On the 50th anniversary of his passing, we honor the legacy of President John F. Kennedy. We trace our roots and mission to 1960, when then-Senator Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. His inspiration led to the establishment of this agency in 1961 with a mission to promote world peace and friendship.
Today, we are more vital than ever, working in collaboration with public and private partners in emerging and essential areas such as education, information technology, agriculture and environment, and business development in countries around the world. The Peace Corps is committed to giving all Americans who want to serve the opportunity to make a difference and bring their experience back home to enrich their communities here in the United States.
Since 1961, more than 215,000 Americans of all ages and backgrounds have responded to Kennedy’s enduring challenge, demonstrating how the power of an idea can capture the imagination of an entire nation.
“I feel that my father’s greatest legacy was the people he inspired to get involved in public service and their communities, to join the Peace Corps, to go into space. And really that generation transformed this country in civil rights, social justice, the economy and everything.”
On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy signed the executive order establishing the Peace Corps. On September 22, 1961, Congress approved the legislation that formally authorized the Peace Corps. Goals of the Peace Corps included: 1) helping the people of interested countries and areas meet their needs for trained workers; 2) helping promote a better understanding of Americans in countries where volunteers served; and 3) helping promote a better understanding of peoples of other nations on the part of Americans.
The concept of volunteers serving abroad on grass-roots foreign aid projects originated in Congress in the 1950s. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order. President Kennedy then sent this letter to Senate President (Vice President of the U.S.) Lyndon B. Johnson describing the successes of the Peace Corps program he had established. Kennedy included a draft bill authorizing the Peace Corps with his letter. Kennedy’s draft bill was identical to the bill Senator Hubert H. Humphrey introduced on June 1, 1961. President Kennedy signed S. 2000 into law on September 22, 1961. The Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2011.
Letter from President Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson, 5/29/1961, Records of the U.S. Senate
S. 2000, Peace Corps bill, 6/1/1961, Records of the U.S. Senate
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s historic Rose Garden send-off to the first group of Volunteers to leave for service in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Ghana in Africa. We are happy to have this archival footage of his remarks.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Joe Kennedy III (Dominican Republic, 2004-2006), whose great uncle President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961, throws the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Boston Red Sox/Cleveland Indians game on Friday, August 4.