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Historical Highlights

The Establishment of the Peace Corps

September 21, 1961
The Establishment of the Peace Corps Image courtesy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Library, District of Columbia Representative Marguerite Stitt Church of Illinois succeeded her late husband Frank Church. She eventually served six terms in the House.
On this date, the conference report for a bill providing $40 million for the permanent establishment of the Peace Corps was agreed to by the House and Senate. President John F. Kennedy signed the measure into law the next day. The Peace Corps had been created by Executive Order earlier in the year, as a Cold War presidential initiative to provide educational and technological support to developing countries through the work of trained, college-aged American volunteers. Opponents, such as Representative H.R. Gross of Iowa described the idea as a “utopian brainstorm” that would exacerbate the U.S. deficit. In response, Congresswoman Marguerite Stitt Church of Illinois—who had traveled widely in sub-Saharan Africa—entered the well of the House to recount her numerous trips abroad where she had seen foreign-aid dollars misspent and misdirected in the battle for the developing world. “Here is something which is aimed right,” Church told colleagues, “which is American, which is sacrificial—and which above all can somehow carry at the human level, to the people of the world, what they need to know; what it is to be free; what it is to have a next step and be able to take it; what it is to have something to look forward to, in an increase of human dignity and confidence.” Catherine May of Washington recalled that Church’s speech was critical in persuading a number of reluctant Republicans to support the measure. “You quite literally could see people who had been uncertain or perhaps who had already decided to vote against the Peace Corps sit there, listen to her very quietly and start to rethink,” Representative May recalled. The House eventually passed the bill by a wide margin, 288 to 97.

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