Rosalynn Carter is the wife of Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. She served as First Lady from 1977 to 1981.
Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born on August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia. After her father died when she was just 13, Rosalynn’s mother worked as a dressmaker to support the family. Rosalynn would later call her father’s death the “end of her childhood,” as she took on the responsibilities of caring for her siblings and managing the household. After graduating from high school at the top of her class, Rosalynn attended Georgia Southwestern College.
Marriage to Jimmy Carter
While Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter had known each other since childhood, they did not begin dating until she was in college and he was a Navy cadet. After their first date, Jimmy Carter said to his mother, “She’s the girl I want to marry.”
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter married on July 7, 1946, at the Plains Methodist Church. They went on to have four children: John William “Jack,” James Earl “Chip” III, Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff,” and Amy Lynn.
In the early years of the marriage, the family moved regularly due to Jimmy’s Naval career. Following the death of Jimmy’s father, the family returned to Plains so that he could run the family’s peanut farm. While Rosalynn was reluctant to return to her hometown, she became an asset to the business. “I knew more about the books and more about the business on paper than Jimmy did,” she later wrote.
In 1962, Jimmy entered politics with his election to the Georgia Senate. Eight years later, he became Governor of Georgia. Throughout his political career, Rosalynn was Jimmy’s greatest supporter and adviser. When he launched his bid for president, Rosalynn Carter campaigned vigorously, often traveling and giving speeches on her own.
First Lady of the United States
After Jimmy Carter won the presidential election in 1976, Rosalynn and Jimmy’s close partnership continued in the White House. Rosalynn often attended cabinet meetings and kept an office in the East Wing.
During her tenure as First Lady, Rosalynn Carter made performing arts one of her top focus areas. Leading classical artists from around the world, as well as traditional American artists, performed at the White House. Unlike her predecessors, she did not have a strong interest in fashion, making headlines for wearing the same gown to the 1977 inaugural ball that she had worn in Georgia when her husband became governor.
In addition to supporting programs aiding the community and the elderly, Rosalynn Carter was dedicated to promoting mental health. From 1977 to 1978, she served as the Honorary Chairperson of the President’s Commission on Mental Health. In her first interview as First Lady, Rosalynn emphasized the importance of mental health, stating: “For every person who needs mental health care to be able to receive it close to his home, and to remove the stigma from mental health care so people will be free to talk about it and seek help. It’s been taboo for so long to admit you had a mental health problem.
Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter continued to work for causes they believed in after leaving the White House. Rosalynn also wrote an autobiography, First Lady From Plains, which was published in 1984.
In 1982, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter founded the Carter Center, a nonprofit human rights organization. Together, they have also worked on numerous projects to promote human rights, improve global health, and build democracy in countries around the world. In 1999, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor.