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Sargent Shriver

first director of the Peace Corps and architect of the "War on Poverty"

Sargent Shriver

Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. was born to Robert and Hilda Shriver in Westminster, Maryland, on November 9, 1915.

A scholarship allowed Shriver to attend the Canterbury School, a catholic boarding school in New Milford, Connecticut, from which he graduated in 1933. He then spent the summer in Germany as part of the Experiment in International Living, returning in the fall of 1934 to begin college at Yale University. By his sophomore year, Shriver was the senior editor for the Yale Daily News. The following summer, Shriver again participated in the Experiment for International Living, as the leader of a small group of students. Shriver graduated from Yale with honors in 1938 and, with the help of scholarships, enrolled in Yale Law School.

Shriver led a third group of students in the summer of 1939, after which he enlisted in a summer program in the U.S. Navy, despite being a vocal opponent of American involvement in what became World War II. After graduating from law school in 1941, he reported to duty in the Navy. He subsequently served as a gunner aboard the battleship South Dakota, and as such participated in the battles of Santa Cruz and Guadalcanal (among others), earning a Purple Heart in the latter.

After the war, Shriver worked briefly at the New York City law firm of Winthrop, Stimson before becoming an assistant editor at Newsweek. It was around this time that he first met Eunice Kennedy and began working for her father, Joseph Kennedy, who made him assistant general manager of the Chicago Merchandise Mart, then the world's largest commercial building.

After eight years of courting, Shriver and Eunice Kennedy were married at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on May 23, 1953, with Cardinal Francis Spellman, a friend of the Kennedy family, officiating. The Shrivers settled in Chicago and ultimately had five children -- Robert III, Maria, Timothy, Mark, and Anthony.

Shriver's political career began in 1954, when he was appointed to the Chicago Board of Education. He became the Board's president in 1955, the same year he became president of the Catholic Interracial Council, which fought discrimination in housing, education, and other aspects of city life. Before long, Shriver had become so well known and respected locally that there was talk of him entering state politics, but he chose to help his in-laws' political ambitions instead. In 1960, Shriver left the school board to coordinate the Wisconsin and West Virginia primary campaigns for his brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy.

After Kennedy was elected President, Shriver directed the "Talent Hunt Committee," charged with finding appropriate candidates for top administrative and ambassadorial positions. Once that task was accomplished, he helped President Kennedy fulfill one of his dreams, creation of the Peace Corps. Subsequently named as its first Director in 1961, Shriver traveled around the United States giving speeches about the Peace Corps at graduation ceremonies, honorary doctoral ceremonies, political meetings, economic councils, etc. He also made trips to Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Germany to review Peace Corps work being done in those countries, and to make new connections for future programs.

Shriver continued as Director of the Peace Corps after Kennedy's assassination, while simultaneously helping President Lyndon Johnson implement his "War on Poverty." In 1965, he became the first director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, in which capacity he oversaw the creation of Head Start, the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, the Community Action Program, Legal Services for the Poor, etc.

Shriver served as director of both the Peace Corps and the Office of Economic Opportunity until resigning from the former in 1966. He resigned from the latter in 1968, after being named U.S. Ambassador to France. Despite tense relations between the United States and France at the time, Shriver was able to establish a good working friendship with French President Charles de Gaulle, and he and his family became popular members of Parisian society. During his tenure in France, Shriver was peripherally involved in the Paris Peace Talks which began in 1968 between the United States and Vietnamese officials. He also oversaw President Richard Nixon's visit to Paris in 1969, which marked the first American state visit to France since 1961, as well as President Pompidou's state visit to Washington, D.C. in March 1970.

After returning to the United States in 1970, Shriver founded the Congressional Leadership for the Future, which campaigned on behalf of Democratic candidates throughout the country for the November 1970 Congressional races. He was George McGovern's running mate in the 1972 presidential election, after which he left public life to join the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson. In 1976, Shriver ran a short-lived campaign for President, but soon returned to his private endeavors. He retired from the law firm in 1986. In 1984, Shriver was selected as President of Special Olympics, Inc., in which capacity he worked side-by-side with his wife, who had helped found the organization. Eunice Shriver was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with Special Olympics in 1984, and her husband was similarly rewarded for his volume of work in 1994.

Sargent Shriver was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003, and was rarely seen in public afterward --most notably at the inauguration of his son-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger (who had married Maria Shriver in 1986), as Governor of California in 2003, and the funeral of his wife in 2009. He died at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 18, 2011, and was buried at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, in Centerville, Massachusetts.


John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
R. Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps Leader, Dies at 95 New York Times

See Also

World War II
St. Patrick's Cathedral
John F. Kennedy
President Lyndon Johnson
Charles de Gaulle
President Richard Nixon
1972 Presidential Election

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The Robinson Library >> United States >> Late 20th Century >> Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on September 12, 2018.