The First Lady of Jimmy Carter

Wilbur Edgar Smith and Frances Allethea Murray gave birth to Eleanor Rosalynn Carter on August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia. Her father worked as a store clerk, a town councilman, an auto mechanic, and a school bus driver. She was the fourth kid in a family of four. When her father died when she was thirteen, she was obliged to take on more duties, thereby ending her childhood.

Rosalynn Carter met Jimmy Carter, her best friend’s older brother, in Plains, Georgia, where she grew up and attended public schools. They got engaged while still a navy cadet, and she was attending a local junior college. Jimmy and Rosalynn got married on July 7, 1946, at the Plains Methodist Church and started their married life in Norfolk, Virginia, the first of many stops throughout his naval career. Rosalynn continued her studies while raising three kids through home study programs in literature and the arts. Amy was their fourth child, born in 1967.

Rosalynn reluctantly decided to return to Plains in 1953 after her father-in-law died, despite her fears of losing her freedom and fewer possibilities for travel. While Jimmy managed the family peanut company, she helped him with bookkeeping, forming a bond that boosted her confidence and improved Jimmy’s respect for her talents.

After Jimmy was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1962, her responsibilities grew. She not only ran the family company while he was away for legislative sessions, but she also handled most of his political mail and grew to appreciate people’s opinions. Rosalynn had developed the courage to campaign on her own by the time Jimmy was elected governor in 1970, and she began making brief impromptu speeches. This activity had previously scared her.

She became interested in mental health issues as a result of discussions with people throughout the campaign. Rosalynn was a member of the Governor’s Commission to Improve Services to the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped, the Georgia Special Olympics’ honorary chairman, and a volunteer at an Atlanta hospital, all of which contributed to her remarkable professional record in the mental health area. In addition, she ruled over an establishment larger and more intricate than any she had ever handled in the governor’s house, which she subsequently described as ideal preparation for the White House.

Rosalynn began campaigning for her husband about two years before the 1976 election when Jimmy declared his candidacy for President. She traveled throughout the country by automobile and plane, eventually campaigning in 42 states. While campaigning, she made history as the first candidate’s wife to make a campaign pledge of her own: as the first lady, she would make the care of the nation’s mentally ill a top priority.

Rosalynn’s husband was elected as the 39th President of the United States in 1977, with her by his side. Thus, Rosalynn’s involvement in politics as a first lady was unparalleled by any of her predecessors. Although her office remained in the East Wing, the traditional domain of the President’s wife, she and her husband acknowledged her role as a full working partner by having weekly business lunches together.

In June 1977, Rosalynn went to Latin America and the Caribbean as the President’s emissary for tough political negotiations. However, she was heavily criticized for being unqualified for the post when she returned, and she chose to limit future travel to humanitarian missions.

Rosalynn served on the Active Honorary Chair President’s Commission on Mental Health an honorary chair in 1977. The Mental Health Systems Bill, which was submitted to Congress in May 1979, was the outcome of her work with this group. The law’s goal was to revamp state and federal support for the chronically mentally ill and create a bill of rights to protect the mentally sick from discrimination. Rosalynn spoke in front of Congress on the measure on May 15, 1979. In September of 1980, it was passed.

The care of older persons was another of Rosalynn’s main issues as a first lady. To that aim, she established a task group to examine government services for the elderly. As a result, she persuaded Congress to approve the Age Discrimination Act, which removed limitations on the workforce’s retirement age. Rosalynn also served as the chairperson of the White House Conference on Aging.

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter created the Carter Center, a nonprofit human rights organization, in 1982 in cooperation with Emory University; From 1986 until 2005, Rosalynn served as vice-chair of the Carter Center and as a member of the board of trustees. In addition, she was on the board of trustees of the Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric training facility, from 1986 until 2003.

Rosalynn returned to the campaign trail in 1980, when Jimmy Carter was vying for re-election but was mainly restricted to the White House due to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and made speeches as his spokesperson during the primary season. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, defeated him in the end.

She founded Georgia Southwestern State University’s Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) in 1987. 

Rosalynn authored several books, including First Lady from Plains, which was praised for providing more insight into her husband’s administration than most of his top advisers’ books with other experts.

Rosalynn has earned several prizes for her work, including numerous mental health awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is America’s highest civilian honor. In addition, in 2001, Rosalynn was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.