Wife of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter is best known to the world as the former First Lady of the United States. In this role, Ms. Carter has been politically active on both the local and international scene. Here are the other sides of Rosalynn Carter: her early life, her family, her achievements as FLOTUS, and other aspects of the closest political ally of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Who is Rosalynn Carter?
Rosalynn Carter was born August 18, 1927, as Eleanor Rosalynn Smith in Plains, a town in Sumter County, Georgia. Her mother Frances Allethea “Allie” Murray Smith was a seamstress and her father Wilburn Edgar Smith was a mechanic, driver, and also worked in agriculture. As the eldest of her parents’ four children, Rosalynn grew up alongside brothers William Jerrold “Jerry” Smith and Murray Lee Smith and a sister, Lillian Allethea Wall (née Smith).
Rosalynn’s father died when she was 13 years old, which put an abrupt end to her own childhood. Consequently, she joined her mother’s tailoring business to meet the needs of the family. She completed her high school education at Plains High School as a salutator of her senior class. She then enrolled at Georgia Southwestern College but had to drop out of school for financial reasons.
Marriage to Jimmy Carter
Rosalynn met Jimmy Carter through his younger sister Ruth Carter Stapleton. Since both were from Plain, Georgia, their families knew each other before they started dating. Their relationship began in 1945 when Jimmy Carter was a student at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. They became engaged in February 1946 but kept their wedding plans away from Rosalynn’s mother because they saw that this would thwart their plans to go back to college. They finally entered into marriage on July 7, 1946, in their hometown of Plains.
Rosalynn Carter’s Children
Rosalynn Carter has 4 children with her over 7 decades-old husband Jimmy Carter. At the age of 20, she conceived her first child, a son named John William “Jack”, born on July 3, 1947, the couple’s second child was born in 1950, a son named James Earl “Chip” III, and their third child was born in 1952, a son named Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff”. Due to her husband’s military service, the family moved around a lot, so all 3 Carter sons were born in different parts of the USA.
A few years after her husband retired from military service, Rosalynn Carter longed for another child, but this was complicated by the presence of a large tumor in her uterus. After a successful surgery to remove the tumor, she was finally allowed to have another offspring. The couple finally welcomed their last child, a daughter named Amy Lynn Carter, on October 19, 1967.
During her husband’s military service, Rosalynn Carter was mainly occupied with the education of her children. After he retired from the military, she joined him in managing the family’s agricultural and storage business. As his closest ally, Rosalynn Carter was also her husband’s closest associate when he finally became involved in politics. Although Jimmy Carter failed in his candidacy for governor in Georgia in 1966, the Carters began campaigning for the next election immediately after the close of the first.
Rosalynn Carter has been widely recognized for having been instrumental in Jimmy Carter’s successful candidacy for governor of Georgia in 1970. During her 4-year term as Georgia’s First Lady, Ms. Carter focused primarily on mental health. She volunteered at the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta and also served as the Honorary Chair of the Georgia Special Olympics.
The exceptionally fine First Lady returned to her hometown of Plains with her family after her husband’s term as Governor of Georgia expired. She soon returned to the campaign trail, however, when her husband announced his intention to run for President of the United States. Although he was relatively unknown at the time, Rosalynn Carter single-handedly campaigned for her husband in almost every state in the United States.
Her hard work paid off, and Rosalynn Carter assumed the role of First Lady of the United States when her husband Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President on January 20, 1977. Unlike the traditional First Ladies, who seemed to be limited to the role of “official hostess,” Mrs. Carter was an integral part of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. She attended Cabinet meetings at her husband’s invitation and also represented him at several meetings both inside and outside the United States. Although the former First Lady of the United States has been criticized by many for exerting too much influence on her husband’s government, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter insist that they have always had an equal partnership.
Other Facts About Rosalynn Carter
Carter left the White House in 1981 after losing Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 U.S. presidential election.
Rosalynn Carter co-founded the Carter Center in 1982 alongside her husband. She is not only a member of the organization’s board of trustees but also participates in many of its programs, with a special interest in mental health.
Rosalynn Carter was named an Honorary Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association in April 1984 and is also an emeritus member of the board of the National Mental Health Association.
In 1999, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Bill Clinton.
Rosalynn Carter was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in October 2002 and is only the third FLOTUS to receive this honor.
After the death of Barbara Bush in April 2018, Rosalynn Carter became the oldest surviving First Lady in the United States.