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A timeline of key moments from former first lady Rosalynn Carter’s 96 years

by Sophia Chen
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Rosalynn Carter's Life

A chronicle of significant milestones in the life of former U.S. first lady Rosalynn Carter:

  • August 18, 1927: Eleanor Rosalynn Smith is born in Plains, Georgia, to parents Wilburn Edgar Smith, a mechanic, and Allie Murray Smith, a seamstress and postal worker.

  • Late August 1927: Rosalynn meets her neighbor and nurse, “Miss Lillian” Carter, who introduces her to Jimmy Carter, then nearly 3 years old.

  • 1940: Tragedy strikes as Rosalynn’s father passes away, compelling her to help her mother in raising her younger siblings.

  • 1945: She embarks on a romantic journey with Jimmy Carter, who is now a Naval Academy midshipman and the brother of her close friend, Ruth Carter.

  • Spring 1946: Rosalynn graduates from Georgia Southwestern College.

  • July 7, 1946: In a heartwarming ceremony at Plains Methodist Church, Rosalynn weds Jimmy. The union results in four children: John William (“Jack”), born in 1947; James Earl III (“Chip”), in 1950; Donnel Jeffrey, in 1952; and Amy Lynn, in 1967.

  • 1946-1953: While Jimmy serves in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program, Rosalynn manages their household, eventually surpassing his knowledge of the family business.

  • 1955: Rosalynn starts assisting Jimmy in the farm warehouse, gaining expertise in the business side of their endeavors.

  • 1962: Her support becomes pivotal as she joins Jimmy in campaigning for the state Senate, a journey marked by a contested election ultimately settled in court.

  • 1966: Rosalynn embarks on her own campaign during Jimmy’s gubernatorial run, which, though unsuccessful, lays the foundation for their future political victories.

  • 1975-76: Leading the “Peanut Brigade,” Rosalynn and the Carter family revolutionize presidential campaigning with their person-to-person approach, ultimately securing Jimmy’s presidency in 1976.

  • January 20, 1977: The Carters make history by walking down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, drawing attention as the 39th president and enrolling their daughter Amy in a majority-Black D.C. public school.

  • Summer 1977: Rosalynn embarks on a 13-day diplomatic mission across Latin America and the Caribbean, and advises Jimmy on the Panama Canal treaties.

  • September 1978: At Camp David, Rosalynn plays a pivotal role in negotiations between Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, leading to the Camp David Accords.

  • November 1979: Rosalynn raises awareness of the Cambodian refugee crisis and convinces the president to admit more refugees to the U.S.

  • Summer and fall 1980: She campaigns tirelessly for Jimmy, while he works to secure the release of American hostages in Iran.

  • 1980: Rosalynn’s efforts lead to congressional approval of the Mental Health Systems Act, allocating more federal funds to local mental health centers.

  • November 1980: Jimmy Carter loses his bid for a second term to Ronald Reagan.

  • 1982: The Carters establish The Carter Center in Atlanta, dedicated to resolving conflicts, protecting human rights, advocating democracy, and preventing disease worldwide.

  • 1984: Rosalynn publishes her memoir, “First Lady from Plains,” marking the first of her five books.

  • September 1984: She joins the Carters in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in New York City, initiating the annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project.

  • 1987: Rosalynn founds the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers at her alma mater, championing unpaid caregivers.

  • Summer 1989: She joins Jimmy on an Africa tour, focusing on Guinea worm eradication, a monumental public health initiative by The Carter Center.

  • 1996: Rosalynn establishes the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism at The Carter Center to improve reporting on mental health topics.

  • 1999: She is honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

  • July 10, 2007: Rosalynn testifies before a U.S. House subcommittee, advocating for equal mental health treatment coverage in health insurance policies.

  • November 2016: She hosts the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy for the 32nd time.

  • October 2019: The Carters participate in their final Habitat for Humanity work project in Nashville.

  • April 30, 2021: President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit the Carters at their Plains home, celebrating a longstanding friendship.

  • July 7, 2021: Rosalynn and Jimmy mark their remarkable 75th wedding anniversary, offering wisdom on successful marriages.

  • Feb. 18, 2023: The Carter family announces Jimmy’s entry into home hospice care, defying expectations by celebrating their 77th wedding anniversary and his 99th birthday later in the year.

  • May 30, 2023: The family shares the heartbreaking news of Rosalynn’s dementia diagnosis.

  • Sept. 23, 2023: A poignant moment occurs as the Carters surprise onlookers during the Plains Peanut Festival parade, marking Rosalynn’s last public appearance.

  • May 17, 2023: The Carter family announces that Rosalynn has entered home hospice care.

  • Nov. 19, 2023: Rosalynn Carter passes away at home in Plains, in the very house where the Carters resided when Jimmy was elected to the state Senate in 1962.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Rosalynn Carter’s Life

What is the significance of Rosalynn Carter’s life timeline?

Rosalynn Carter’s life timeline is significant as it chronicles the life of a former U.S. first lady who played a crucial role in American politics and humanitarian work.

How did Rosalynn Carter contribute to American politics?

Rosalynn Carter actively campaigned alongside her husband, Jimmy Carter, during his political career, including his successful presidential bid in 1976. She also undertook diplomatic missions and humanitarian efforts as the first lady.

What are some key highlights of Rosalynn Carter’s life?

Notable highlights include her early life in Plains, Georgia, her marriage to Jimmy Carter, the Camp David Accords, her involvement in mental health advocacy, and the founding of The Carter Center.

What is the importance of her mental health advocacy work?

Rosalynn Carter’s advocacy for mental health led to the Mental Health Systems Act, improved reporting through the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships, and the establishment of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.

How did Rosalynn Carter’s legacy extend beyond her time as first lady?

Her legacy continued with Habitat for Humanity work, the annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, and her dedication to humanitarian and public health causes.

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