The Peace Corps was established on March 1, 1961 during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. Believe it or not, this was not President Kennedy’s brainchild; it was the idea of Representative Henry Reuss of Wisconsin in the late 1950’s. When Kennedy learned of the Reuss proposal and saw the enthusiasm from younger members of the American society for this proposal, he decided to add it to his platform. Good/great bet!!!
He first made his position publicly at a debate during his campaign for President against then Vice President Richard Nixon (who was also running for the office of President) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was surprised to learn that when he brought the subject to the attention of the crowd, asking how many of them would be willing to represent their country around the world in developing countries for the cause of freedom. The students roared… I get goose bumps thinking of this…I’m a globalist at heart and to know that we as Americans have helped and can continue to help those less fortunate around the world, makes my heart happy.
The Peace Corps proposal gained momentum in the final days of Kennedy’s campaign, and on November 8 he was narrowly elected the 35th president of the United States. On January 20, 1961, in his famous inaugural address, he promised aid to the poor of the world. “To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,” he said, “we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required…”
After March 1, thousands of young Americans answered this call to duty by volunteering for the Peace Corps. The agency, which was headed by Kennedy’s brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver, eventually chose some 750 volunteers to serve in 13 nations in 1961. In August, Kennedy hosted a White House ceremony to honor the first Peace Corps volunteers. The 51 Americans who later landed in Accra, Ghana, for two years of service immediately made a favorable impression on their hosts when they gathered on the airport tarmac to sing the Ghanaian national anthem in Twi, the local language.