Newly-Established Peace Corps Draws Students

In 1961, the College was in the midst of planning Project Tanganyika, a program that would eventually send 20 Harvard and Radcliffe College students to teach in secondary schools in Africa over the summer.

Project Tanganyika was intended to be one of many future trips offered by the Harvard African Teaching Prospect, a Harvard-sponsored program that would organize Harvard student volunteer efforts in Africa.

But at the time, Harvard was not alone in looking to international service.

The Peace Corps, like the Harvard African Teaching Prospect, was conceived of after World War II in order to cultivate cultural exchange and provide a forum in which American youths could dedicate themselves to a constructive cause.

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy ’40 signed Executive Order 10924 providing for the temporary establishment and administration of the Peace Corps.

“The Peace Corps and the first volunteers were going overseas” the following summer, according to Stephen C. Clapp ’60, a former Crimson Editorial Chair who joined the Peace Corps shortly after his graduation.

Now in its 50th year, the Peace Corps currently assists in 77 nations and counts 8,655 individuals as part of its volunteer efforts.

But in 1961, as public support for the nascent Peace Corps grew, the fate of the comparable Harvard program dimmed as the energy of the Harvard-based program flowed directly into the development of the Peace Corps. Because the individuals who drove the development of the Peace Corps and the Harvard African Teaching Prospect were often one and the same, the two separate programs were deeply intertwined.


When Kennedy announced the creation of the Peace Corps in March 1961, students involved in Project Tanganyika were vigorously fundraising and memorizing conjugations in Swahili.

Fifty undergraduates had applied to teach English in Nigeria during the following summer as part of the Harvard program—a smaller pool than the 370 upperclassmen that expressed interest when polled in the fall of 1960.

But within a week of the Corps’ creation, Dean of the College John U. Monro ’35 suggested that the Peace Corps could ultimately subsume part or all of the Harvard African Teaching Prospect.

Discussions on how to implement the Harvard African Teaching Prospect were stalled as Monro pushed for further understanding of the relationship between the Peace Corps and its comparable Harvard program.

Rather than compete with the Peace Corps, Harvard assisted in the planning and implementation of the program.

Monro travelled to Washington, D.C. three times in April to meet with representatives of other universities and heads of government foundations about the initial planning of the Peace Corps.


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