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Saturday, June 10, 2017

President John Kennedy and the Peace Corps

At the beginning of Dirty Dancing Baby Houseman narrates from the future.
That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me "Baby", and it didn't occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came -- when I couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps.
Baby is reading the book Plight of the Peasant, by Gregg Macpherson.
Baby Houseman reading the book
"Plight of the Peasant" by Gregg Macpherson
in the movie "Dirty Dancing"
(I could not find any information on the Internet about either Gregg Macpherson or about a book titled Plight of the Peasant. Maybe the book does not really exist and is just a movie prop.)


USA Today has published the following timeline of the Peace Corps.
Oct. 14, 1960: In a 2 a.m. impromptu speech, presidential candidate and then-Senator John F. Kennedy calls on students at the University of Michigan to volunteer to serve for one to two years in the developing world. Within weeks, students organized a petition drive and gathered 1,000 signatures in support of the idea, which became the Peace Corps.

March 1, 1961: President Kennedy signs Executive Order 10924, providing for the establishment and administration of the Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis.

June 1961: Training for the first group of Peace Corps volunteers is conducted at U.S. colleges, universities and private agencies.

Aug. 30, 1961: The first group of Peace Corps volunteers, Ghana I, arrives in Accra. They will serve as teachers.

Sept. 22, 1961: Congress approves legislation for the Peace Corps, giving it the mandate to "promote world peace and friendship" through a mission statement that endures to this day.

1962: Programs begin in 27 new countries: Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guinea, Iran, Jamaica, Liberia, Malaysia, Nepal, Niger, Peru, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey and Venezuela. As of June 30, at least 2,816 volunteers are in the field.

President John Kennedy took office in January 1961. In March, he outlined his plan for the Peace Corps in the following newsreel.

The following video shows President Kennedy talking to the first group of Peace Corp volunteers in August 1961.

Below is a newsreel about the Peace Corps in 1961.

Below is a public service announcement delivered by President Kennedy. (Music and visuals were added in a much later year.)


 When the Dirty Dancing story took place in the fall of 1963, Baby Houseman had recently graduated from high school and therefore was about 18 years old. During the first year of Kennedy's presidency, Baby was about 16 years old and probably thinking about what she intended to study in college.

On March 13, 1961, the magazine US News and World Report published an article titled The Details of John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps, which included the following information for people who were interested in the idea of joining.
What will they teach?

President Kennedy listed these "among the specific programs to which Peace Corps members can contribute":

* "Teaching in primary and secondary schools, especially as part of national English-language teaching programs."

* "Participation in the world-wide program of malaria eradication."

* "Instruction and operation of public-health and sanitation projects."

* "Aiding in village development through school-construction and other programs."

* "Increasing rural agricultural productivity by assisting local farmers to use modern implements and techniques."

In addition, those who helped plan the Peace Corps mention such subjects for teaching as: child care, motor repair, electric wiring, welding, irrigation, improvement of livestock and crop yields, how to store grain, bookkeeping, weaving, how to make soap, how to cook and preserve food, how to set up and run a community government.

What qualifications are needed to get into the Peace Corps?

First requirement is that a member of the Peace Corps must know the subject that he is supposed to teach and be able to train people in the skills that are needed. The big demand will be for schoolteachers and specialists in agriculture and health.

A Peace Corps member will be required to have a working knowledge of the language of the country to which he is sent, and also to know something about that country's culture, customs and history.

Will some special training be required?

All Peace Corps recruits will be trained by the Government. This training will include courses in the cultures and languages of the countries in which they will work, and specialized training in their particular fields. The training period is expected to vary from six weeks to six months. ...

How long will members serve in the Peace Corps?

The length of service may vary for different individuals, depending on the types of their projects and the countries in which they are stationed. But most members, it is planned, will serve two or three years.

On April 12, 1961, The Chicago Tribune published an article titled Many Abandon Idea to Serve in Peace Corps -- Find Requirements Are Too Stiff, which includes the following passages:
Within the last couple of weeks, hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of young Americans have examined a four-page government form and abandoned their hopes of serving the cause of global good will in the Peace Corps.

The combined questionnaire and application form leaves no doubt that the volunteers sought by the Peace Corps .... must have a lot more than good intentions and a willingness to serve, or dedication to an ideal.

A strong constitution and a technical or professional skill -- such as teaching school, operating farm machinery, or laying bricks -- are just about the minimum qualifications fo a Peace Corps recruit. Proficiency in a foreign language is wanted. The application from does not list knowledge of a foreign language as absolutely essential, but says it "often will be necessary." ....

An applicant's chances will improve still ore if he is talented in sports, in such pursuits as folk dancing, or has lived in a foreign country. ....

Ultimately, the questionnaires -- plus additional tests and interviews -- will enable the Peace Corps to make "tentative selections" of volunteers for specific projects overseas.

"There will then be a training period in the United States for volunteers so selected" the form continues. "Only after completion of the training period will volunteers finally be accepted for overseas service."

Service in the Peace Corps is restricted to United States citizens.

... The "usual" length of service will be two years. The training period will run two to six months. ....

As to age limits for Peace Corps volunteers, there is a minumum of 18 but no maximum -- at least on paper. The physical demands of Corps work, however, dictate that the accept be on youth. Most volunteers are expected to be 21 to 45. ...

Peace Crops volunteers under 21 and not married must have parental consent before serving. ....

The questionnaire-application form makes it clear that only those in good health will be considered. Volunteers, the form says, "should have technical ability, physical stamina, and emotional stability" and must be able to adapt themselves to an unfamiliar way of life, working in foreign lands with peoples of all colors, religions, races, and cultures.

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