60 Years of Peace Corps: A Look Back

(StatePoint) While life around the globe has changed significantly since the Peace Corps was founded 60 years ago, the agency’s mission to promote world peace and friendship between Americans and people around the world has not.

Established by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961, via Executive Order, the concept for the public service agency was first introduced months prior in an impromptu presidential campaign speech delivered to college students.

“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?” then-Senator Kennedy asked the students. “I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.”

The response was swift and enthusiastic. Since the Peace Corps’ founding, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 142 host countries. Here’s a look back at some of the agency’s major accomplishments and milestones:

• 1961: President Kennedy hosts a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden in honor of the first group of volunteers departing for service. Congress approves legislation for the Peace Corps. The first volunteers arrive in Ghana.

• 1977: Carolyn Robertson Payton is appointed Peace Corps Director by President Jimmy Carter. She’s the first female and first African American to serve in this role.

• 1985: The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows program, a graduate fellowship program offering financial assistance to returned volunteers, as well as opportunities to continue service in underserved communities, is established.

• 1995: The Peace Corps sends volunteers to the Caribbean island of Antigua to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Luis. This pilot program, Crisis Corps (now called Peace Corps Response), provides short-term humanitarian service to countries worldwide.

• 2005: For the first time, volunteers are deployed domestically when the Peace Corps Response program assists the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief operations in the Gulf Coast region following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

• 2007: The Peace Corps Prep program is established, offering an undergraduate certificate program that helps students build skills needed to be effective volunteers, giving them a competitive edge when applying for Peace Corps service.

• 2014: For the first time, Peace Corps applicants can choose the programs and countries they apply to, selecting the path that best fits their skills, languages, and personal and professional goals.

• 2016: The Peace Corps gets a makeover with the adoption of a new look and logo.

• 2020: The Peace Corps initiates its first global evacuation in its history in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, what’s the status of the Peace Corps today? Currently, the agency is working to return to service and is accepting applications to serve. Interested applicants can connect with a recruiter to learn more and get the application process started by visiting peacecorps.gov.

From partnering with local communities, to mitigating the impacts of climate change, to teaching digital literacy, today’s Peace Corps service opportunities look different than they once did; however, they all continue the agency’s original and inspiring mandate to “promote world peace and friendship.”