Eleanor Rosalynn Carter (1927 – 2023)
Former first lady and life-long humanitarian.
By: Kirsten Brooker | December 13, 2023 | 671 Words
Eleanor Rosalynn Carter was born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith on August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia, and was the wife of former president Jimmy Carter. Although being a former first lady may be what she is best known for, Rosalynn Carter was also a writer, activist, and humanitarian. Mrs. Carter was recently laid to rest on November 19, 2023, and will forever be remembered as an intelligent woman and leader in women’s rights. She was also passionate about advocating for those who suffer from mental health disorders. She will be remembered as an honorable and important member of society.
Rosalynn’s Early Years
Rosalynn was one of four children. As the oldest, she had many responsibilities, which only increased after her father died when she was thirteen. She attended Plains High School and graduated as the valedictorian. After high school, she attended Georgia Southwestern College until she graduated in 1946.
Former president James Earl Carter, also from Plains Georgia, caught the eye of young Rosalynn when she saw a photo of him in his United States Naval Academy uniform. They were married in 1946 and had four children between 1947 and 1967.
Lady Carter stood by her husband’s side throughout all his personal and political endeavors. However, she had many interests of her own. She was drawn to the idea of advocating for the mentally ill and emotionally handicapped, and she would later claim that her efforts in that field were among her proudest.
First Lady Rosalynn Carter
When Jimmy Carter ran for president in 1976, Rosalynn remained a consistent support for him. In fact, she was the face of much of his campaign because many people had never heard of him. She even campaigned for her husband in 41 states, all on her own.
Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States for the 1977 – 1981 term. While in full support of her husband, Rosalynn Carter vowed to be a non-traditional First Lady. In her first interview as the wife of the President of the United States, she spoke about her goals in mental health.
Part of her speech included, “For every person who needs mental health care to be able to receive it close to home and to remove the stigma from mental health care so people will be free to talk about it and seek help. It’s been taboo for so long to admit you had a mental health problem.”
Rosalynn Carter was also an activist for women’s equal rights. She would talk about her relationship with her husband and describe their understanding of equality within the marriage. Jimmy would speak highly of her, as did the public. She was dubbed the “steel magnolia” as she was pleasant to look at but a tough cookie simultaneously.
Team Carter attempted to beat Ronald Reagan in the next election but failed to do so. Rosalynn believed the Iran hostage crisis and inflation, among others, contributed to their loss. Unfortunately, the presidential loss also diminished the Mental Health System Act that Rosalynn had been working toward her entire career. The defeat was hard on Mrs. Carter, but a new friendship between herself and the new First Lady, Nancy Reagan, helped to heal the wounds.
Hard Work Does Not Go Unnoticed
Rosalynn received a plethora of awards throughout her lifetime. Former President Carter and his First Lady were honored in 1999 when President Clinton awarded the couple the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Mrs. Carter, in 2001, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where she joined former First Ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt and Abigail Adams. She won many other awards for her mental health and public service work, along with honorary degrees from several institutions.
Rosalynn Carter is a part of American history that generates pride for our country and the work that strong women have put into improving our great nation.