Call to Action

All Exhibits

Peace Corps

An even more valuable national asset is our reservoir of dedicated men and women—not only on our college campuses but in every age group—who have indicated their desire to contribute their skills, their efforts, and a part of their lives to the fight for world order. We can mobilize this talent through the formation of a National Peace Corps, enlisting the services of all those with the desire and capacity to help foreign lands meet their urgent needs for trained personnel.

John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Address

When President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, his executive order was a call to action. It gave the American people a new way to think about public service—and a new way to make a contribution. More than a government aid program, the Peace Corps offered opportunities for hands-on experiences in developing countries all over the world. Those who answered the call saw themselves as change agents, actively strengthening mutual understanding around the world.

The origins of Kennedy's ideas for the Peace Corps have been traced to an impassioned speech he made at the University of Michigan on October 14, 1960, during the presidential campaign:

How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.

The Peace Corps program continues to this day and serves as an active legacy to President Kennedy. Since its inception, more than 182,000 Peace Corps volunteers have worked in 138 host countries on challenges ranging from AIDS education to information technology to environmental preservation. March 1, 2006, marked the 45th anniversary of the Peace Corps.