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After a day of campaigning for the presidency, Senator John F. Kennedy arrived at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14, 1960, at 2:00 a.m., to get some sleep, not to propose the establishment of an international volunteer organization. Members of the press had retired for the night, believing that nothing interesting would happen.

But 10,000 students at the University were waiting to hear the presidential candidate speak, and it was there on the steps of the Michigan Union that a bold new experiment in public service was launched. The assembled students heard the future president issue a challenge: how many of them, he asked, would be willing to serve their country and the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world?

The reaction was both swift and enthusiastic, and since 1961, more than 45 years, 187,000 Americans have responded to this enduring challenge. And since then, the Peace Corps has demonstrated how the power of an idea can capture the imagination of an entire nation.

Congress Authorizes the Peace Corps

On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy signs an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Three days later, R. Sargent Shriver is appointed its first director.

In July, Peace Corps assignments have been planned for Ghana, Tanzania, Colombia, the Philippines, Chile, and St. Lucia. More than 5,000 applicants take the first exams to enter the Peace Corps.

5,000 Applicants Take the First Exams

On August 28, 1961, President Kennedy hosts a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden to honor the inaugural group of Volunteers, who will serve in Ghana and Tanzania. The 51 Americans who land in Accra, Ghana, make an immediate impression on their hosts: they form a chorus on the airport's tarmac in front of the minister of education and other officials and sing the Ghanaian national anthem in Twi, the local language. :]

On September 22, 1961, Congress approves legislation formally authorizing the Peace Corps, giving it the mandate to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower, particularly in meeting the basic needs of those living in the poorest areas of such countries, and to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served and a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.

By the end of 1963, 7,300 Volunteers are in the field, serving in 44 countries from Afghanistan to Uruguay. More than half of the Volunteers work in education, one-fourth in community development, and the remainder in agriculture, healthcare, and public works. :]

In April 1964, the Peace Corps Partnership Project is established, a program that allows Americans here at home to support and contribute to Volunteer projects overseas. :]

By June 1966, more than 15,000 Volunteers are working in the field, the largest number in the Peace Corps' history. :]


In 1962 of those people who'd expressed an interest in joining the newly founded Peace Corps 150 were invited to the Univ. of Pittsburgh to train to be in the first group of Volunteers to be sent to Liberia.

Of the 150 invitees 135 of them showed up for the training program.

Of the 135 who began training for Group Liberia One 120 survived the training and screening processes to be accepted as Volunteers to be sent to Liberia.

106 Volunteers of Group Liberia One, 106 of the 120, actually were sent to Liberia.

99 of the 106 sent to Liberia served a full two year commitment. I.e., 7 couldn't hack it in Liberia & went home early.

External Links

1960s Official US Peace Corps Website