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Rosalynn Eleanor Smith Carter

(1927 - )

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Rosalynn Carter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rosalynn Carter


In office
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
Preceded by Betty Ford
Succeeded by Nancy Reagan

Born August 18, 1927 (age 82)
Plains, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jimmy Carter
Relations Edgar Smith and Frances Allethea Murray, parents
Children John William, James Earl, Donnel Jeffery, and Amy

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter (born August 18, 1927), commonly known as Rosalynn Carter, 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 was 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.



 Early life

Photograph of Rosalynn Smith around age 17.

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith 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,[1] Rosalynn Smith first dated Jimmy Carter in 1945 while he was at theUnited 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, she helped him run the family peanut farming and warehousing business, handling the accounting responsibilities. Since 1962, the year Jimmy Carter 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, Mrs. Carter decided to focus her attention as First Lady of Georgia on the field of mental health. Her husband appointed her 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 her husband's gubernatorial term was over, Governor Carter, along with his wife and daughter, went back to Plains. He 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, Rosalynn 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

Rosalynn with her husband and daughter Amy on the south lawn in front of the White House, July 24, 1977

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 Carter Administration, she supported her husband's public policies as well as his social and personal life. To be fully informed, she would sit in on Cabinet meetings, at the invitation of President Carter. 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 only First Lady who had previously appeared before Congress was Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Carter also was a strong proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment.[4]

She oversaw her family at the White House. Her daughter, Amy, who was nine years old, 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, Rosalynn 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]



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Rosalynn Carter

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