Rosalynn Carter Biography 2023: Age, Family, Political Career, Awards and Death

Eleanor Rosalynn Carter was an American writer and activist who served as the first lady of the United States from 1977 to 1981, as the wife of President Jimmy Carter. Throughout her decades of public service, she was perhaps best known for being a leading advocate for women’s rights and mental health.

Rosalynn Carter
220px Rose Carter%2C official color photo%2C 1977 cropped Rosalynn Carter Biography 2023: Age, Family, Political Career, Awards and Death

Official portrait, 1977
First Lady of the United States
In role
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Betty Ford
Succeeded by Nancy Reagan
First Lady of Georgia
In role
January 12, 1971 – January 14, 1975
Governor Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Hattie Cox
Succeeded by Mary Busbee
Personal details
Eleanor Rosalynn Smith

August 18, 1927
Plains, Georgia, U.S.

Died November 19, 2023 (aged 96)
Plains, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Democratic

(m. 1946)

Children 4, including Jack and Amy
Education Georgia Southwestern College

Carter was born and raised in Plains, Georgia, graduated as valedictorian of Plains High School, and soon after attended Georgia Southwestern College, where she graduated in 1946. She first became attracted to her husband, also from Plains, after seeing a picture of him in his U.S. Naval Academy uniform, and they married in 1946. Carter helped her husband win the governorship of Georgia in 1970, and decided to focus her attention in the field of mental health when she was that state’s first lady. She campaigned for her husband during his successful bid to become president of the United States in the 1976 election, defeating incumbent Republican president Gerald Ford.

Carter was politically active during her husband’s presidency, though she declared that she had no intention of being a traditional first lady. During his term of office, Carter 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. Carter also represented her husband in meetings with domestic and foreign leaders, including as an envoy to Latin America in 1977. He found her to be an equal partner. She campaigned for his re-election bid in the 1980 election, which he lost to Republican Ronald Reagan.

After leaving the White House in 1981, Carter continued to advocate for mental health and other causes, and wrote several books. She and her husband contributed to the expansion of the nonprofit housing organization Habitat for Humanity. Carter was the second-longest-lived first lady after Bess Truman, and was the longest-married first lady. She and her husband received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999. She died on November 19, 2023, two days after it had been announced that she had entered hospice care.

Personal Life

Marriage and family

Their families were already acquainted when Rosalynn first dated Jimmy Carter in 1945 while he was attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. She became attracted to him after seeing a picture of him in his Annapolis uniform. The two were riding in the back seat of the car of Ruth Carter Stapleton‘s boyfriend when Jimmy surprised Rosalynn by kissing her. This was the first time that Rosalynn had ever allowed a boy to do so on the first date. Rosalynn agreed to marry Jimmy in February 1946 when she went to Annapolis with his parents. The two scheduled their marriage to take place in July and kept the arrangement secret. Rosalynn resisted telling her mother she had chosen to marry instead of continuing her education. On July 7, 1946, they married in Plains. Their marriage caused Rosalynn to cancel her plans to attend Georgia State College for Women, where she had planned to study interior design.

The couple had four children: John William “Jack” (b. 1947), James Earl “Chip” III (b. 1950), Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff” (b. 1952), and Amy Lynn (b. 1967). Due to Jimmy’s military duties, the first three were born in different parts of the country and away from Georgia. During that time, Rosalynn enjoyed the independence she had gained from raising the children on her own. However, their relationship faced its first major crisis when she opposed Jimmy’s resigning to return to Plains in 1953 after he learned his father was dying. Jimmy reflected that she “avoided talking to me as much as possible” as a result of his decision and would interact with him through their children. The Carters were fans of the New York Yankees until the Braves moved to Atlanta. They said they never went to bed arguing with each other.

In 1953, after her husband left the Navy, Rosalynn helped run the family peanut farm and warehouse business, handling accounting responsibilities. Around this time, yearning for another child, the Carters discovered Rosalynn had physical ailments preventing pregnancy. She underwent surgery to remove a large tumor from her uterus 12 years later. Her obstetrician confirmed she could have another child, and their daughter Amy was born thereafter. Rosalynn had different relationships with each member of Jimmy’s family. Becoming friends with his sister, who was two years younger than she, Rosalynn gave her dresses she had outgrown. However, she and Jimmy’s mother, Lillian Gordy Carter, had difficulty living together.

Health and Death

In April 1977, Carter underwent surgery to remove a nonmalignant breast tumor. She underwent a gynecological procedure at Bethesda Naval Hospital in August 1977, which her press secretary Mary Hoyt described as a routine private matter.

In May 2023, the Carter Center announced that Carter had been diagnosed with dementia. The statement also noted that she continued to live at home with her husband – who was in hospice care at the time of the announcement – “enjoying spring and visits with loved ones”. On November 17, 2023, Carter entered hospice care herself. She died two days later at her home in Plains, Georgia, of natural causes, at the age of 96. Her funeral will be held on November 29 in Plains, with the Carter family in attendance, and with burial at her residence.

Rosalynn Carter Politics Life 

First Lady of Georgia

After helping her husband win the governorship of Georgia in 1970, Rosalynn decided to focus her attention mainly in the field of mental health when she was that state’s First Lady. She was appointed 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. In August 1971, Carter engaged in a statewide tour of mental health facilities across Georgia. She described her efforts on behalf of mentally disabled children as her proudest achievement as First Lady of Georgia.

Carter 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.

Her work in addressing social issues made her “virtually revered in professional health care circles”. Her activities included entertaining as many as 750 people a week for dinner at the Governor’s Mansion. Governor Carter once claimed that he had supported the Equal Rights Amendment while his wife was opposed to the measure, the First Lady privately confronting him upon hearing news of the claim. Carter corrected himself by later announcing to the press, “I thought I knew what Rosalynn thought, but I was wrong.”

1976 presidential campaign

When her husband’s gubernatorial term ended in January 1975, Rosalynn, Jimmy and Amy Carter returned to Plains. Jimmy had already announced his plans to run for President of the United States. Rosalynn got back on the campaign trail, this time on a national quest to gather support for her husband. She campaigned alone on his behalf in 41 states. Because of her husband’s obscurity at the time, she often had to answer the question, “Jimmy who?” She promoted the establishment of additional daycare facilities and adjustments to “Social Security and so many other things to help the elderly”.

During the months when she was campaigning across the country, she was elected to the board of directors of the National Association of Mental Health, honored by the National Organization for Women with an Award of Merit for her vigorous support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Southwestern Association of Volunteer Services.

Rosalynn sat in the balcony at Madison Square Garden with friends and family the night of the nomination while her husband was with his mother and daughter. She had “butterflies in her stomach” until the Ohio delegation announced its votes were for her husband. Rosalynn wished she could have been with him at that time. The Carters met with all the potential running mates, and instantly gained affinity for Walter Mondale after meeting with him and his wife Joan. Following the election, the Carters traveled to the White House and met with President Ford and First Lady Betty Ford, the latter becoming a role model for Rosalynn.

First Lady of the United States (1977–1981)

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The First Family: Rosalynn, Jimmy and Amy on the South Lawn of the White House, July 24, 1977

When her husband assumed the presidency in January 1977, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter walked hand-in-hand down Pennsylvania Avenue during his presidential inauguration parade. The gown that she wore to the inaugural balls was the same one that she had worn six years earlier at the Atlanta balls when Jimmy became governor.

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Rosalynn Carter chairs a meeting in Chicago, Illinois, for the President’s Commission on Mental Health on April 20, 1977.

Rosalynn declared that she had no intention of being a traditional First Lady of the United States. During her husband’s administration, Rosalynn supported his public policies as well as his social and personal life. To remain fully informed, she sat in on Cabinet meetings at the invitation of the President. The first meeting she attended was on February 28, 1977, where she felt comfortable since she was among other officials that were not members. The idea for her to be in attendance came at her husband’s suggestion when she started to question him about a news story.

She wrote notes at the meetings, 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.” When the cultural exchange program Friendship Force International launched at the White House on March 1, 1977, she became honorary chairperson, a position she held until 2002. She joined Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford in supporting the unsuccessful campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) at the Houston conference celebrating the International Women’s Year in 1977.

For Christmas 1977, she decorated the White House’s Christmas tree with ornaments made from pine cones, peanuts and egg shells. On July 27, 1978, Carter was the host of “First Lady’s Employment Seminar”. Between 200 and 300 delegates came and shared information to learn how other communities responded to the problem of unemployment. Rosalynn remembered 1979 and 1980 as years of never-ending crises, the years having “Big ones and small ones, potential disasters and mere annoyances.”

Rosalynn Carter Books

Rosalynn Carter wrote five books:

  • First Lady from Plains (autobiography), 1984, ISBN 1-55728-355-9
  • Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (with Jimmy Carter), 1987, ISBN 1-55728-388-5
  • Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book for Caregivers (with Susan K. Golant), 1994, ISBN 0-8129-2591-2
  • Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers (with Susan K. Golant), 1998, ISBN 0-8129-2898-9
  • Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis (with Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade), 2010, ISBN 978-1-59486-881-8

Awards and honors

220px Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter receive Presidential Medal of Freedom Rosalynn Carter Biography 2023: Age, Family, Political Career, Awards and Death
President Bill Clinton awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center, 1999

In 1999, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

In 2001, Rosalynn Carter was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She became the third First Lady inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Among Rosalynn’s many other awards for service are:

Rosalynn Carter received honorary degrees from the following institutions:

Rosalynn served as distinguished centennial lecturer at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, from 1988 to 1992. She was a Distinguished Fellow at the Emory University Department of Women’s Studies in Atlanta from 1989 to 2018.

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