Rosalynn Smith Carter
Biography: "She's the girl I want to marry," Jimmy Carter told his
mother after his first date with 17-year-old Rosalynn Smith, who had
grown up as a friend and neighbor of the Carter family in Plains, Georgia.
Born in Plains on August 18, 1927, Rosalynn was the first of four
children in the family of Allethea Murray Smith and Wilburn Edgar Smith.
She 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 her mother became a dressmaker to help support the
family. As the oldest child, Rosalynn worked beside her mother, helping
with the sewing, the housekeeping, and the other children.
Times were difficult, but Rosalynn completed high school and enrolled in
Georgia Southwestern College at Americus. 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
The young couple went to Norfolk, Virginia, Ensign Carter's first duty
station after graduation. The Navy kept them on the move. Their sons
were born in different places: John William in Virginia, James Earl III
in Hawaii, and Donnel Jeffrey in Connecticut. The Carters' only
daughter, Amy Lynn, was born in Georgia in 1967.
When his father died in 1953, Jimmy left the service, and the Carters
returned to Plains to run the family business. Managing the accounts of
the peanut, fertilizer, and seed enterprise, Rosalynn soon found herself
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 governorship of Georgia
in 1970. During his Presidential campaigns, Rosalynn traveled
independently throughout the United States. Her belief in her husband's
ability to lead the nation was communicated in a quiet, friendly manner
that made her an effective campaigner.
A skillful speaker and a hardworking First Lady, Mrs. Carter managed
routine duties and special projects in her office in the East Wing. She
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.
She invited to the White House leading classical artists from around the
world, as well as traditional American artists. She also took a strong
interest in programs to aid mental health, the community, and the
elderly. From 1977 to 1978, she served as the Honorary Chairperson of the
President's Commission on Mental Health.
After returning home, Mrs. Carter wrote her autobiography, First Lady
From Plains, published in 1984. She is currently vice chair of The
Center in Atlanta, founded in 1982 to promote peace and human
rights worldwide. At the Center, she leads a program to diminish stigma
against mental illness and to promote greater access to mental health
care. She also is a partner with the ex-president in projects to resolve
conflict, promote human rights, improve global health, and build
democracy in some 65 countries.