Rosalynn Carter

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Rosalynn Carter's Geni Profile

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Eleanor Rosalynn Carter (Smith)

Birthplace: Plains, Sumter County, Georgia
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Wilburn Edgar Smith and Frances Allethea Smith
Wife of Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States
Mother of Jack Carter; Chip Carter; Donnel Jeffrey "Jeff" Carter; Jeffrey Carter and Amy Lynn Kelly
Sister of William Jerrold Smith; Murray Lee Smith and Private

Managed by: Jacqueli Charlene Finley
Last Updated:

About Rosalynn Carter

She's the girl I want to marry," Jimmy Carter told his mother after his first date with 17-year-old Rosalynn Smith, who had grown up as a friend and neighbor of the Carter family in Plains, Georgia.

Born in Plains on August 18, 1927, Rosalynn was the first of four children in the family of Allethea Murray Smith and Wilburn Edgar Smith. She grew up in a small-town atmosphere that nurtured strong ties to family and dedication to church and community. When she was 13, her father died and her mother became a dressmaker to help support the family. As the oldest child, Rosalynn worked beside her mother, helping with the sewing, the housekeeping, and the other children.

Times were difficult, but Rosalynn completed high school and enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College at Americus. In 1945, after her freshman year, she first dated Jimmy Carter, who was home from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Their romance progressed, and in 1946 they were married.

The young couple went to Norfolk, Virginia, Ensign Carter's first duty station after graduation. The Navy kept them on the move. Their sons were born in different places: John William in Virginia, James Earl III in Hawaii, and Donnel Jeffrey in Connecticut. The Carters' only daughter, Amy Lynn, was born in Georgia in 1967.

When his father died in 1953, Jimmy left the service, and the Carters returned to Plains to run the family business. Managing the accounts of the peanut, fertilizer, and seed enterprise, Rosalynn soon found herself working full-time.

Jimmy entered politics in 1962, winning a seat in the Georgia Senate. Rosalynn, an important member of his campaign team, helped develop support for her husband's successful bid for the governorship of Georgia in 1970. During his Presidential campaigns, Rosalynn traveled independently throughout the United States. Her belief in her husband's ability to lead the nation was communicated in a quiet, friendly manner that made her an effective campaigner.

A skillful speaker and a hardworking First Lady, Mrs. Carter managed routine duties and special projects in her office in the East Wing. She attended Cabinet meetings and major briefings, frequently represented the Chief Executive at ceremonial occasions, and served as the President's personal emissary to Latin American countries.

As First Lady, she focused national attention on the performing arts. She invited to the White House leading classical artists from around the world, as well as traditional American artists. She also took a strong interest in programs to aid mental health, the community, and the elderly. From 1977 to 1978, she served as the Honorary Chairperson of the President's Commission on Mental Health.

After returning home, Mrs. Carter wrote her autobiography, First Lady From Plains, published in 1984. She is currently vice chair of The Carter Center in Atlanta, founded in 1982 to promote peace and human rights worldwide. At the Center, she leads a program to diminish stigma against mental illness and to promote greater access to mental health care. She also is a partner with the ex-president in projects to resolve conflict, promote human rights, improve global health, and build democracy in some 65 countries.

Rosalynn Carter is the wife of former United States President Jimmy Carter and was First Lady of the United States from 1977 to 1981. She was born in Plains, Georgia, the eldest of the four children of Frances Allethea Murray (1905–1997), a dressmaker, and Wilburn Edgar Smith (1896–1940), an automobile mechanic and farmer. Her brothers were William Jerrold "Jerry" Smith (engineer, 1929–2003) and Murray Lee Smith (teacher, minister: 1932–2003) and her sister is Lillian Allethea Smith Wall (born 1936).

Her father died of leukemia when she was 13, and she helped her mother raise her younger siblings as well as assist her dressmaking in order to meet the family's financial needs. She graduated as valedictorian of Plains High School and then attended Georgia Southwestern College.

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

Carter was born in Plains, Georgia, the eldest of the four children of Frances Allethea Murray (1905–1997), a dressmaker, and Wilburn Edgar Smith (1896–1940), an automobile mechanic and farmer. Her brothers were William Jerrold "Jerry" Smith (engineer, 1929–2003) and Murray Lee Smith (teacher and minister, 1932–2003) and her sister is Lillian Allethea Smith Wall (born 1936).[1]

Her father died of leukemia when she was 13, and she helped her mother raise her younger siblings as well as assist her dressmaking in order to meet the family's financial needs. She graduated as valedictorian of Plains High School and then attended Georgia Southwestern College, but later dropped out.

Marriage and family

Although their families were acquainted, Rosalynn Carter first dated Jimmy in 1945 while he was at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. On July 7, 1946, they married in Plains.

The couple have four children: John William "Jack" (born 1947), James Earl "Chip" III (born 1950), Donnel Jeffrey "Jeff" (born 1952), and Amy Lynn (born 1967). The first three were born in different parts of the country and away from Georgia, due to her husband's military duties.

In 1953, after her husband left the Navy, Carter helped him run the family peanut farming and warehousing business, handling the accounting responsibilities. Since 1962, the year her husband Jimmy was elected to the Georgia State Senate, she has been active in the political arena.

First Lady of Georgia

After helping her husband win the governorship of Georgia in 1970, Carter decided to focus her attention as First Lady of Georgia on the field of mental health. She was appointed to the Governor's Commission to Improve Services for the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped. Many of the Commission's recommendations were approved and became law. She also served as a volunteer at the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia and for four years was honorary chairperson for the Georgia Special Olympics.[2]


In January 1975, when the gubernatorial term was over, Rosalynn, Jimmy and Amy Carter returned to Plains. Jimmy had already announced his plans to run for President of the United States; Rosalynn returned to the campaign trail, this time in a national quest for support for her husband. She campaigned alone on his behalf in 41 states.

During the months she was campaigning across the country, Carter was elected to the board of directors of the National Association of Mental Health, she was honored by the National Organization for Women with an Award of Merit for her vigorous support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and she received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Southwestern Association of Volunteer Services.

First Lady of the United States

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.[3]

During the her husband's administration, Carter supported his public policies as well as his social and personal life. To be fully informed, at the invitation of the President, she would sit in on Cabinet meetings. She represented him in meetings with domestic and foreign leaders, most notably as an envoy to Latin America in 1977. She also led a delegation to Thailand in 1979 to address the problems of Cambodian and Laotian refugees. Helping the refugees, particularly the children, became a special cause for her. When the cultural exchange program Friendship Force International was launched at the White House on March 1, 1977, she became honorary chairperson, a title she held until 2002.

She 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, Carter was a strong proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment.[4]

She oversaw her family at the White House. Her nine year old 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 is "Dancer".[5]

The Carter Center

After leaving the White House in 1981, Carter, like her husband, has continued a very active life. In 1982, she co-founded The Carter Center, a private, not-for-profit institution based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a member of the Center's Board of Trustees and participates in many of the Center's programs. but gives special attention to the Mental Health Program.[6]

Mental health advocacy

She created and chairs 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 was made an Honorary Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and is also board member emeritus of the National Mental Health Association.

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 fellowships seek to promote public awareness of mental health issues as well as erase the stigma associated with them.[7]

In 2007, she joined with David Wellstone, son of the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, to push Congress to pass legislation regarding mental health insurance.[8] Wellstone and Carter are working to pass the "Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act" which would require equal coverage of mental and physical illnesses when policies include both types of coverage; both testified before a House subcommittee regarding the bill in July 2007.[8]

Legislation requiring parity in health insurance coverage for treatment of mental illnesses was ultimately passed and signed into law in October 2008.[9]

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving

Carter is president of the board of directors for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University, her alma mater, in Americus, Georgia. The RCI was established in 1987 and works to address issues related to 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.[10]

Advocacy for women and children

In 1988, Carter convened with three other former first ladies—Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Pat Nixon—the "Women and the Constitution" conference at The Carter Center to assess that document's impact on women. It featured over 150 speakers and 1500 attendees from all 50 states and 10 foreign countries.

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 Every Child By Two, a nationwide campaign to increase early childhood immunizations along with Betty Bumpers, wife of former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas. Carter serves as President of the organization and Bumpers as Vice-President.

She serves on the board of advisors for Habitat for Humanity and as honorary chair of Project Interconnections, both of which work to provide housing for the needy.


Carter has written five books:

First Lady from Plains (autobiography), 1984, ISBN 1-5572-8355-9

Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (with Jimmy Carter), 1987, ISBN 1-5572-8388-5

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 9781594868818

Awards and honors

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

In 1999, she and her husband received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.

Among her many other awards for service are:

Dorothea Dix Award, Mental Illness Foundation, 1988

Georgia Woman of the Year Award, 1996

Jefferson Award, American Institute for Public Service, 1996

United Nations Children's Fund International Child Survival Award, 1999

Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health, Institute of Medicine, 2000

United States Surgeon General's Medallion, 2000

American Peace Award along with Jimmy Carter[11], 2009

She has received honorary degrees from the following institutions:

H.H.D., Tift College, 1979

L.H.D., Morehouse College, 1980

D.P.S., Wesleyan College, 1986

LL.D., University of Notre Dame, 1987

D.Litt., Emory University, 1991

L.H.D., Georgia Southwestern State University, 2001

LL.D., Regis College, 2002

She served as distinguished centennial lecturer at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, from 1988 to 1992. She has been a Distinguished Fellow at the Emory University Department of Women's Studies in Atlanta since 1990.

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Rosalynn Carter's Timeline

August 18, 1927
Plains, Sumter County, Georgia
July 3, 1947
Age 19
Portsmouth, Virginia, United States
April 12, 1950
Age 22
Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, United States
August 18, 1952
Age 25
New London, New London County, Connecticut, United States
October 19, 1967
Age 40
Plains, GA, United States