Rosalynn Carter

Born:August 18, 1927 (age 92)
Career:First lady of the United States, 1977-1981
First lady of Georgia, 1971-1975

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter, former First Lady, is an advocate for mental health, caregiving, early childhood immunization, human rights, and conflict resolution. She is the wife of the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, and was the first lady from 1977 to 1981.

Carter was born in Plains, Georgia, on August 18, 1927. Following her father's death when she was 13, Carter assisted helped her mother raise her younger siblings and worked in the dressmaking business. She attended Georgia Southwestern College, Americus, Georgia, from 1944 until 1946. She married James Earl Carter on July 7, 1946. Upon the 1953 death of his father, the Carters returned to Plains to assume management of the family's peanut farming business. Although Carter did not wish to return to the small town, she successfully assumed the financial management of the agribusiness without drawing a salary. She also subsequently helped her husband campaign for his run for state senator in 1962, his unsuccessful run for governor in 1966 and his successful run for governor in 1970.

As first lady of Georgia, Carter not only assumed the traditional role of a governor's spouse as hostess, she also oversaw the landscaping of the grounds, authored a book about the governor's mansion and took responsibility for the financial accounting of the operations there. Her primary focus, however, was in overhauling the state's mental health system. First exposed to an individual with a developmental disability as a young girl and then made aware of how the state dealt with aid to those with mental and physical disability during the 1970 campaign, Carter committed herself to the issue. As a member of the Governor's Commission to Improve Services to the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped in 1971, she continued to keep the issue in front of the state government and subsequently oversaw the initiation of reforms that more directly provided state services to those citizens who required aid. She also served as honorary chairperson of the Georgia Special Olympics from 1971 to 1975 and volunteered at an Atlanta hospital. These activities provided Carter with a professional background on bridging legislative solutions to the issues facing the mentally ill.

Carter was an active participant in her husband's 1976 presidential campaign. During that time, she was also 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 support for the Equal Rights Amendment and received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Southwestern Association of Volunteer Services. She stated that she had no intention of being a traditional first lady, and during the Carter administration she supported his public policies, and sat in on Cabinet meetings at his invitation and represented President Carter in meetings with domestic and foreign leaders, most notably as an envoy to Latin America in 1977.

After leaving the White House in 1981, she co-founded The Carter Center, a private, not-for-profit institution based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a member of the center's Board of Trustees and participates in many of the center's programs. In May of 2010, Carter authored "Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis" and throughout the year traveled the U.S. to carry the message of her work, including an appearance as a guest on the popular "The Daily Show." She also renewed an effort to reduce and correct harmful depiction of those with mental illness in the news and entertainment media.

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