Happy 53rd birthday to us! On this date in 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order to officially establish the Peace Corps.
“Peace Corps is an organization for which I have a strong personal affinity. The dedication and professionalism of Peace Corps Volunteers in our education system made a great impact on me during my formative years. Since 1962, Peace Corps Volunteers have been great ambassadors to my country and I know they will continue to play a critical role as we write the next chapter in the history of my country.”
During his visit to Peace Corps Headquarters today, President Ernest Bai Koroma of the Republic of Sierra Leone was reunited with Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Sharon Kasper Alvarado. Alvarado served in Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1966 as an education Volunteer and got to know President Koroma’s family and schoolmates. The two had not seen each other for nearly 50 years.
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