First Ladies: Rosalynn Smith Carter

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ROSALYNN SMITH CARTER
Rosalynn Smith Carter
1927-
Born: Plains, GA
Married: James Earl Carter, 1946
Children: Jack, James, Jeffery, Amy
First Lady: 1977-1981
Rosalynn Smith was born in Plains, Georgia. Her father died when she was thirteen, leaving her mother with four children to support. Even as a young teenager, Rosalynn worked to augment her mother's earnings. She noted that her family was "very, very poor and worked very hard." Even while attending Georgia Southwestern College, Rosalynn lived at home and continued to help support her family.

The Smith family had been close to the Carters for years and she was good friends with Jimmy's sister, Ruth. Rosalynn always claimed that she had had a crush on Ruth's brother for years but never seemed to be able to get him to notice her. She finally succeeded when U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Jimmy Carter came home on leave. They were married in 1946 and spent the next seven years as a military family while Jimmy served in the Navy. In 1953, they returned to Plains, following the death of Jimmy's father. They took on the responsibility of running the Carter family peanut business. In business, as later in politics, Rosalynn and Jimmy were partners. Together, they made a formidable team. Rosalynn did the bookkeeping (four sets of books and a master) and tax returns. One her own, she studied the accounting and tax laws.

With Rosalynn busy working long hours in the business, as well as raising their children, Jimmy began to pursue a political career. Soon, Rosalynn was attending political conferences and campaigning for her husband. Jimmy Carter became a state senator and Rosalynn took over the management of the peanut business herself. Eventually Jimmy became the Governor of Georgia, with the dedicated Rosalynn at his side. In 1976, Jimmy Carter stunned the political world by winning the Presidency. As a key player in the hard-fought campaign, Rosalynn was eager to play an important role in her husband's administration.

The new First Lady took Eleanor Roosevelt as her example. She too, wanted to become the 'eyes and ears' of the President. The First Lady traveled to South America as special envoy, became active in issues of mental health, advocated community involvement, and even attended cabinet meetings. Her office was set up in the East Wing of the White House. Jimmy Carter viewed his wife as a trusted advisor.

The Carter Administration was dealt what ultimately became a crippling blow when the American Embassy in Iran was overrun and more than fifty U.S. citizens taken hostage. As the crisis remained unresolved, the Carter Presidency began to falter. The President confined himself to the White House while his wife took to the campaign trail on his behalf. The Carters were stunned when they lost the 1980 presidential election, returning to Plains subdued and sad.

In "retirement", Rosalynn Carter has continued her involvement in social causes. Both she and the former President are active participants in the Habitat for Humanity Program. This organization is dedicated to the building of affordable housing for disadvantaged American families. They also set up The Carter Foundation to fund projects designed to better the human condition.