History

A look back while moving forward

The Peace Corps shares a unique relationship with the countries and people our community has worked alongside in pursuit of world peace and friendship for more than 60 years.

Our history is rooted in a shared vision for what is possible by working with, living alongside, and celebrating the diversity of cultures around the world. The Peace Corps continues to build on its audacious mission through our dedication to advancing equity and inclusion, and tackling together our host communities’ priority projects.

Shepard Fairey Poster Image

Unity in our mission and goals drives the Peace Corps. The transformative impact of the Peace Corps is measured in many ways: a shared cup of tea with a host mother that leads to a greater understanding of Americans; a new school library built; a young boy prepared to serve his own community; a young girl who sees herself as equal to her male classmates; a Volunteer who returns home with intercultural competence, enhanced career skills, and a lifelong passion for service.

The Peace Corps network is diverse, far-reaching and forward-focused; we are the amalgamation of host country nationals, Volunteers and their family and friends, our worldwide staff, university and strategic partners, educators, friend groups and associations, and the many more that come together to support, embrace, and inspire in the name of service.


Audio: President Kennedy's speech

The founding moment

One of the signature achievements of President John F. Kennedy was creating the Peace Corps, a new agency and a new opportunity for Americans to serve their country and their world.

The creation of the Peace Corps dates back to an unexpected moment and impromptu speech in 1960.

Read full transcript of President Kennedy's speech.


Video: 60 years of service

Through the decades

We've compiled a collection of Peace Corps images and milestones from its start in 1961 through the celebration of our 60th anniversary in 2021.

View photo galleries and timelines for each decade.


Sargent Shriver
Director R. Sargent Shriver

Past directors

Starting with President Kennedy's appointee, R. Sargent Shriver in 1961, there have been a total of 20 congressionally approved leaders of the Peace Corps.

View full list of past directors.


Awards

Awards

The Peace Corps recognizes exceptional Volunteers, returned Volunteers, and staff.

  • John F. Kennedy Service Award: Every five years, this award recognizes individuals for contributions beyond their duties to the agency and the nation.
  • Franklin H. Williams Award: This award recognizes returned Peace Corps Volunteers who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) and demonstrate a commitment to community service and the Peace Corps' Third Goal of promoting a better understanding of people around the world on the part of Americans.
  • Lillian Carter Award: This award recognizes exceptional Peace Corps Volunteers who served at age 50 or over and have continued to advance the Peace Corps' Third Goal.
  • Harris Wofford Joint Service Award: A joint award from the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps programs, recognizing individuals who have successfully completed both a full-time service term and its equivalent in AmeriCorps.

See full award descriptions and past winners.


Video: The Legacy Project

The Legacy Project

Peace Corps Volunteers leave a legacy in the lives of the community members they reach, educate, and inspire. Those young people grow up to be extraordinary leaders, including engineers, doctors, and government officials. See some of their stories.

Watch full series as playlist.