennedy signed an executive order on March 1, 1961, establishing a temporary Peace Corps (March 1 is often considered the birthday of the Peace Corps). Congress passed bills to establish it permanently, with its own appropriation, and President Kennedy signed the act into law on September 22, 1961. The simple two-page law established an idealistic purpose for the agency:Read More