Rosalynn Carter: Things to know about the former first lady

Rosalynn Carter is best known as first lady of the United States, a role she served in from 1977 to 1981 as the wife of President Jimmy Carter.

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Her time in the White House is notable for her work advocating for the senior citizen welfare and mental health, which she continued well after leaving Washington, D.C.

Here are some things to know about Rosalynn Carter.

Graduated at top of class

Born in Plains, Georgia on Aug. 18, 1927, Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was the oldest of four children. She worked as a shampoo girl at a hair salon when her father, Wilburn Edgar Smith, died in 1940. Her mother, Allie Murray Smith, picked up various jobs to support the family.

Despite balancing a job, Carter graduated as valedictorian of Plains High School. She started dating Jimmy Carter around that time and enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College. The two married on July 7, 1946, when she was 18 and he was 21.

Mental health advocate

Carter’s work as an honorary chair on the President’s Commission on Mental Health led to the Mental Health Systems Bill, which aimed to protect those with mental illness from discrimination. Carter testified about the bill before Congress in 1979 and the bill was passed as the Mental Health Systems Act in 1980. Her work in the White House and as co-founder of The Carter Center with former president Jimmy Carter has earned her multiple honors and awards.

Elder advocate

As first lady, Carter put together a task force to look into federal programs for older Americans. She lobbied Congress for the passage of the Age Discrimination Act, which removed the mandatory retirement age in the public sector and raised the age to 70 in the private sector.

In 1977, she hosted the White House Conference on Aging, which sought to resolve issues older citizens brought to President Carter.

The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers was established in 1987 at Georgia Southwestern State University to offer coaching and support to caregivers.

Carter, a longtime caregiver advocate, once said, “There are only four types of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, who are caregivers, who will be caregivers, and who will need caregivers.”

Book author

Carter has written five books. The first was an autobiography called “First Lady from Plains,” was published in 1984. “Everything To Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life,” published in 1987, was co-written with Jimmy Carter. Three other books have been published since then, tied to her advocacy work: “Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book for Caregivers,” published in 1994; “Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers,” published in 1998; and “Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis,” published in 2010.

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