Rosalynn Smith grew up in a small-town atmosphere that nurtured strong ties to family and dedication to church and community. When she was 13, her father died and, as the oldest child, Rosalynn worked beside her mother, helping with sewing, housekeeping and caring for the other children.
Despite difficult times, Rosalynn completed high school and enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College. In 1945, after her freshman year, she first dated Jimmy Carter, who was home from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Their romance progressed, and in 1946 they were married.
Jimmy entered politics in 1962, winning a seat in the Georgia Senate. Rosalynn, an important member of his campaign team, helped develop support for her husband’s successful bid for the 1970 Georgia governorship. During his presidential campaigns, Rosalynn’s belief in her husband’s ability to lead the nation was communicated in a quiet, friendly manner that made her an effective campaigner.
As a hardworking member of the Carter administration and a skillful speaker, Mrs. Carter attended Cabinet meetings and major briefings, frequently represented the chief executive at ceremonial occasions, and served as the President’s personal emissary to Latin American countries.
As First Lady, she focused national attention on the performing arts and took a strong interest in programs to aid mental health, strengthen communities and assist the elderly. From 1977-78, she served as the honorary chairperson of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, which resulted in passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.
Since returning home, Mrs. Carter has written four books: First Lady from Plains, her autobiography; Everything To Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life, a book about life after the White House coauthored with President Carter; Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book For Caregivers with Susan K. Golant; and Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers, also with Susan K. Golant.
As a former first lady, Mrs. Carter works in full partnership with her husband in the activities of The Carter Center, founded in 1982 to promote peace and human rights worldwide. She created and chairs The Carter Center’s Mental Health Task Force, an advisory body of experts, consumers and advocates promoting positive change in the mental health field.
Each year, she hosts the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, bringing together leaders of the nation’s mental health organizations to address critical issues.
Outside the center, Mrs. Carter is president of the board of directors for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Care-giving at Georgia Southwestern State University, which was established in her honor on the campus of her alma mater.
A mother of four, she has maintained a life-long dedication to issues affecting women and children. In 1991, she launched with Mrs. Betty Bumpers, wife of former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, “Every Child By Two,” a nationwide campaign to publicize the need for early childhood immunizations. She also works for Habitat for Humanity as well as Project Interconnections, a public/private nonprofit partnership to provide housing for homeless people who are mentally ill. She served as distinguished centennial lecturer at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, from 1988–1992 and is currently a distinguished fellow at the Emory University Department of Women’s Studies in Atlanta.