Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady


Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who passed away in 2023, was a cofounder of the organization. She worked for more than three decades to improve the quality of life for people around the world.

A mother of four, she maintained a lifelong dedication to issues affecting women and children. In 1991, she founded Every Child By Two (now Vaccinate Your Family) with Betty Bumpers, wife of Senator Dale Bumpers.  Rosalynn served as the President of the organization through 2021. Together, these two pioneers worked to advance a national focus on protecting all people in the United States from vaccine-preventable diseases. Their work began in the 1970s as First Ladies of Georgia and Arkansas, respectively, and continued during the Carter Administration, resulting in increased federal support for vaccine programs nationwide and the passage of state laws requiring evidence of vaccinations for school entry.

In 1991, in response to a U.S. measles epidemic, which sickened more than 55,000 people, hospitalized over 11,000 and killed more than 120, many of whom were young children, Mrs. Carter reached out to Mrs. Bumpers and subsequently founded Every Child by Two (ECBT).  Within two years of the establishment of ECBT, Carter and Bumpers traveled to more than a dozen states and ultimately to all 50 states to foster vaccination efforts and build immunization coalitions, consisting of local policymakers, service organizations and concerned citizens. Today, these coalitions continue to work along with state and local immunization programs across the U.S.  During the Bush, Clinton and Obama Administrations, ECBT successfully secured support to make vaccinations a national priority, institutionalized immunization screening for the seven million women and children served annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and helped to facilitate the Vaccines For Children program (VFC), which provides free vaccines to eligible families.  Rosalynn is revered by public health advocates throughout the nation for her lifelong dedication to immunizations.

Rosalynn was an advocate for mental health, caregiving, early childhood immunization, human rights, and conflict resolution through her work at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga. The Center is a private, nonprofit institution founded by former President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter in 1982. A full partner with the president in all the Center’s activities, the former first lady was a member of the Carter Center board of trustees. She created and chaired the Carter Center’s Mental Health Task Force, an advisory body of experts, consumers, and advocates promoting positive change in the mental health field. Each year, she hosted the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, bringing together leaders of the nation’s mental health organizations to address critical issues. Mrs. Carter emerged as a driving force for mental health when, during the Carter administration, she became active honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health, which resulted in passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980.

She also worked with Habitat for Humanity, participating in the annual one-week Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project that in 1984 began building homes for the needy, and Project Interconnections, a public/private nonprofit partnership to provide housing for homeless people who are mentally ill. She served as distinguished centennial lecturer at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., from 1988-1992 and was a distinguished fellow at the Emory University Department of Women’s Studies in Atlanta.

She served on the Policy Advisory Board of The Atlanta Project (TAP), a program of The Carter Center addressing the social ills associated with poverty and quality of life citywide, from the program’s inception in 1991 until its transfer to Georgia State University in 1999. In 1988, she convened with three other former first ladies the “Women and the Constitution” conference at The Carter Center to assess that document’s impact on women. Outside the Center, Mrs. Carter was president of the board of directors for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University, which was established in her honor on the campus of her alma mater in Americus, Ga. Through research, education, and training, the RCI promotes the mental health and well-being of individuals, families, and professional caregivers; delineates effective caregiving practices; builds public awareness of caregiving needs; and advances public and social policies that enhance caring communities. Since graduating from Georgia Southwestern College in 1946, Mrs. Carter has received many honors, among them 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; the Notre Dame Award for International Service; the Eleanor Roosevelt Living World Award from Peace Links; the Kiwanis World Service Medal from Kiwanis International Foundation; the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service; the Georgia Woman of the Year Award from the Georgia Commission on Women; the Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health from the Institute of Medicine; the United States Surgeon General’s Medallion; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. In 2001, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has written five books: her autobiography, “First Lady from Plains”; “Everything To Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life,” a book about life after the White House co-authored with President Carter; “Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book For Caregivers” (with Susan K. Golant); “Helping Someone with Mental Illness: A Compassionate Guide for Family, Friends, and Caregivers” (with Susan K. Golant), which was selected as the winner of the 1999 American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Book Award in the service category; and “Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis” (with Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade).

Rosalynn continued to travel and speak throughout the world for all of her life, she was a deacon at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., and enjoyed fly-fishing, bird-watching, swimming, and biking in her free time.

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