HomeLearning CenterRest in Power: Rosalynn Carter-Feminist, First Lady, and ERA and Mental Health Advocate

Rest in Power: Rosalynn Carter-Feminist, First Lady, and ERA and Mental Health Advocate

Originally published by Kathy Bonk for Ms. Magazine

In the many tributes written since Rosalynn Carter’s death on Nov. 19, one word often is used to describe her: trailblazer. Indeed, Rosalynn Carter was like no other first lady, since Eleanor Roosevelt.

Rosalynn Carter established the first Office of the First Lady of the United States, complete with a budget and staff, and regularly attended cabinet meetings. Rosalynn Carter testified before Congress on mental health issues; made policy proposals on caregiving and established the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 1987; worked to advance women’s rights; and helped in the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The first first lady in history to have an office in the East Wing, Rosalynn provided the wise guidance and encouragement described in Jimmy Carter’s tribute message about her death: “Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”

First Lady Jill Biden, along with many others, recognized her contributions: “She was well known for her efforts on mental health and caregiving and women’s rights.”

“Rosalynn Carter walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way,” said the Bidens in a statement. “She was a champion for equal rights and opportunities for women and girls; an advocate for mental health and wellness for every person; and a supporter of the often unseen and uncompensated caregivers of our children, aging loved ones, and people with disabilities.”

While in the White House, the Carters together took up the fight to help pass the Equal Rights Amendment, with President Carter signing the extension of the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification (H.J. Res. 638) for extending the time limit to 1982. To help support the efforts, First Lady Rosalynn Carter met with ERA activists and leaders once a month in the White House.

Eleanor Smeal, the co-founder and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and former NOW president, had fond memories of these meetings. “Rosalynn Carter was a cherished ally of the feminist movement and a committed advocate for equal rights, especially in her commitment to the ERA. She will be missed,” noted Smeal.

Rosalynn Carter received the Award of Merit for Support of the Equal Rights Amendment from the National Organization for Women, which she proudly included in her Carter Center biography. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002.

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