Rosalynn Carter

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in 1993

The Carter Center/Everett Collection

Rosalynn Carter: A Remarkable First Lady and Advocate for Mental Health

Published On: November 20, 2023By

Rosalynn Carter, the esteemed wife of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, left an indelible mark on American history through her grace, intelligence, and dedication to public service. Born Eleanor Rosalynn Smith on August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia, she became one of the most influential First Ladies, particularly known for her commitment to mental health awareness. Sadly, Rosalynn Carter passed away on November 19, 2023, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire.

Early Life and Marriage

Rosalynn Carter’s journey into public life began in her hometown of Plains, where she met and married Jimmy Carter in 1946. The couple’s partnership proved to be a powerful force, both in their personal lives and on the political stage. As a team, they navigated the challenges of a life in politics, ultimately reaching the pinnacle of American leadership when Jimmy Carter was elected President in 1976.

First Lady and Mental Health Advocate

Rosalynn Carter’s time as First Lady from 1977 to 1981 was marked by her deep commitment to social issues, most notably mental health awareness. Breaking away from traditional First Lady roles, Rosalynn used her position to advocate for policies that would improve mental health care access and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

In 1979, she convened the President’s Commission on Mental Health, bringing together experts, advocates, and policymakers to address the state of mental health care in the United States. The commission’s findings resulted in a comprehensive report that laid the foundation for significant improvements in the mental health care system.

Legacy of Advocacy

Rosalynn Carter’s impact on mental health awareness did not end with her time in the White House. She continued to be a vocal advocate for mental health issues long after leaving Washington, D.C. The Carter Center, founded by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in 1982, has been a driving force in global health and human rights. Within the Center, the Mental Health Program focuses on reducing stigma, increasing access to care, and promoting policies that support mental health.

Rosalynn’s commitment to mental health advocacy earned her numerous accolades and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, in recognition of her tireless efforts to improve the lives of those affected by mental illness.

Personal Accomplishments and Reflections

Beyond her role as a mental health advocate, Rosalynn Carter is an accomplished author, speaker, and philanthropist. Her memoir, “First Lady from Plains,” provides a glimpse into her life and the challenges she faced in the public eye. Rosalynn’s reflections on her time as First Lady and her continued dedication to social causes inspire many to this day.


Rosalynn Carter’s legacy extends far beyond her years in the White House. Her unwavering commitment to mental health advocacy has left an indelible mark on the national conversation surrounding mental illness. As we remember her with gratitude, let us reflect on the positive impact one person can have on the world when driven by compassion and a sense of duty to others. Rosalynn Carter’s life and work will continue to inspire generations to come.


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