Rosalynn Carter's Life in Photos

"I've had so many opportunities," Rosalynn Carter once told PEOPLE. "And I've tried to take advantage of them all."

01 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Meets Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Smith were married shortly after Carter's graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946. Carter's portrait is from sometime during his years in the Academy (1943-46) and Rosalynn's picture is from 1944, when she was 17. The couple is celebrating their 75th anniversary on July 7, 2021. (Jimmy Carter Library)
Jimmy Carter Library

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born on Aug. 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia. The eldest of four children, she helped raise her younger siblings and run the home after her father died when she was 13.

She graduated as the valedictorian of her high school in 1944, according to the White House Historical Association.

One year later, she started dating Jimmy Carter, then a student at the U.S. Naval Academy. Jimmy was the older brother of her childhood friend Ruth Carter, and her neighbor in Plains.

02 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Marries Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter wedding picture is shown here. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)**MARIETTA DAILY OUT, GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT** /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

From the start, Jimmy knew Rosalynn was the one.

"She's the girl I want to marry," he told his mother after their first date, the White House reported. They wed on July 7, 1946, the same year Rosalynn graduated from Georgia Southwestern College. The Carters were on the move for the next few years, relocating around the country for Jimmy's Navy duties.

They would welcome three sons – John William in 1947, James Earl III in 1950 and Donnel Jeffrey in 1952 – followed by daughter Amy Lynn in 1967.

03 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Helps Run the Business

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in front of their home 1965. (Carter family photo / Jimmy Carter Library)
Jimmy Carter Library

The Carters returned their rural hometown of Plains in 1953 following the death of Jimmy's father, and the future president took over his family's peanut business. Ever the equal partner, Rosalynn managed the accounting and warehouse logistics, the WHHA said.

Jimmy "quickly became a leader of the community" and was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1962, according to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.

04 of 25

Rosalynn Carter, Model Mom

Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn with three children, Chip, Jack and Jeff.

Chatting campaign strategy, perhaps? Jimmy and Rosalynn smile alongside their three sons in this undated photo.

After an unsuccessful run, Jimmy was elected governor of Georgia on the Democratic ticket in 1970 – and his political star would only continue to rise.

05 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Becomes the First Lady of Georgia

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 29: Rock and Roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a portrain with Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter and his wife Eleanor Carter backstage at the Omni on June 29, 1973 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

During Jimmy's term, Rosalynn would use her first lady platform to focus on mental health, which would become a lifelong mission and interest.

With her encouragement, Jimmy created the Governor's Commission to Improve Services to the Mentally and Emotionally Handicapped.

The governorship came with great responsibility, plus some perks – like a backstage meeting with Elvis in Atlanta!

06 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Supports Her Husband

Jimmy And Rosalynn Carter Embrace, 1976. Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter embraces his wife Rosalynn after receiving the final news of his victory in the national general election, November 2, 1976. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter on election night in 1976. Getty

Jimmy announced that he was running for president in 1974, and Rosalynn would be there every step of the way – even hitting the trail on her own.

"I love it. I love campaigning. I had the best time," she told the Associated Press in July 2021. "I was in all the states in the United States."

"My wife is much more political [than I am]," Jimmy said in the same conversation.

Of her knack for canvassing, the White House said that her "quiet, friendly manner" and faith in her husband "made her an effective campaigner."

Here, the couple hugs on election night in 1976, after learning that Jimmy beat Gerald Ford and won the presidency.

07 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Campaigns for Change

(Original Caption) 11/18/1977-Houston, TX- In Houston to attend the National Women's Conference, a group of some of the most well-known women in America appears on stage at a gala fund-raiser to support the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. They are (L-R): Betty Friedan, Liz Carpenter, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former first lady Betty Ford, Elly Peterson, Jill Ruckelshaus, and Bella Abzug.

Now the first lady of the United States, Rosalynn threw her support behind the Equal Rights Amendment and a brighter future for the women of America.

Here, she joins former first lady Betty Ford and feminist activist Betty Friedan on stage at the National Women's Conference in 1977.

08 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Shines a Light

Rosalynn Carter chairs a meeting in Chicago, IL. for the President's Commission on Mental Health. circa 04/20/1977. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty

Rosalynn made mental health her highest priority as first lady, advocating for greater accessibility for those in need of care and shedding the stigma around mental illness. She served as honorary chair when her husband established the President's Commission on Mental Health in 1977.

Devoted to her the role and the good she could do, Rosalynn also attended Cabinet meetings and major briefings through the Carter administration. She also paid special attention to the needs of the elderly.

09 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Travels Abroad

Rosalynn Carter is shown here as she greets children in Brazil.

Independent in her office, Rosalynn served as her husband's emissary for an extensive tour of Latin America in 1977.

"Her role on this tour was not the traditional one of the hospital-visiting, tea-drinking First Lady, but rather, as Carter made it clear, a substantive role in which she spoke to government leaders and acted directly as his representative," Rae Lindsay wrote in the book The Presidents' First Ladies.

10 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Celebrates Christmas

Portrait of the US First Family as they pose in front of the Christmas tree located in the Blue Room of the White House, Washington DC, December 20, 1977. Pictured are (rear) US First Lady Rosalynn Carter and President Jimmy Carter, with their daughter, Amy Carter. (Photo by Karl Schumacher - White House via CNP/Getty Images)
Karl Schumacher/White House/Getty

Merry Christmas from the Carters! The first couple poses with their daughter Amy, then 10, before a spangled evergreen.

While serving as first lady, Rosalynn was known to host lower-key festivities at the White House, compared to the parties of her predecessors.

"She brings her own taste to her entertaining; white wine instead of hard liquor, classical music instead of nightclub humor, and open houses for the handicapped and the aged as well as politicians and potentates," The Washington Post reported at the time.

11 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Sees the World

Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat and his wife Jehan pose with President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter at the Pyramids, during a diplomatic visit by the Carters. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis/Getty

The first lady accompanied her husband on a trip to Egypt in March 1979. Here, the first couple poses with Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and his wife Jehan at the famous pyramids of Giza.

Six months later, Jimmy would encourage Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to sign the Camp David Accords, bringing the countries into a historic peace agreement.

During his term as president, Jimmy is also strengthened relations with China and pardoned Vietnam draft evaders.

12 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Meets Foreign Leaders

Adolfo Suarez, Rosalynn Carter

Active in diplomatic relations throughout her husband's administration, Rosalynn chats here with Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez in Spain in 1980.

13 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Returns to Georgia

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn jog across a frosty field in Plains, Ga., January 24, 1981. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly)
Charles Kelly/AP

The 1980 presidential election didn't go as the Carters had hoped, with Jimmy losing in a landslide to Ronald Reagan.

"I didn't want to come home," Rosalynn told PEOPLE in 2014 of going back to Plains.

Nevertheless, "they kept looking ahead to what good they could do for the world," their friend Wayne Harpster told PEOPLE. "They don't look back much," he added.

Two years later, they founded The Carter Center to promote peace and protect human rights around the world.

The nongovernment organization works in partnership with Emory University "to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health," according to its mission statement.

Since its establishment, the Carter Center has facilitated programs in more than 80 countries.

14 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Reflects

artist George Augusta date of work 1984 medium oil paint type Portrait credit White House Collection/White House Historical Association
White House Collection/White House Historical Association

In 1984, Rosalynn published her autobiography, First Lady from Plains.

The same year, the White House unveiled her official portrait, honoring her service as first lady from 1977 to 1981.

15 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Gets Involved

Habitat for Humanity International Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project
Habitat for Humanity International

In 1984, the former first couple got involved with Habitat for Humanity. The partnership would blossom into a force for change and lead to the creation of the Carter Work Project, a subsidiary of the larger nonprofit.

To date, the Carters have worked alongside thousands of volunteers in 14 countries to build, repair and renovate 4,390 homes for those in need.

"For anybody who wants to get involved with an organization, there is nothing that they could do that would give them such a life-changing experience as Habitat," Rosalynn once said in a statement. "This is something that brings together people who have everything they need and those who don't have so many things we take for granted."

16 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Writes More Books

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter holds a copy of her book ''Helping Someone with Mental Illness'' during a book signing July 17, 1998 in Washington, DC. (photo by Dave Tracy)

Rosalynn kept writing, and went on to author four more books, posing here at a signing for Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Families, Friends and Caregivers in 1998.

Other texts include Helping Yourself Help Others: The Caregiver's Handbook (1994) and Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis (2010).

Another cause close to her heart, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University (her alma mater), was established in her honor in 1987.

The RCI works to inform and support the 53 million unpaid family caregivers in America, and millions more around the globe.

17 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Receives a Patriotic Honor

President Clinton, left, stands with former President Jimmy Carter, right, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter after Clinton awarded the couple the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, during a ceremony at the Carter Center in Atlanta Monday, Aug. 9, 1999. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/AP

In 1999, the Carters were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, for their philanthropic post-presidential work.

While presenting the medals, then-president Bill Clinton said that Rosalynn and Jimmy had "done more good things for more people than any other couple on the face of the earth."

18 of 25

Rosalynn Carter & Fellow First Ladies

INDIAN WELLS, CA - JANUARY 17: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) (L-R) Former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton attend the 20th anniversary celebration of the Betty Ford Center January 17, 2003 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
David Hume Kennerly/Getty

What a club! Rosalynn stands with fellow former first ladies Barbara Bush, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Betty Ford Center in 2003.

19 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Hits the Campaign Trail

BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn wave to the audience during the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter July 26, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is expected to accept his party's nomination later in the week. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty

Beyond their post-presidency work as a human rights and public health ambassadors, Rosalynn and Jimmy have attended the Democratic National Convention in years past. Here, they stepped out at the 2004 event, which saw Sen. John Kerry secure his party's nomination for president.

20 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Volunteers

BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI, USA (05/11/08) - Opening ceremony for the 2008 Carter Work Project. ©Habitat For Humanity/Angel Pachkowski
Habitat For Humanity/Angel Pachkowski

Proving that age is nothing but a number, Rosalynn, then 80, and Jimmy, then 83, hold hands at the opening ceremony for the 2008 Carter Work Project in Biloxi, Mississippi.

21 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Stays Active

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama (L) poses with former first ladies (2nd L-R) Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter as they attend the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty

Once a first lady, always a first lady. Rosalynn smiles here with Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Rosalynn Carter at the dedication for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas in 2008.

22 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Cheers on Her Grandson

COLUMBUS, GA - OCTOBER 27: Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Sen. Jason Carter (R) speaks during a campaign event with his grandparents, former first lady Rosalynn Carter (L), former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (2nd L) and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) (2nd R) at Emmanuel Christian Community Church on October 27, 2014 in Columbus, Georgia. Jason Carter is running against the Republican incumbent Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Jessica McGowan/Getty

Vote for Carter! Proud grandparents Rosalynn and Jimmy supported their grandson Jason Carter on the campaign trail in 2014.

Jason served in the Georgia State Senate from 2010 to 2015, and is pictured here during his run for governor of Georgia in 2014.

23 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Shares a Kiss

Former President Jimmy Carter kisses his wife,Rosalynn, on the "Kiss Cam" during a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Atlanta. Carter recently announced he has cancer. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/AP

Just a few weeks after their 69th wedding anniversary, the Carters shared a kiss in the stands at an Atlanta Braves baseball game.

Rosalynn and Jimmy became the longest-married presidential couple in 2019. Two years later, in honor of their 75th anniversary, the former president shared an adorable secret for a lifetime of love.

"My biggest secret is to marry the right person if you want to have a long-lasting marriage," Jimmy told the Associated Press.

"Every day there needs to be reconciliation and communication between the two spouses," he explained. "We don't go to sleep with some remaining differences between us."

24 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Smiles with Her Family

Cater Family Spource: Phil Wise Top Row: Jay Kelly (husband of daughter Amy Carter), Stephen Reynolds (husband of granddaughter Sarah E), Jeremy Carter (grandson), Annette Carter (wife of son Jeff) u20202nd Row: Amy Carter (daughter), Sarah E Reynolds (granddaughter), Becky Carter (wife of son Chip), Chip Carter (son), Jamie Carter (grandson) u20203rd Row: Kate Carter (wife of grandson Jason), Sarah R Carter (granddaughter) with Keith (great grandson) in lap, Jeff Carter (son) u2020Up from Jeff u00F1 Margaret Carter (granddaughter) with Irie (great granddaughter) in lap u2020Down from Jeff u00F1 Sarah J Carter (wife of grandson Josh) with Charlie (great grandson) in lap u2020Row of Children: Thomas Carter (great grandson), Henry Carter (great grandson), Josephine (great granddaughter), Luella (great granddaughter), Kit (great granddaughter), Errol (grandson) u2020 This photo was taken by Sarah Reiff, Scheduling Assistant, Office of Jimmy Carter, last month (August) at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Sarah Reiff

Four generations! Jimmy and Rosalynn pose with their three children, their spouses, some of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren at The Carter Center in Atlanta in 2014.

"They're just very active citizens in this 600-person town," grandson Jason told PEOPLE in 2021 of the former first couple's busy retirement. "[They're] trying to help people fix their roofs, make sure the town is healthy and happy and has a Boys and Girls Club that people can go to and get support and things like that."

25 of 25

Rosalynn Carter Looks Forward

Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty. Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty

"I've had so many opportunities," Rosalynn previously told PEOPLE. "And I've tried to take advantage of them all."

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