History of Peace Corps in Iran

Tomb of Cyrus the Great

Early Years

The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Tehran in 1962.  The last Volunteers left in 1976.  It is estimated there were over 1748 Volunteers active in Iran during these years. 

One goal of the Peace Corps Iran Association is to develop this history and make it available on this website.  Here you will find links to videos, articles, and pictures that represent a portion of this history.  Other pages on this website contain additional information.

THE EARLY YEARS

Peace Corps in Iran was based on an a formal agreement between the United States and Iran that took effect September 16, 1962.  You can read that agreement by clicking HERE.

 

The Peace Corps in Iran

The Peace Corps in Iran is a brochure describing Iran and the Peace Corps program published about 1966.

Why Austin?

In 2015, PCIA organized a conference and reunion on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, in part to mark the 50th anniversary of the first training group on that campus.  This article describes some of the early history of Peace Corps in Iran.

Peace Corps Iran: The Early Years

Here is a video from the Austin conference presentation by Richard Eaton, John Lorentz, Thomas M. Ricks, Chris Speake

The beginning of the Peace Corps in Iran was marked by a hybrid administrative structure that was decidedly un-Peace Corps like, and by the lack of any precedent. The presence of the first PCV groups coincided with the origins of Peace Corps Iran under the guidance of the first director, William Cousins. Several volunteers from these early groups provide their perspectives on this development and observations on their own experiences as “pioneers.”

In November 1964, the Peace Corps Volunteer magazine published a theme issue focused on Iran. Below are excerpts from this issue that illustrate the work of Volunteers in those days.

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The Cover

We Are Glad You Have Come — We Need You, by Jay R. Crook

A Bridge for Makhlaven, by Jim Anderson

Lahijan Gets a Grant’s (Washing Machine), by Jim Anderson

An Experiment by the Caspian, by Jim Whitaker

Happiness Can Be a Beanbag, by Sharon Omohundro

A Vacation School in Meshed, by Tom Ricks

 

Articles about Iran from more issues of the Peace Corps Volunteer magazine.

A College of Dentistry for Mashad, by Tom Huf and Roger Cavanna

The Kutchee, the Highway, and the City in Iran, by Neil Hart

Masjeds – The Architecture of Meditation, by Jim Durfy with the collaboration of John Holehan

Barkley Moore:  The Beautiful American

 

 

“When you meet Barkley Moore, you don’t realize instantly that he is truly The Beautiful American.  It takes a minute or two.  Barkley has just come home after serving abroad longer than any other volunteer in Peace Corps history.  His intended two-year stay in Gonbad-e Kavus, a small city 50 miles from Russia in northern Iran, stretched out to six years and four months.”

So begins an article about Moore by Jim Hampton published in ‘Volunteer,”  a magazine for Peace Corps Volunteers dated March 1971.

 

Additional Historic Documents

How Did We Start the Iranian Peace Corps by Hossein Moftakhar begins this way:

     I was invited to a party at a friend’s house in Niavaran North of Tehran. We ate and we drank  played music. and had a great time. By popular demand , I was asked to play  drums and sing the popular song, ”You give me Fever” translated to Farsi. It was funny. The next day I got a call at work from Paul Slawson, the representative of Peace Corps, Wanted to have lunch with me. I accepted.

 

Sefid Rud Dam - Gilan Ag Volunteers

 

THE LATER YEARS

Peace Corps in Iran: A History and In-Depth look at the Later Years

At the 2015 conference at the University of Texas, Austin, one session focused on the latter years of the Peace Corps in Iran.  Presenters were Jasamin Rostam-Kolayi, Paul Zimmerman, Warren Sawyer, Jo Floyd, Paul Barker. Moderator, Jeanette Gottlieb.

Information about the presenters and a recording of this session  can be viewed HERE. 

In a related article, Sheldon Fleming, son of the last Peace Corps Director in Iran, offers his perspective on how the Peace Corps decided to leave Iran.

The  Peace Corps Leaves Iran by Sheldon Flemming

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Historical Perspectives

PCIA Historian Genna Wangsness approaches the history of the Peace Corps in Iran from the perspsective of the volunteer.  She has researched and composed a series of PCIA articles about individuals who played a role in the history of the Peace Corps in Iran.  Here is a set of links to her articles printed in the KhabarNameh, PCIA's official newsletter.

 

Ten Years of Excellence in Education - The Alam School

Getting Around in Tehran

A Dark Day in Peace Corps Iran History

Peace Corps Iran Musicians

Peace Corps Volunteer Doctors

Peace Corps Iran 1

Pakistan Volunteers Relocate to Iran

Peace Corps Iran Country Directors, Part 1

Peace Corps Iran Country Directors Part 2

 

Dr. Jasamin Rostam-Kolayai has conducted numerous oral history interviews with PCIA  members.  Her research places the Peace Corps in Iran in the context of the cold war. 

Writing the History of Peace Corps Iran by Jasamin Rostam-Kolayai

The New Frontier Meets The White Revolution by Jasamin Rostam-Kolayai

The Peace Corps brought an estimated 1,800 Americans to Iran from 1962 to 1976, coinciding with the unfolding of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi’s Enqelāb-e Sefid, or White Revolution. This article surveys Peace Corps Iran’s fourteen-year history by dividing it into three distinct moments defined by changing social and political conditions in Iran and shifting US‒Iranian relations. Initially, the Peace Corps Iran experiment built on earlier American foreign assistance programs, while coinciding with the roll-out of the White Revolution. Second, during its heyday in the mid-1960s, the Peace Corps inevitably became entangled with the White Revolution’s unfolding, both experiencing a phase of expansion and apparent success. Finally, as Iranian social and political conditions moved toward instability by the 1970s, Peace Corps Iran also seemed to have lost its direction and purpose, which ultimately led to a vote by volunteers to terminate the program. Based on accounts by US Peace Corps volunteers and the Iranians with whom they worked, the Peace Corps Agency, and the US State Department, this article argues that, ultimately, the Peace Corps Iran experience left a more lasting legacy on individuals than institutions.

A full text version of this article is available by sending a request to doug@peacecorpsiran.org.

Wangsness and Rostam-Kolayai presented their respective approaches to this history at the 2019 conference in San Diego.  To view their presentation, click HERE.

Sheldon Fleming, son of Quentin Fleming (the last Peace Corps Director), writes about the decision of the Peace Corps to leave Iran.  In short, "Mission Accomplished."  You can read his article by clicking  HERE.