Peace Corps Writers
   To preserve and to learn
Doing the Blitz
Peace Corps Recruitment in the ’60s

by Hal Fleming (Staff: PC/W 1966–68; CD Cote d'Ivoire 1968–72)

 More Peace Corps history:

A Peace Corps Test    

 Establishing the PC   

Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux   

The Marjorie Michelmore Postcard

Outward Bound -
Puerto Rico training

2/15/62 - PA newspaper doubts future
of Peace Corps

PCV Accused of
Murdering His Wife

The Real Job of the Peace Corps - a ’60s staff member’s view

March 1, 1961

Schickele Peace Corps film

The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience

Moritz Thomsen
Part 1

Part 2
Part 3

9/11 at PC/NY

IN 1966, I CAME DOWN TO WASHINGTON from New York. It was a time in our country when the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War divided the nation. I had been tapped to work as a staff member in the Public Affairs and Recruiting office for the Peace Corps.
     On my very first work day in Peace Corps/Washington, I was told to join Warren Wiggins, the Deputy Director of the Agency, in hisPrinter friendly version government car for a one-hour ride to a conference for new campus recruiters at Tidewater Inn in Easton, Maryland.
     Wiggins, preoccupied with his opening speech to the conclave, said very little to me except to read out a phrase or two of buzz-word laden prose, mostly unintelligible to me as the new guy, and ask for my comments. At the Tidewater Inn, Mr. Wiggins rose to the podium, and hardly got through a page of his much-worked speech to the 200 assembled in the main hall, when the pointed interruptions and questions began.
     Although a bit baffled by the lack of respect and believing all government employees meek and accepting, I was equally at sea in trying to understand the basis for the complaints.
     The main gripe among the articulate and forthright assemblage of mid-twenties, new hires was that in their very recent overseas experience, Peace Corps Medical officers were prohibited from distributing contraceptives to PCVs although there was no such ban with regard to the U.S. Military. While in the late 1960s the HIV/AIDS pandemic was very much in the future, in most areas where Peace Corps worked, other, more common sexually transmitted diseases could be a major problem.
     The second gripe centered on the Vietnam War and the Peace Corps unwillingness to take a stand when most of its potential and active clientele had strong anti-war views. It was considered a question of credibility.
     Wiggins survived the cries of hypocrisy and double standards by appealing to their loyalty to the much-admired Peace Corps, by cautioning them not to throw the baby out with the bath water by censuring the Agency for policies beyond its immediate control.
     At the ensuing luncheon and in the ante-rooms, I had opportunities to engage my new colleagues in less heated discussion and returned to Washington much in awe. I had none of their battle scars, had not worked to better the world in far off places, had not lived in the proverbial mud hut, and could not converse fluently in any language but English, certainly not Swahili, Tagalog, Hindi or Amharic. I was awed by the RPCVs in the room, and many of these new Peace Corps employees were about to come to work for me as Recruiters.

Peace Corps “blitz” recruiting*
Peace Corps, then at its peak, had over 15,000 overseas or in numerous stateside training programs, and my office, one of the largest in Washington, had a staff of 200, half of whom were out-posted to Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, and, added on my watch, Atlanta. We were the largest “employer” of recent college graduates after the U.S. military, and in those booming late 1960s our “suitcase recruiters” visited 900 colleges and universities each academic year, some of them, like UCLA, Berkeley and University of Michigan, two and three times. Each recruiter in the 9-month academic year logged about 100,000 air and car miles, slept in cheap motels and noisy student unions, and worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. Like the circus, they packed up after the last Saturday event and traveled to the next college town on Sunday. There were also the talk shows, the newspaper articles, the celebrity photo ops, all of which stretched a 24-year-old’s limits of organization, persuasion and directorship, but all typically came off smoothly.

De-bureaucratize the Peace Corps
The Recruiting machine required precise scheduling, advance visits, analysis of the graduating college seniors and their skills, and the production and just-on-time shipment of recruiting materials including everything from portable booths, brochures on the overseas experience and skill needs, handouts, posters and importantly, applications.
     My particular contribution to the effort my first year in Washington was — with the help of our resident graphic artist — to de-bureaucratize the brochures and application forms by adding color, front cover pictures of Africans, Asians and Latinos being helped by Peace Corps Volunteers, and the like.
     I also headed a new division called Applicant Services geared to keeping those who had applied as a result of campus visits “reinformed” about Peace Corps, and where their particular applications were in the selection and assignment pipeline. The Agency had in place a time-consuming, cumbersome, hand sorting process led by distinguished academics who had screened and selected the first team of U.S. astronauts. Attesting to the Agency’s popularity among young Americans, tens of thousands of applications clogged the system, many from high school students and university underclassmen not yet ready or able to join up.

The new application form
     I joined the Director of Administration and Finance in a walk through of the office where dozens of clerks sorted piles of applications. A four-part carbon paper summary form was key to the current system. The green tissue paper copy was routed one way; the pink that way and the white to another table. I asked the perplexed Chief of the unit what happened to the buff colored copy. She yelled down the line of desks “where does the buff go?” No one was certain. I soon headed up a task force to quickly redesign the application for computerization, enabling our information officers and the Selection and Training staffs easy access to those who would be graduating in the coming months as well as those with special skills.
     Compared to the ponderous and many-layered ways of other federal agencies I would come to know well in later years, Peace Corps moved quickly and cost-effectively, its imperatives being the academic year and the goal of putting thousands into training during the three summer months. New ideas were readily accepted, and the Agency itself had few traditions, cast-in-concrete regulations, and government lawyers to encumber it. We were known as the hot outfit, and everyone clamored for a job.
    * College campus “blitz” recruitment at the Peace Corps was created 1963 by Bob Gale. Gale had come to the Peace Corps from Carlton College, where he had been vice president for development, and at the Peace Corps he initially worked with Bill Haddad, head of Planning, Evaluation and Research, as chief of special projects. In that role, he tried “blitz” recruitment as an experiment in April, 1963 at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan. After early successes with this strategy, Shriver made him Director of Recruitment for the agency. The most successful of the early “blitz” recruiting trips was in October 1963 to California when Gale assembled five advance teams and five follow-up teams. Teams were staffed by PC/W senior staff and each team spent a week in southern California and then a week in northern California, visiting every major campus in both areas. Shriver came out during the second week of the “blitz” and spoke at Berkeley and San Francisco State, among other colleges, always receiving tumultuous receptions. On this trip, the advance team collected two hundred completed questionnaires from interested students, and in the second week, seven hundred more. At that moment in Peace Corps history “blitz recruitment” became a reality. It remained in force until the Nixon years when the Peace Corps became part of Action. President Nixon moved toward decentralization of the government and Action created regional and sub-offices around the nations for the recruitment of Vista and Peace Corps Volunteers.

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