Eleanor Rosalynn Smith, later known as Rosalynn Carter, embarked on a remarkable life journey shaped by the love and support of her parents, Wilburn Edgar Smith and Frances Allethea Murray Smith. From the foundations of a small-town upbringing to the pinnacle of American politics, the Carters’ story is one of love, resilience, and a commitment to service.
Rosalynn’s journey with her husband, Jimmy Carter, began in 1945 during his time at the United States Naval Academy. Their families were already acquainted, and despite Rosalynn’s initial plans to pursue education, love led her to agree to marry Jimmy in February 1946. The couple kept their arrangement secret, and on July 7, 1946, they married in Plains. This decision altered Rosalynn’s academic plans, redirecting her from Georgia State College for Women to a life devoted to family and public service.
The couple’s union resulted in four children: John William “Jack,” James Earl “Chip” III, Donnel Jeffrey “Jeff,” and Amy Lynn. Their early years were marked by the challenges of military life, with the first three children born in different locations across the country. Despite the geographical distances, Rosalynn embraced the independence of raising the children while Jimmy fulfilled his military duties.
In 1953, after Jimmy left the Navy, Rosalynn played a crucial role in running the family peanut farm and warehouse business. However, their relationship faced a significant challenge when Jimmy decided to return to Plains after learning of his father’s terminal illness. This decision led to a period of strained communication between the couple, with Rosalynn expressing her opposition through interactions with their children.
During this time, the Carters discovered that Rosalynn faced physical ailments preventing pregnancy. After surgery, she and Jimmy welcomed their daughter Amy into the family. Despite these challenges, Rosalynn remained resilient, taking an active role in both family life and the family business.
From 1962 onward, Rosalynn became increasingly involved in the political arena, supporting Jimmy’s campaigns and becoming an integral part of his political journey. Her involvement ranged from campaigning for Jimmy’s bid for Governor of Georgia in 1966 to making speeches and writing content during subsequent campaigns. The couple’s experiences during these campaigns heightened their awareness of the unmet needs of people, especially in the realm of mental and emotional health.
Rosalynn’s commitment to public service extended beyond her time as the First Lady. After leaving the White House in 1981, she continued to actively contribute to society. She founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, focusing on improving support for caregivers. Additionally, she became an honorary chair for the Carter Center, a non-profit organization promoting democracy, human rights, and public health globally.
Beyond her immediate family, Rosalynn’s siblings played a significant role in shaping her life. William Jerrold “Jerry” Smith, an engineer, Murray Lee Smith, a teacher and minister, and Lillian Allethea (Smith) Wall, a real estate broker, each contributed to the rich tapestry of the Smith family.
The story of Rosalynn Carter’s family is one of love, resilience, and dedication to service. From the small town of Plains, Georgia, to the highest echelons of political power, the Carters’ journey reflects the enduring impact of familial bonds and shared values. Rosalynn’s legacy continues to inspire generations, emphasizing the importance of love, commitment, and a lifelong dedication to making a positive impact on the world.