Establishment of Peace Corps

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Establishment of Peace Corps

Government memorandum

By: John F. Kennedy

Date: March 1, 1961

Source: Kennedy, John F. "Executive Order 10924: Establishment of Peace Corps." National Archives, March 1, 1961.

About the Author: John F. Kennedy served as the thirty-fifth president of the United States from 1961–1963. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his work, Profiles in Courage, which outlines eight historical figures who displayed bravery in the face of great opposition.


Long before Senator John F. Kennedy took to the campaign trail, two proposals were sent to Congress to create an organization that would send American citizens to aid those in the developing world. Representative Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin first proposed a government study of the idea and Senator Hubert Humphrey first submitted legislation for the creation of the Peace Corps. However, at the time these bills were introduced, the idea of a corps of volunteers sent abroad lacked popular support. On October 14, 1960, Senator Kennedy arrived at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. After a long day of campaigning, Kennedy had stopped at the school to rest. However, ten thousand students were still congregated at 2 A.M. to hear him speak when he arrived at the school. Kennedy asked the students if they were willing to serve their country and work toward the goal of peace by working in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Weeks later, a petition of over one thousand signatures had been gathered in support of the idea.

Kennedy tasked Sargent Shriver, his brother-in-law, to do a study of the feasibility of such a volunteer force. Shriver completed his study between Kennedy's election in November 1960 and his inauguration the next year. As a result, less than two months after taking office, Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 to establish the Peace Corps within the State Department. Sargent Shriver was made the first director of the organization. In his address at the signing of the executive order, Kennedy set the goal to have five hundred volunteers in the field by the year's end. He asserted that the program was not designed for diplomacy or propaganda, but that it permits U.S. citizens to assist in world development and to bring a decent way of life to the developing world as a way to promote freedom. In his speech, he determined that with no salary or allowances, the volunteers would be expected to live and work alongside those they would serve. In doing so, volunteers would be encouraging peace and understanding.


Executive Order 10924


By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Mutual Security Act of 1954, 68 Stat. 832, as amended (22 U.S.C. 1750 et seq.), and as President of the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows:

SECTION 1. Establishment of the Peace Corps. The Secretary of State shall establish an agency in the Department of State which shall be known as the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps shall be headed by a Director.

SEC. 2. Functions of the Peace Corps.

  1. The Peace Corps shall be responsible for the training and service abroad of men and women of the United States in new programs of assistance to nations and areas of the world, and in conjunction with or in support of existing economic assistance programs of the United States and of the United Nations and other international organizations.
  2. The Secretary of State shall delegate, or cause to be delegated, to the Director of the Peace Corps such of the functions under the Mutual Security Act of 1954, as amended, vested in the President and delegated to the Secretary, or vested in the Secretary, as the Secretary shall deem necessary for the accomplishment of the purposes of the Peace Corps.

SEC. 3. Financing of the Peace Corps. The Secretary of State shall provide for the flnancing of the Peace Corps with funds available to the Secretary for the performance of functions under the Mutual Security Act of 1954, as amended.

SEC. 4. Relation to Executive Order No. 10893. This order shall not be deemed to supersede or derogate from any provision of Executive Order No. 10893 of November 8, 1960, as amended, and any delegation made by or pursuant to this order shall, unless otherwise specifioally provided therein, be deemed to be in addition to any delegation made by or pursuant to that order.

March 1, 1961.


In 1961, Kennedy began to implement his plan to fight poverty, help cities develop, and expand government programs for citizens. This program was called the "New Frontier" and was based on President Roosevelt's New Deal. On the foreign policy front, Kennedy was concerned with the growth and spread of communism, particularly in third-world nations. As such, he sought alternatives to military activities. The Peace Corps was one such alternative. With its mission determined to spread friendship and peace, Kennedy sought to stem the expansion of communism in the developing world through the use of the idealistic volunteers. As a result, on March 1, 1961, the executive order to establish the Peace Corps was signed. Five months later, in July 1961, assignments had been created in Ghana, Tanzania, Colombia, the Philippines, Chile, and St. Lucia, and over five thousand applicants took the first exam to enter the Peace Corps. On August 28, 1961, President Kennedy hosted the inaugural group of volunteers at the White House Rose Garden. These volunteers were about to depart to serve in Ghana and Tanzania. The next month, congress approved legislation in Public Law 87-293 to mandate the goals of the Peace Corps to promote friendship and peace and to establish the track for the Peace Corps' permanence and autonomy. In 1963, merely two years after its inception, over 7,300 volunteers were in the field, operating in forty-four countries and working in education, community development, agriculture, health care, and public works. In 1966, fifteen thousand volunteers were active in field work.

In the decades that followed, the Peace Corps continued to develop. In 1979, President Carter signed an executive order granting the Peace Corps autonomy. In 1981, Congress passed legislation that created the Corps as an independent federal agency. In addition, the Peace Corps developed a Fellows Program in conjunction with Teachers College/Colombia University. The Fellows Program recruits and trains returning volunteers to become New York school-teachers. Other programs include the World Wise Program, unveiled in 1989, which allows students to correspond with volunteers in the field.

Since its inception, the Peace Corps has had over 182,000 volunteers work in 138 host nations. In keeping with a changing world, these volunteers work in the areas of HIV/AIDS education, business development, environmental preservation, and information technology.


Web sites

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. "Statement Upon Signing Order Establishing the Peace Corps." <http:// Reference+Desk/Speeches/JFK/003POF03PeaceCorp 03011961.htm> (accessed June 15, 2006).

Peace Corps. "About the Peace Corps." <http://www.> (accessed June 15, 2006).

U.S. News and World Report. "The People's Vote: 100 Documents that shaped America." < usnews/documents/docpages/document_page92.htm> (accessed June 15, 2006).