1999 33c Celebrate the Century - 1960s: The Peace Corps
US #3188f – from the Celebrate the Century: 1960s sheet

On March 1, 1961, the Peace Corps was established.

Long before Kennedy was president, he endorsed the idea of sending volunteers to other countries to give technical assistance and promote peace. As a congressman in 1951, he supported a plan to send college graduates to the Middle East to give “technical advice and assistance to the underprivileged.”

1962 4¢ Brien McMahon
US #1200 – In 1952, McMahon proposed the creation of an “army” of young Americans to serve as “missionaries of democracy.” The proposal served as one of the inspirations for the Peace Corps.
1972 8c Peace Corps
US #1447 was issued for the Peace Corps’ 10th anniversary.

Nine years later, Kennedy revisited the concept while campaigning for president on October 14, 1960. After a hard day on the campaign trail, Kennedy stopped at the University of Michigan campus to sleep. However, when he arrived he discovered that approximately 10,000 students had assembled to hear the presidential candidate speak. In that 2am speech, Kennedy asked how many of the students would be willing to “serve their country and the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world.” With that simple question, the Peace Corps was born.

1967 13¢ Prominent Americans: John F. Kennedy
US #1287 – from the Prominent Americans Series

On March 1, 1961, Kennedy officially created the Peace Corps when he signed a special executive order. He felt it was a way to counter anti-American sentiment around the world. His brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, became the organization’s first director. The first Peace Corps volunteers trained at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. That first group left for their first mission in Ghana and Tanzania on August 28, 1961.

1984 30c Great Americans: Frank C. Laubach
US #1864 – Laubach worked with the Peace Corps through his literacy programs.

Congress passed the Peace Corps Act in September, authorizing the program that sent men and women “qualified for service abroad and willing to serve” in order to help developing countries meet “their needs for trained manpower.” In 1961, there were 900 volunteers serving in 16 countries. By 1966, 15,000 volunteers were serving around the world and by 1972 there were 50,000. The program declined in the 1980s when the Corps was asked to leave several countries.

1999 33¢ The Peace Corps Mystic First Day Cover
US #3188f – Mystic First Day Cover

The goals of the Peace Corps are simple: “To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” Volunteers work with people in developing countries to help them better their living conditions. The Corps sends people into a nation only at its request.

1972 8c Peace Corps Classic First Day Cover
US #1447 – Classic First Day Cover

These goals are accomplished by sending trained volunteers to countries in order to improve the quality of life for its citizens, and in short, help them take charge of their own futures. In turn, these volunteers gain a greater understanding of different countries by being totally immersed in the native cultures. As part of their training, volunteers are taught the customs and languages of their host country so as to better fit in with the people they’re attempting to assist. While in the host country, volunteers often live in remote communities for two years with no special privileges or conveniences.

1991 Palau Peace Corps
Palau #297 honors the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Palau.

The Peace Corps program continues today. To date, more than 240,000 Americans have volunteered to serve in 142 countries. In addition to serving in traditional roles in health, education, and agriculture, countries also request volunteers who are computer scientists and can help with small businesses.

Click here for more from the Peace Corps website.

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  1. I was in Cebu City, PI 1966/67 with the Air Force and the Peace Corps had some people there.
    I found most of them arrogant, condescending and always letting you know they were superior to
    you. A few were all right but most weren’t. They disliked anyone in the Military.

  2. Read “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux to get a sense of all the “good” the Peace Corp has accomplished in Africa.

  3. I was in the military (Army) 1965-68. I encountered Peace Corps people during that time and never found them to be arrogant or condescending. At times I wish I had been involved in their work instead of what I was doing. But I want to make it clear both the military and Peace Corps probably had people with a bit of arrogance mainly because they did not understand their roles as American citizens. My best friend Jerry Butler worked in Peace Corps for several years in his 50’s and 60’s in Papua New Guinea. Jerry never had an ounce of arrogance in his life and he did a lot of good work in Peace Corps and teaching inner city kids with me in San Francisco in the 80’s and 90’s. So my advice to the man who commented above is don’t judge the many by the few. More good has been done by Peace Corps than any other group of Americans.

    1. “More good has been done by Peace Corps than any other group of Americans.” Well, Bill, I guess we’re all entitled to our opinions.

  4. I was a Peace Corps teacher in Liberia for five years (1971-1976). It was a great learning experience living in another culture deep in the bush and the best years in my life that I will always cherish. Americans in whatever capacity, i.e.., military, missionary, aide worker, diplomacy, private enterprise, should be proud in serving their country to help make the world a better place to live!

  5. Americans are the most generous people in the world both in financial and talent support. We have a tremendous responsibility to keep the world as safe as possible and extend a hand out to teach others their responsibilities to create a safe and prosperous life for themselves. All organizations the military, and human support groups should be honored for their services as long it is done for the greater glory of God.
    We should strive for peace on earth and the goodwill of mankind.

  6. There was no Tanzania in 1961. There was the newly independent nation of Tanganyika, with the British island colony of Zanzibar off its coast. Zanzibar became independent in 1963. The two countries joined to become the United Republic of Tanzania (the name being a portmanteau of TANganyika and ZANzibar) in 1964.

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