Born in Plains, Georgia, on August 18, 1927, Rosalynn Smith grew up in an atmosphere of strong family ties and dedication to church and community. When she was 13, her father died and her mother became a dressmaker to help support the family. As the oldest, Rosalynn worked beside her mother, helping with the sewing, the housekeeping, and the other three children. Times were difficult, but she completed high school and enrolled in Georgia Southwestern College at Americus. In 1945, after her freshman year, she first dated Jimmy Carter, a friend and neighbor who was home from the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Their romance progressed, and in 1946 they were married.
The couple went to Norfolk, Virginia, Ensign Carter's first duty station. The navy kept them on the move. Their sons were born in different places: John William in Virginia, James Earl III in Hawaii, and Donnel Jeffrey in Connecticut. In 1953, Jimmy’s father died and the Carters returned to Plains to run the family business. Managing the accounts of the peanut, fertilizer and seed enterprise, Rosalynn found herself working full-time. A daughter, Amy Lynn, was born in Georgia in 1967.
When Jimmy entered politics in 1962, Rosalynn became an important part of his team, helping him become governor of Georgia in 1970. During his run for president, she traveled independently throughout the United States. Her quiet, friendly manner made her an effective campaigner.
As first lady, Mrs. Carter managed routine duties and special projects. She attended cabinet meetings and briefings, frequently represented her husband at ceremonial occasions, and served as the president's personal emissary to Latin American countries. She also focused national attention on the performing arts and took a strong interest in programs to aid mental health, the community and the elderly. From 1977 to 1978, she served as the honorary chairperson of the President's Commission on Mental Health.
Mrs. Carter’s autobiography, First Lady From Plains, was published in 1984. She is a director of the Carter Center in Atlanta, where she manages an active mental health program and works with human rights, conflict resolution, and childhood immunization. She also shares her community service talents with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds homes for the underprivileged.