First Lady: Rosalynn Smith Carter

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Eleanor Rosalynn Carter is the wife of President Jimmy Carter. She has for decades been a leading advocate for numerous causes, perhaps most prominently for

Rosalynn Carter

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.

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born on August 18, 1927 in Plains, Georgia. Rosalynn was named after her maternal grandmother. She was the oldest of four children born to Wilburn Edgar and Allethea “Allie” Murray Smith.

Rosalynn’s father died of leukemia when she was 13. She called the loss of her father the conclusion of her childhood. Thereafter, she helped her mother raise her younger siblings, as well as assisting in the dressmaking business in order to meet the family’s financial obligations.

She graduated from Plains High School as salutatorian and attended Georgia Southern Western College, before lack of money forced her to withdrawal.

Although she’d known him for years, she first dated Jimmy Carter in 1945. She developed a crush on him after seeing a picture of him in his Annapolis uniform. She married Jimmy Carter on July 7, 1946.

Marriage canceled her plans to attend college and study interior design.

Rosalynn Carter

The couple would go on to have four children, John William was born in 1947, James Earl “Chip” III was born in 1950, Donnel Jeffrey was born in 1952 and Amy Lynn was born in 1967.

The Carter sons were born while Jimmy Carter served in the military and each son was born in a different part of the country. In 1953, Jimmy Carter resigned from the military and returned to Plains, Georgia.

During this time the family bought their first TV set and became fans of the New York Yankees.

In 1970, Rosalynn helped her husband campaign as Governor of Georgia and became an advocate for mental health. Carter called her aid for the mentally disabled children her proudest achievement as First Lady of Georgia. Among wives of the governors she was considered a model and was revered for her traits and appearance.

Rosalynn Carter returned to the campaign trail when her husband began running for president. 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?”

In 1977, Jimmy Carter became president. The couple walked hand-in-hand down Pennsylvania Avenue. Rosalynn declared that she had no intention of being a traditional First Lady of the United States.

Rosalynn Carter

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 idea for her to be in attendance came from her husband’s suggestion after she started to question him about a news story. 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.”

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.”

She was the first First Lady to keep her own office in the East Wing. Her secret service codename was Dancer.

After leaving the White House in 1981, she led an active life. She co-founded The Carter Center in1982, visited the Middle East, continued to advocate for mental health education, set up the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, launched Every Child By Two in 1991, served on the board for Habitat for Humanity and wrote five books.

Rosalynn Carter

In 1999, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In October 2002, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.

The Carter’s have remained active in attending inaugurations, memorial services, dedications and other events of historical significance as a former president.

When Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with cancer, she remained by his side. At the time Jimmy Carter said of his wife, “Her support has helped me through the last 69 years since we’ve been married in everything I’ve ever tried. Of course, when I was ill and thought I might die at any time, she was there for me.”

The Carter’s continue to remain active, even now in their early 90s.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter