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Rosalynn Carter

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Rosalynn Carter

Rosalynn Carter
First Lady of the United States
In office
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
Preceded by Betty Ford
Succeeded by Nancy Reagan
First Lady of Georgia
In office
January 12, 1971 – January 14, 1975
Preceded by Hattie Virginia Cox
Succeeded by Mary Elizabeth Talbot Busbee
Personal details
Born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith
(1927-08-18) August 18, 1927
Georgia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jimmy Carter (1946–present)
Relations Edgar Smith and Frances Allethea Murray, parents
Children John William, James Earl, Donnel Jeffery, and Amy
Religion Baptist

Eleanor Rosalynn Carter (née Smith; August 18, 1927) is the wife of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter and in that capacity served as the First Lady of the United States from 1977 to 1981. She has for decades been a leading advocate for numerous causes, perhaps most prominently for mental health research. She was politically active during her White House years, sitting in on Cabinet and policy meetings as well as serving as her husband's closest adviser. She also served as an envoy abroad, most notably to Latin America.

Early life

Photograph of Rosalynn Carter around age 17

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born on August 18, 1927 in automobile mechanic and farmer and Allethea "Allie" Murray Smith (1905–2000), a dressmaker. Her brothers were William Jerrold "Jerry" Smith (May 5, 1929 – November 20, 2003), an engineer, and Murray Lee Smith (January 19, 1932 – January 26, 2003), a teacher and minister. Her sister, Lillian Allethea Wall, formerly Smith (born November 10, 1936), is a real estate broker.[1] Rosalynn was named after Rosa, her mother's mother.[2] Carter claimed that she and her siblings were unaware that they were in poverty, since even though their family "didn't have money," neither did "anyone else, so as far as we knew, we were well off."[3] At the center of her family's community were churches and schools, and the people of Plains had familiarity with each other.[4] Carter played with boys during her early childhood since no girls on her street were the same age as she. She believed that she would become an architect, since she drew buildings and was interested in airplanes.[5]

Rosalynn's father died of [8]

Marriage and family

Although their families were acquainted,[1] Rosalynn first dated Jimmy Carter in 1945 while he was serving at the [12]

The couple had four children: [12] After purchasing their first television set, the two became fans of the New York Yankees.[13] They said they never went to bed arguing with each other.[14]

In 1953, after her husband left the Navy, Rosalynn helped run the family Georgia State Senate, she has been active in the political arena.

Rosalynn had different relationships with each member of Jimmy's family. Becoming friends with his sister Ruth Carter Stapleton, who was two years younger than her, she gave her dresses she had outgrown.[15] However, she and Jimmy's mother Lillian Gordy Carter had difficulty living together.[16]

First Lady of Georgia

After helping her husband win the governorship of Governor's Mansion.[20]


In January 1975, when the gubernatorial term ended, Rosalynn, Jimmy and Amy Carter returned to Plains. Jimmy had already announced plans to run for President of the United States. Rosalynn returned to the campaign trail, this time on a national quest to gather support for her husband. She campaigned alone on his behalf in 41 states. Due to her husband's obscurity at the time, often she had to answer the question, "Jimmy who?"[17]

During the months when she was campaigning across the country, she was elected to the board of directors of the Equal Rights Amendment, and received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Southwestern Association of Volunteer Services.

Rosalynn sat in the balcony at Madison Square Garden with friends and family the night of the nomination while her husband was with his mother and daughter. She had "butterflies in her stomach," until the Ohio delegation announced its votes were for her husband. Rosalynn wished she could have been with him at that time.[21] The Carters met with all the potential running mates, and instantly gained affinity for Walter Mondale after meeting with him and his wife Joan.[22]

First Lady of the United States

Major initiatives

The First Family, Rosalynn, Jimmy and Amy on the south lawn in front of the White House, July 24, 1977

In January 1977, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter walked hand-in-hand down Pennsylvania Avenue during his presidential inauguration parade. For the inaugural balls, she wore the same gown she had worn six years earlier at the balls in Atlanta when her husband became governor.[23] Rosalynn became the First Lady of the United States when Jimmy Carter was inaugurated.

Rosalynn Carter chairs a meeting in Chicago, IL. for the President's Commission on Mental Health on April 20, 1977.

Rosalynn declared that she had no intention of being a traditional First Lady of the United States.[12] During her husband's administration, Rosalynn supported her husband's public policies as well as his social and personal life. In order to remain fully informed, she sat in on Cabinet meetings at the invitation of the President. The first meeting she attended was on February 28, 1977, where she felt comfortable since she was among other officials that were not members of the unit. The idea for her to be in attendance came from her husband's suggestion after she started to question him about a news story.[24]

She wrote notes, but never spoke. As she put it, "I was there to be informed so that when I traveled across the country, which I did a great deal, and was questioned by the press and other individuals about all areas of government, I'd know what was going on."[24] When the cultural exchange program Friendship Force International launched at the White House on March 1, 1977, she became honorary chairperson, a position she held until 2002. She joined Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford in supporting the ERA at the Houston conference celebrating the International Women's Year in 1977.[25] Rosalynn Carter served as an active honorary chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health. On behalf of the Mental Health System Bill, enacted in 1980, she testified before a Senate committee, the second First Lady to appear before the Congress (the first being Eleanor Roosevelt). In addition, Rosalynn was a strong proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment.[26] Of her priorities, mental health was the highest. Working to change the nature of government assistance to the mentally ill, Carter wanted to allow people to be comfortable admitting their disabilities without fear of being called crazy.[27]

For Christmas 1977, she decorated the White House's Christmas tree with ornaments from pine cones, peanuts and egg shells.[28] On July 27, 1978, Carter was the host of "First Lady's Employment Seminar". 200-300 delegates came and shared information to learn how other communities responded to unemployment.[25] Rosalynn remembered 1979 and 1980 as years of never-ending crises, the years having "Big ones and small ones, potential disasters and mere annoyances."[29] By the time she had held the office of First Lady for two years, Time magazine called her the "second most powerful person in the United States." Carter was cited by her husband as an equal partner many times, even called her a "perfect extension of myself."[30]

First Lady Rosalynn Carter (right) with Waylon Jennings (smoking a cigarette) and Jessi Colter at a reception preceding a concert to benefit the Carter-Mondale campaign on April 23, 1980.

Despite finding time to entertain, the Carters never were able to match their immediate predecessors and Rosalynn never considered it a major part of her job as First Lady.[31] Criticism came towards her role as First Lady by a U.S. diplomat in Brazil, who insisted that women were meant to be kept "at home and that's all." The cultural factor had also caused many to oppose her trip.[27] Critics called her too programmed and disciplined while others said she lacked admirable qualities of Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford.[32] Despite this, Rosalynn was pleased by her viewed role as a demanding First Lady and remembered the times of presidents' wives being "confined" to "official hostess" and other demeaning roles.[33] In efforts to advance the appearance of the White House, she accumulated American paintings.[34] In the last few months of her husband's presidency, Rosalynn was confident that she and her husband would be able to defeat Ronald Reagan in the general election. On her birthday, she saw polls that showed they were gaining on Reagan, whose previous lead of 25 percent had decreased to 7.[35] Her husband's loss came shortly after the passing of the Mental Health System Act, which sought to do much of what she had wished for during her tenure. However, after Reagan was elected, she reflected "funding of our legislation was killed, by the philosophy of a new President. It was a bitter loss."[36] Despite the defeat, she was happy over the Iran hostages finally being able to come home the day of his inauguration, but this feeling did not extend to Reagan's election to the Presidency.[37]


Rosalynn represented President Carter in meetings with domestic and foreign leaders, most notably as an envoy to Latin America in 1977. She purposely scheduled so as not to have meetings with any of the heads of state.[38] Rosalynn also led a delegation to Thailand in 1979 to address the problems of Cambodian and Laotian refugees. She examined camps where Cambodian refugees had fled to avoid the combat between the Vietnamese troops and the government of Pol Pot.[39] Helping the refugees, particularly the children, became a special cause for her. She returned to the United States and played a prominent role in speeding up a large appeal for assistance after being affected by the suffering she witnessed during her visit.[40] By the time she had returned, however, her husband met with families of the hostages in Iran. They were more concerned for what they needed to do to get them out over being worried about whether or not they would ever get out.[41]

Life in the White House

She oversaw her family at the White House. Her daughter, Amy, attracted much public attention. The two youngest sons, Chip and Jeff, and their families also lived in the White House. Other members of the family, including son Jack and his wife and children, were frequent visitors. Rosalynn Carter's Secret Service codename was "Dancer".[42]

The Carter Center

After leaving the [46]

Rosalynn and her husband's first major project with the Carter Center was to help in peace between James Baker became more active. However, they did monitor the Oslo peace agreement of 1993, which sprung from the President and Secretary of State's bringing Palestinians and other parties involved in the matter at a conference in Madrid.[51]

Mental health advocacy

Carter joins First Ladies (left to right) Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Barbara Bush at the National Garden Gala: A Tribute to America's First Ladies in 1994

Rosalynn Carter created and serves as the chair of The Carter Center Mental Health Task Force, an advisory board of experts, consumers, and advocates promoting positive change in the mental health field. She hosts the annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, bringing together nationwide leaders in the mental health field.

In April 1984, she became an Honorary Fellow of the [54]

The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism provide stipends to journalists to report on topics related to mental health or mental illnesses. The one-year fellowship seeks to promote public awareness of mental health issues, as well as to erase the stigma associated with them.[55]

In 2007, Rosalynn Carter joined with David Wellstone, son of the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, in pushing Congress to pass legislation regarding mental health insurance.[56] She and Wellstone worked to pass the "Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008" which requires equal coverage of mental and physical illnesses when policies include both types of coverage. And both testified before a House subcommittee regarding the bill in July 2007.[56]

Legislation requiring parity in health insurance coverage for treatment of mental illnesses was ultimately passed and signed into law in October 2008.[57]

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving

Rosalynn Carter is president of the board of directors for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at caregiving in America and internationally. The institute focuses its work on both family and professional caregivers for individuals living with chronic illness and disabilities, limitations related to aging, and other health concerns across the lifespan. It plays a major role in moving science into practice for caregivers by supporting the implementation of evidence-based programs and interventions for caregivers in community settings.[58]

Advocacy for women and children and current activities

In 1988, Rosalynn Carter convened with three other former first ladiesBetty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Pat Nixon—at the "Women and the Constitution" conference at The Carter Center to assess that document's impact on women. The conference featured over 150 speakers and 1,500 attendees from all 50 states and 10 foreign countries. The conference was meant to promote awareness on sexual inequality in other countries, and fight against it in America.[59]

She served on the Policy Advisory Board of The Atlanta Project (TAP) of The Carter Center, addressing social ills associated with poverty and quality of life citywide.

In 1991, she launched [60]

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter with former First Ladies Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush and First Lady Michelle Obama during the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, on 25 April 2013

She also serves on the board of advisors for Habitat for Humanity and as an honorary chair of Project Interconnections, both of which aim to provide housing for those in need. Additionally, she is a deacon at her and her husband's Plains Baptist church.[61] Rosalynn and her husband joined other First Ladies and Presidents in attending the funeral of Gerald Ford[62] and six months later, attended Lady Bird Johnson's as well.[63]

In 2010, she criticised television crime dramas that portrayed mentally ill as violent, when in fact they were more prone to being victims of crime.[64] On May 7, 2010, she attended the Michelle Obama hosted Mother's Day Tea at the White House, and was joined by her granddaughter Sara and infant great-granddaughter.[65] On October 12, 2011, the Carters breakfasted at Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington, D.C. while the two were in town for the twentieth anniversary of Every Child by Two.[66] After the death of Betty Ford on July 8, 2011, Carter delivered a eulogy during a memorial service.[67] Carter called her one who had the courage to speak the truth and fight stigmas surrounding illness and addiction, even calling her "a tireless advocate for those struggling."[68]

Carter attended a speech given by Georgia National Guard's Colonel Brent Bracewell in the morning hours of October 25, 2012.[69] Carter gave out the Georgia Paraprofessional Caregiver of the Year, Volunteer Caregiver of the Year, Family Caregiver of the Year, and an award with her namesake, the Rosalynn Carter Leadership in Caregiving Award later that day and expressed happiness in the amount of progress that had been made "since we started."[70] On April 25, 2013, Carter attended the dedication of the [71] Carter had "one of the greatest disappointments" corrected when learning from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the Obama administration had passed a mental health insurance rule.[72] She was "shaking" after learning about the government rules that required equal treatment for mental health upon hearing the announcement in November 2013.[73] She and her husband were saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela.[74]


Rosalynn Carter has written five books:

  • First Lady from Plains (autobiography), 1984, ISBN 1-55728-355-9
  • Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (with Jimmy Carter), 1987, ISBN 1-55728-388-5
  • Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book for Caregivers (with Susan K. Golant), 1994, ISBN 0-8129-2591-2
  • Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers (with Susan K. Golant), 1998, ISBN 0-8129-2898-9
  • Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis (with Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade), 2010, ISBN 978-1-59486-881-8

Awards and honors

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton at the Carter Center in 1999

On October 5, 2002, Rosalynn Carter was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She became only the third First Lady ever inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt. (Hillary Clinton was inducted in 2005.)

In 1999, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Among Rosalynn's many other awards for service are:

Rosalynn Carter has received honorary degrees from the following institutions:

Rosalynn served as distinguished centennial lecturer at Emory University Department of Women's Studies in Atlanta since 1990.

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ a b "Rosalynn Carter". Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
  2. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 3.
  3. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 12.
  4. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (May 6, 2010). "Rosalynn Carter: Solving the Mental Crisis for Our Children". Huffington Post. 
  5. ^ "Where I'm From". Atlanta. February 1, 2012. 
  6. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 17.
  7. ^ Godbold, p. 44.
  8. ^ Wertheimer, p. 343.
  9. ^ O'Brien, p. 253.
  10. ^ Ryan, p. 21.
  11. ^ Godbold, pp. 58-59.
  12. ^ a b c Kaufman, p. 119.
  13. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 27.
  14. ^ Hambleton, Laura (May 6, 2013). "Jimmy Carter, now 88, on aging and health". 
  15. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 4.
  16. ^ Godbold, p. 84.
  17. ^ a b Lindsay, p. 229.
  18. ^ Rosalynn Carter, First Lady from Plains, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1984: pp. 74–111
  19. ^ PsychiatryLectures (September 25, 2011). "Rosalynn Carter on mental health policy 1982". 
  20. ^ Godbold, p. 217.
  21. ^ Gherman, p. 63.
  22. ^ Carter, Jimmy (2010), p. 89.
  23. ^ Rosalynn Carter, First Lady from Plains, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1984: p. 6, 148
  24. ^ a b Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 185.
  25. ^ a b Gould, p. 389.
  26. ^ Rosalynn Carter, First Lady from Plains, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1984: pp. 143–300
  27. ^ a b Gould, p. 387.
  28. ^ Meeks, Scott (December 25, 2013). "History of White House Christmas trees". ABC 7. 
  29. ^ Marton, p. 239.
  30. ^ Wertheimer, p. 145.
  31. ^ a b Lindsay, p. 230.
  32. ^ Caroli, p. 275.
  33. ^ Caroli, p. 277.
  34. ^ Watson, p. 57.
  35. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 359.
  36. ^ Caroli, p. 273.
  37. ^ Gould, p. 390.
  38. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 184.
  39. ^ Kaufman, p. 122.
  40. ^ Ronayne, p. 77.
  41. ^ Carter, Rosalynn (1984), p. 334.
  42. ^ Walsh, Kenneth T. (2003). "Appendix". Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes. Hyperion. pp. 227. ISBN 1-4013-0004-9.
  43. ^ Rosalynn Carter Biography, The Carter Center,
  44. ^ O'Brien, p. 256.
  45. ^ Conversation with Carter. October 1998. 
  46. ^ Marton, p. 243.
  47. ^ Carter, Jimmy (2008), p. 15.
  48. ^ "Carters to help build homes here". Chicago Sun Times. January 13, 1986. 
  49. ^ Brown, Mark (January 14, 1986). "Carters to build homes for poor here". Chicago Sun Times. 
  50. ^ Weintraub, Larry (July 12, 1986). "A `lot more' to do, builder Carter says". Chicago Sun Times. 
  51. ^ Carter, Jimmy (2008), p. 17.
  52. ^ Levin, p. xix.
  53. ^ Coleman, p. 52.
  54. ^ Schneider, p. 318.
  55. ^ Columbia Journalism Review, Nov./Dec. 2007
  56. ^ a b "Former first lady joins fight for mental health coverage". Associated Press. 2007-07-11. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  57. ^ "Bailout marks last push for mental health bill". 2 October 2008. 
  58. ^ Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. Retrieved on 2012-04-26.
  59. ^ Carter, Jimmy (2008), p. 233.
  60. ^ Szabo, Liz (November 14, 2011). "Former first lady Rosalynn Carter champions vaccines". USA Today. 
  61. ^ Jimmy Carter Interviewed by Albert Mohler – Institute on Religion and Democracy – Institute on Religion & Democracy. IRD (2012-03-27). Retrieved on 2012-04-26.
  62. ^ Swarns, Rachel L. (January 3, 2007). "Ford’s Funeral Draws Array of Politicians and Dignitaries". The New York Times. 
  63. ^ Shannon, Kelley (July 15, 2009). "Lady Bird Johnson laid to rest in Texas". The Denver Post. Associated Press. Retrieved January 1, 2014. 
  64. ^ "Rosalynn Carter pens new book on mental health". FOX31Online. May 3, 2010. 
  65. ^ Calmes, Jackie (May 8, 2010). "Mother's Day at the White House". The New York Times. 
  66. ^ "Hey, isn’t that. . . ?: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter". October 12, 2011. 
  67. ^ Slosson, Mary (July 11, 2011). "Michelle Obama to attend Ford service in California". Reuters. 
  68. ^ Slosson, Mary (July 12, 2011). "Betty Ford remembered at California memorial service". Reuters. 
  69. ^ Gallagher, Colby (October 25, 2012). "Rosalynn Carter attends care giving presentation". FOX31Online. 
  70. ^ "Rosalynn Carter Institute honors caregivers". FOX31Online. November 1, 2012. 
  71. ^ "Carter: Middle class today resembles past's poor". USA Today. October 8, 2013. 
  72. ^ DelReal, Jose (December 6, 2013). "Rosalynn Carter: W.H. fixes mental health gap". Politico. 
  73. ^ Camia, Catalina (December 9, 2013). "'"Rosalynn Carter: Being first lady a 'great soap box. USA Today. 
  74. ^ "Statement from former President Jimmy Carter on Nelson Mandela's death". Atlanta Journal Constitution. December 5, 2013. 
  75. ^
  76. ^ The American Peace Award. The American Peace Award. Retrieved on 2012-04-26.
  77. ^ "Carter, former first lady to get peace award". FOX31Online. August 21, 2009. 


External links

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Betty Ford
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Nancy Reagan
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Jimmy Carter
Former President
Order of precedence in the United States of America Succeeded by
George H.W. Bush
Former President
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