Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Dead At 96

Former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter has died at the age of 96, The Washington Post reports. Married for three-quarters of a century to the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn's death was confirmed by The Carter Center. Prior to her death, she was diagnosed with dementia in late May 2023, and entered hospice care shortly before her death in mid-November 2023 (via X). Born in Plains, Georgia in 1927, Rosalynn bore witness to history, both by her husband's side during the single term that he served in the White House, as well as on her own terms, according to The Carter Center, which Rosalynn co-founded along with her husband.

"Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary First Lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right," said her son Chip Carter. "Her life of service and compassion was an example for all Americans. She will be sorely missed not only by our family but by the many people who have better mental health care and access to resources for caregiving today."

In her post-White House life, Rosalynn, alongside her husband, was involved in a number of humanitarian causes and organizations, most notably with the international housing advocacy nonprofit, Habitat for Humanity, where Rosalynn also co-launched and played an important role in the Carter Work Project. Since 1984, with volunteer help, the Carter Work Project alone has built thousands of homes in 14 countries for people in need, as the Habitat for Humanity website explains.

Through her important work with the housing nonprofit, Rosalynn said (via Habitat for Humanity): "You come to know the homeowner and love the homeowner and their family. It makes you aware and care about the people and hope they have good lives and good homes. It has made me a better person." For these reasons and more, Rosalynn is considered among the most influential and important first ladies in U.S. history (via "American Experience" from PBS).

Rosalynn Carter was instrumental on campaign trails

Per the White House website, both Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter grew up in rural Plains, Georgia. Born with the surname Smith, Rosalynn's father died when she was young, and Rosalynn had a tough upbringing. She met Jimmy in 1945, and the next year they were married. That same year, Rosalynn graduated from Georgia Southwestern College, per the Jimmy Carter Library website.

Jimmy was in the navy at that time, and early on in their relationship, the couple moved frequently. When Jimmy's father died in 1953, the Carters returned to Georgia to take over the Carter family peanut farm business. By 1962, Rosalynn played a part in her husband's first successful run for the Georgia state senate as part of the Carter campaign team. She also campaigned for Jimmy in his successful 1970 bid for Georgia governor. Rosalynn also maintained her campaigning role in Jimmy's successful 1976 run for the White House, speaking on her husband's behalf across the country.

Once in office, Rosalynn's influence on the Carter administration and Carter's policies did not go unnoticed, as The Guardian writes. While in the East Wing, Rosalynn reportedly attended cabinet meetings, served as personal emissary to Latin American countries, and even appeared for her husband at several formal functions, among other important duties of the first lady. While her husband was in office, Rosalynn supported the performing arts nationwide, and was honorary chairperson of the President's Commission on Mental Health, among other forms of advocacy.

Rosalynn's humanitarian work continued after the Carters left the White House

After leaving the White House in 1981, Rosalynn Carter remained dedicated to service for the rest of her life. As the Jimmy Carter Library website notes, she was honored with the Volunteer of the Decade Award from the National Mental Health Association; the Award of Merit for Support of the Equal Rights Amendment from the National Organization for Women; and the Eleanor Roosevelt Living World Award from Peace Links, to name just a few of the many distinctions and accolades she received in her lifetime. She also, along with her husband, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton — the highest possible civilian honor in the United States.

In 1991, Rosalynn also co-founded, along with Betty Bumpers, wife of former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, a childhood vaccine-awareness advocacy organization originally called Every Child By Two. An avid fly fisherman and birdwatcher, the former first lady also wrote or co-authored five books. On her work for the common good both before and after her husband's time in office, Rosalynn reportedly said (via The Guardian): "I am in the eye of history. I know I have influence, and I enjoy it."

Rosalynn is survived by four children: John, James (Chip), Donnel, and Amy. They were grandparents to 12 grandchildren, as the Carter family was devastated in 2015 by the loss of one — Jeremy Carter died suddenly at the age of 28. Rosalynn and Jimmy also had 14 great-grandchildren.