Re-Introducing Rosalynn Carter

My conversation with the former first lady.

This weekend, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary with a big bash in the the small rural town of Plains, Georgia — where they grew up, and where they returned to live after the Carter presidency.

For this occasion, I’d like to share the wide-ranging conversation I had with the former first lady in 2015, which I conducted for the National Women’s Hall of Fame oral history project. You can watch and read along with subtitles by clicking play below.

The Teachers

It’s a remarkable journey from a town with 600 people, one square mile, where she was the only girl her age — to the world stage.

Mrs. Carter tells us about the childhood teachers who “opened my eyes to the world” — and how they accomplished it.

Mental Health

She shares how her life-long advocacy of mental health care began when her husband was campaigning for governor.

Nearly every day on the campaign trail, “… somebody would ask me what my husband would do for a mentally ill family member if he were elected governor.” And so, Rosalynn Carter, as the first lady of Georgia, got to work.

We established 134 community mental health centers. They were not everything. They were not comprehensive. But some of them were just a spot on a main street, an obvious place in a town where people could go to get information about where to go for help.

But due to the stigma over mental health issues at the time, few people wanted to join her task force “because they didn’t want to be identified with the issue.”

That did not diminish her motivation. In our conversation, she describes the results of her campaign and how she elevated it in the White House.

Equal Rights

Women’s rights issues were not on Rosalynn Carter’s radar, until her two daughters-in-law came along.

There was a little red barn … at the governor’s mansion. So they lived right there with us. And so we would talk about the issues all the time and what we could do. And that obviously is how I became so interested in the Equal Rights Amendment. 

She shares the backstory of her role in the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment, and the misogyny she experienced from certain male legislators.

Full Partnership

Mrs. Carter takes us behind the scenes of what she describes as the “full partnership” that she and Jimmy shared during the presidency and throughout their lives; why he asked her to sit in on his cabinet meetings; and the conversations they’d have at the end of each day on the Truman Balcony of the White House.

“I’ve done things in my life I never thought I would do,” she told me, “because Jimmy thought I could do them.”

And she is confident that Jimmy would not have won the presidency, were it not for her efforts, and the entire family’s work, on the campaign.

It helps when two partners believe in each other.

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