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‘A more caring society:’ Remembering Former First Lady & Mental Health Activist Rosalynn Carter

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- When the Carter family moved into the White House, then-First Lady Rosalynn Carter dedicated herself to creating a "more caring society."

Her work to achieve that goal led to her becoming a pioneer for mental health advocacy, and the nickname the "steel magnolia" for her dedication to her improvement projects.

From the very beginning of her term, she was focused on the mind. She became the honorary chair of the President's Commission on Mental Health. She held a series of hearings across the U.S., gave testimony to her concerns in Congress and took a leading role in trying to pass the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.

Her work in mental health actually began long before the White House. When she served as First Lady of Georgia, she led an overhaul of the state's mental health system -- and fought to reduce stigma.

Even when she left office, she continued to take on mental health causes. Including the Carter Center's Mental Health Program, which continued on her mission of improving mental health. It includes programs fighting stigma, organizing meetings of leaders, creating public policy groups and establishing the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism to encourage in-depth coverage of mental health topics.

She was also a key part of Former President Jimmy Carter's international activties. In 1977, she went to Latin America -- where she represented the U.S in government meeting with seven countries' leaders and discussing human rights and democracy.

In a statement to ABC-7, the Carter Center said:

"Our co-founder, former first Lady Rosalynn Carter, will always be remembered as a tireless advocate for those struggling with mental illnesses and their families, and for her successful efforts over more than five decades to reduce the stigma and discrimination they confront. When Mrs. Carter began her work in mental health, the subject was still taboo, and few people felt comfortable speaking out about the issue. Mrs. Carter was the exception. She was ahead of her time, and her courage and perseverance led to many advances in support for people with mental illnesses – in the U.S. and around the world."

Mrs. Carter was the first First Lady to speak before the World Health Organization. She was also a major support of equal rights movements and international humanitarian aid. The former First Lady also tackled immunizations, measles, public health practices and other major health concerns.

Her life story would impact her time as First Lady.


Born in Georgia in 1927, Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was the daughter of a farmer and auto shop owner. Her father was a college grad, and eventually died of leukemia. Her mother then began working to support the family.

At 13, Rosalynn helped around the home and her family -- while graduating as valedictorian of her high school, and then from Georgia Southwestern College.

She married future President Jimmy Carter in 1946, who had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. She felt her time living with Mr. Carter in his Navy years were where she found self-confidence, and raised three babies -- at times alone.

After his time in the Navy, Jimmy and Rosalynn went home to run the family business. They worked side by side, and eventually, Jimmy decided to run for state office -- which he won.

Rosalynn said she was shy and anxious about speaking in public. But took to campaigning for her husband through his time in multiple offices. Her work also includes supporting caregivers, public service workers and other support operators.

She authored a number of books, raised four children and has numerous grandchildren.

When she was once asked how she would like to be remembered, she said she'd like for people to think "that I took advantage of the opportunities I had and did the best I could."

Article Topic Follows: Be Mindful

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Avery Martinez


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