Peace Corps becomes law (1961)

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.”

Peace Corps volunteers in the Marshall Islands, 1968 (photo by the Trust Territory of the Pacific)

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:

“…the purpose of this Act to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help people of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower, and to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served and a better understanding of other people on the part of the American people.”

The Peace Corps has remained popular with young Americans. These are being sworn in in Madagascar (photo by US Embassy to Madagascar)

Since then, the Peace Corps has remained a stalwart part of America’s international development aid and diplomacy.  According to official Peace Corps statistics, as of September 30, 2016, more than 225,000 Americans have served in 141 countries.  Today, about two-thirds are women; 30% are minorities.  The average age of volunteers is currently 28, and 7% are older than 50.  Nearly half (47%) of Peace Corps volunteers work in Africa, targeting the part of the world in most need of improved nutrition, health care and education.  The second biggest target is Latin America, with 19% of all volunteers.

The Peace Corps program understands the essential connection between poverty, public health and the environment—the idea of sustainability as defined by Gro Harlem Brundtland and now used throughout the world.  Consequently, 9% of Peace Corps volunteers work in environmental and conservation areas, including environmental education and awareness, protected area management and natural resource conservation.  Another 7% work in agriculture.

References:

National Archives Catalog.  Act of September 22, 1961 (Peace Corps Act), Public Law 87-293, 75 STAT 612, Which Established a Peace Corp to Help the People of Interested Countries and Areas in Meeting Their Needs for Skilled Manpower.  Available at:  https://catalog.archives.gov/id/299874.  Accessed September 22, 2017.

Peace Corps.  Environmental.  Available at:  http://files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/learn/whatvol/onesheets/onesheets_environment.pdf.  Accessed September 22, 2017.

Peace Corps.  Fast facts.  Available at:  https://www.peacecorps.gov/news/fast-facts/.  Accessed September 22, 2017.

Peace Corps.  The Founding Moment.  Available at:  https://www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/founding-moment/.  Accessed September 22, 2017.

Wofford, Harris.  2011.  Big, Bold and Fast:  A little Peace Corps history on its 50th Anniversary.  Obama White House Archives.  Available at:  https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2011/03/01/big-bold-and-fast-little-peace-corps-history-its-50th-anniversary.  Accessed September 22, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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