Being the wife of the 39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter is best known to the world as a former First Lady of the United States. In that role, Mrs. Carter was politically active both in the local and international scene. Here is an unraveling of the other sides of Rosalynn Carter; her early life, family, her accomplishments as the FLOTUS, and other aspects of ex-US president Jimmy Carter’s closest political ally.
Who is Rosalynn Carter?
Rosalynn Carter was born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith on August 18, 1927, 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 motor mechanic, a driver, and was also involved in agriculture. As the oldest of her parents’ 4 children, Rosalynn was raised 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 which brought an abrupt end to her own childhood. Consequently, she joined her mother’s dressmaking business in order to meet the family’s needs. She had her high school education at Plains High School finishing as the salutatorian of her graduating class. Afterward, she enrolled at Georgia Southwestern College, however, she was forced to quit due to financial constraints.
Marriage to Jimmy Carter
Rosalynn got to know Jimmy Carter via the latter’s younger sister Ruth Carter Stapleton. Being both natives of Plain, Georgia, each of their families was already acquainted even before they began dating. Their relationship began in 1945 while Jimmy Carter was studying at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. They got engaged in February 1946, however, they kept their wedding plans away from Rosalynn’s mother seeing that it would thwart her plans of going back to college. They eventually tied the knot on July 7, 1946, in their native town Plains.
Rosalynn Carter’s Children
Rosalynn Carter has 4 children with her husband of over 7 decades Jimmy Carter. At age 20, she welcomed 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”. Owing to her husband’s service in the military, the family moved around a lot and thus all 3 Carter sons were born in different parts of the US.
Several years after her husband resigned from the military, Rosalynn Carter yearned to have another child, however, this was hampered by the presence of a large tumor in her uterus. She was eventually cleared to have another offspring after successfully undergoing surgery to remove the tumor. The couple eventually welcomed their last child on October 19, 1967, a daughter named Amy Lynn Carter.
During her husband’s years in the military, Rosalynn Carter was mainly occupied with raising their children. She joined him in running the family’s farming and warehouse business after he resigned from the military. Being his closest ally, Rosalynn Carter was equally her husband’s closest collaborator when he eventually delved into politics. Though Jimmy Carter failed in his bid for the 1966 Georgia gubernatorial election, the Carters began campaigning for the next election immediately after the first one was concluded.
Rosalynn Carter has been given many credits for being highly instrumental to Jimmy Carter’s successful bid for the governorship of Georgia in 1970. During her 4-year stint as the First Lady of Georgia, Mrs. Carter channeled her focus mainly in the field of mental health. She volunteered at the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta and also served as the honorary chairperson for the Georgia Special Olympics.
The exceptionally good first lady returned with her family to their native town of Plains following the expiration of her husband’s term as Governor of Georgia. However, she soon returned to the campaign trail when her husband declared his intentions to run for President of the United States. Though he was relatively unknown at the time, Rosalynn Carter singlehandedly campaigned on her husband’s behalf in nearly all the states in the US.
Her hard work sure paid off and Rosalynn Carter assumed the role of the First Lady of the United States when her husband Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as president on January 20, 1977. Unlike the traditional First Ladies who seemed to be confined to the role of an “official hostess”, Mrs. Carter was an integral part in the Jimmy Carter Presidency. She attended Cabinet meetings at her husband’s invitation and also represented him at several gatherings both within and outside the United States. Though the former US First Lady has been criticized by many as having wielded too much influence on her husband’s administration, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter insist that what they have always had is an equal partnership.
Other Facts About Rosalynn Carter
The Carters departed the White House in 1981 following Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan at the 1980 US Presidential Election.
Rosalynn Carter co-founded The Carter Center alongside her husband in 1982. In addition to being a member of the organization’s Board of Trustees, she also takes part 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 equally 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 becoming only the third FLOTUS to be so honored.
Mrs. Carter became the oldest living US First Lady following the passing of Barbara Bush in April 2018.