Honoring Rosalynn Carter: A Life Devoted to Equal Rights, Advocacy, and Service

Coretta Scott King, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson supporting the Equal Rights Amendment at the National Women’s Conference in 1977.

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter passed away on Sunday, leaving behind a transformative impact on mental health care reform as well as the continuing effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

The ERA was authored by suffragist Alice Paul in 1923 and was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until it passed in 1972, when it went to the states for ratification. However, the future of the ERA was in jeopardy after the seven-year arbitrary deadline decided by Congress came to a near end. 

President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter took up the fight to help pass the ERA, with President Carter signing the Extension of the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification (H.J.Res.638) to show his support for extending the time limit to 1982. First Lady Carter would meet with ERA activists and leaders once a month in the White House, with representatives from groups such as the Coalition of Labor Union Women as well as the Feminist Majority Foundation in attendance.

Eleanor Smeal, the co-founder and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, had fond memories of these meetings with First Lady Carter. She stated, “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.”

As First Lady, Rosalynn Carter redefined the role by transcending traditional hostess duties, engaging in substantive humanitarian work, and actively participating in cabinet meetings. Her trailblazing approach, marked by professionalism and a commitment to progress, set a precedent for future First Ladies.

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