tv The Presidency First Ladies in Their Own Words - Rosalynn Carter CSPAN May 4, 2022 8:51am-9:32am EDT
as tough as her husband's yet. threw it. all rosalind remained an earnest and gracious campaigner. people ask me every day. how can you stand for your husband to be in politics and everybody know everything you do and i just tell them that we will born and raised as still live in planes, georgia. it has a population of 683 and everybody has always known everything. i did and jim has never had any yeah, i'm scandal in his personal life. i really believe he can restore that honesty integrity openness confidence and government that we so soul in need in our country today. i think you'll be a great person. that was rosalyn carter. she arrived at the white house
after the 1976 campaign with a blueprint to go to work. she was a valued political partner to her husband jimmy, but found that there were many obstacles facing a first lady. wanted to influence public policy. she became known as a staunch advocate for those struggling with their mental health you'll hear directly from her featuring footage from c-span's video library first. her work on mental health issues and why they became so important to her. of february 1977 event at the white house after president carter signed an executive order creating a mental health commission, which she served as active honorary chair and important early forum now listen to her in her own words. as you probably know for the past. year and a half a little more i have campaigned all over the country. my biographical sketch. i had a little paragraph that said that i was interested in mental health and so everywhere
i went if people had a good program. they wanted me to see it. i had a chance to see things happening all over this country that are good. also had so things happening that i thought needed help. hope for the establishment of this commission. i know that we can give some of that help. we have a chance. to do great things in our country. i thought until today that i was going to be the chairperson and i got a little i got. a little note from somebody that says you according to the office of legal council at the department of justice and so forth the prep prohibits the president from appointing a close relative such as a wife to a civilian position a civilian position may be unpaid as well as pay justice is advised that the 20 members of the commission including the chair will in fact be serving in civilian positions there is however, no problem with your being designated as
honorary chairperson, so i'm going to be very active honorary chairperson. i intend to we're going to have we have office space in the executive office building, which is very close. i will be spending many hours a week there. i will be traveling i will be involved in the fact finding process traveling over the country for hearings in the next six months. i intend to be active he could he could hardly say i'm going to be president. it was just something that was you never ever dreamed what happened. and but it was excited. i was excited about it. i had campaigned. the whole last year before the a governance race for him and it was hard and amy was a baby. and i didn't like to leave her all the time. but i enjoyed it. i mean i learned so much about
our state. we have 159 candidates. i knew. the capital of every county i knew i mean and and issues. in fact, that's how i got involved in mental health issues running campaigning for jimmy. they had our big mental health facility hospital they've been a big expose. and the and the mental health systems act had been passed in 19. now. this was yeah. 63 and this was 1966 when jimmy first ran for governor. got beat that time but we got in late because i lead in democratic candidates had a heart attack. but they were moving people out of the hospital because like 12,000 people where they had room for 3,000. it was awful. it was happening all over the country and they're moving them out before they had any facilities from that no services in the communities and everybody started talking to me about what
would your husband do if he's elected governor of georgia? i just learned so much about what was going on and after we lost that election i worked. four years to learn a little bit about mental health and then the first month and office the opponent of the governor's commissioned improve services to the mentally and emotional handicap. i got upset with the press too, because they covered. my mental health work the first few. meetings i have and then they never showed up anymore. and one of the things i wanted to do is bring attention to the issue and what a terrible it wasn't what few services they were and but and thinking just getting it out in the public. that's what i did in georgia developed a good program in georgia, by the way, but don't just didn't come and so one day i was walking in the down floor dance as flow in the white house
and met this woman who was one of the press people that's it. you know, i would cover my nobody ever covers my meetings in she said miss carter. mental health is just nobody ever covers my meetings. she said, miss carter, mental health is just not a sexy issue. that, i did like, i did not get very much coverage for it. but we toured the country, and that was needed, we just developed legislation. we passed the mental health systems act of 1980. it passed through congress before jimmy as he says, involuntary retired from the white house, incoming president never implemented it. one of the greatest disappointments of my life.
you are watching american history tv. >> you are listening to rosalynn carter in her own words. coming up, her role as a political and policy partner to president carter. serving a groundbreaking role as a representative of the country on foreign trips. you will also hear her assessment of what she believed to be jimmy carter's greatest achievement. and her memories of the iranian hostage crisis which consumed her husband through the last months of his presidency. >> i bring you greetings from latin america and the caribbean. [speaking foreign language] i have done this for two, weeks and i could not resist. seriously, it was a good trip. this morning and venezuela, the president said to me that japanese pan american day speech in my visit to latin america, had open new paths, and entered american relations. instead of the paternalism that is characterized the past.
we are ready and eager to develop balanced, natural, normal, and equal relationships. i find goodwill and friendship everywhere i went. they love you in the caribbean, and in latin america, and every had a state that i spoke with agreed with me on the importance of cooperating and consulting closely on the issues that concern you, jimmy, and that concern us all. human rights, new nonproliferation, economic development, arms control, i think we have made progress and all of these areas. i am glad to be back home. i am glad to be with amy and with jimmy. i'm going to convey all of this information that i have to jimmy. in fact, i look forward to consulting closely with him on a regular basis. >> i think my role was more one
i'm a sounding board for jimmy. he could explain the issues to me. in the process, he could think them through. he knew i was interested in them. i had been all over the country telling people what he was going to do. i could go out into the countryside and talk to people, presidents can become very isolated. one reason is because they have such a huge arm to rodgers when they go out. they can't really get out. people tell a president audience to hear. i could get information about how the energy crisis at that time was hurting people. problems of the air delay. i had one woman tell me that her house had been taken away because she had paid for it. her husband had taken a second mortgage on it.
and that state, there were no laws that prevented her husband from losing the house. those kinds of things, i could come home and bring to jimmy. then, as he struggled with an issue, maybe something i said would help him in making a decision. >> when the administration began, for example, when he was going to the process of choosing a cabinet, did you weigh and on any of those decisions? did he ask your advice on various individuals? >> i talked about all of them. [laughs] we had lots of input from people. jimmy consulted a lot of people about who would be best for certain positions. and then we would have a list. and then he would narrate down. i told him what i thought about people. which i always did with issues and so forth. i always told him, he always knew how i felt. sometimes he took my advice, sometimes he didn't. he made the decisions. >> do you think that your voice
was when he tended to listen to with greater, that had a greater rate, than perhaps some of his other advisers? just because, sometimes a spouse is not necessarily going to have the kind of outside agenda that an employee or a pointy might have. >> i don't know whether, on some things that i knew about, like mental health, and women's issues, and problems of the elderly, those kinds of things. he always listen to what i had to say. there are so many issues that i did not know about. he could talk to me, for instance, we were trying to make -- he talk to me about the whole issue of, i think the brazilians had bought a power plant from the germans. and we were trying to prevent that sail from going through.
we did make very good friends in germany. there is no advice on that. i knew that he knew what he wanted to do. i know he wanted a nuclear freeze out. i went to latin america, i talk to the head of state about it. our relationship was not one when i said, this is what you ought to do. that was never that way. i told him how i felt. i told him what i learned when i went to the countryside, when i went to latin america. and then he made the decision. we had soviet in congress back then. it has been a long time. amy was nine years old, last week she had her 27th birthday. it has been a long time. there are not very many women in congress at that time. we were working really hard to elect them all over the country. working really hard to get the equal rights amendment ratified. >> that was an effort that you
joined at the and houston, the women's conference. you joined mrs. ford and mrs. johnson. it was a joint effort. >> that was the women's conference. then i knew every single legislator and every single state who was against equal rights amendment. i called every one of them more than one time. [laughs] [applause] i think we had into in florida and two and nevada, if we had gotten, i think it was maybe 13, maybe 13 more votes we could have ratified the equal rights amendment. we really worked on it. and then we were able to get the extension through. i think that was 1978. we got the extension for ratification for four years. of course, another president came in office, that was all gone. >> what about the tendency of
the press to sort of pigeonhole people? hillary clinton a there was an easy caricature created of hillary clinton and of nancy reagan, of barbara brush, a view. of all of the first ladies. how much, how wide was the gap between the press perception of you and who you really were? who you felt should be conveyed to the press? >> after jimmy was elected, there was a cartoon in the washington post with, jimmy's mother, me, and there were haystacks, we had on straw hats, there was strong between our teeth. [laughs] then i went from that to being steel magnolia. i thought that was pretty good. steele is tough, magnolia's
southern. and then i was fuzzy. i was fuzzy for awhile. and then i was most powerful. i had a full range of images. i did not think i was any of that. i was proud i was from the south. i hope i was tough. i didn't think i was fuzzy. when we came to washington, i knew what i wanted to do. i had worked on mental health problems while jimmy was governor. i had been the governor's wife, i had had my projects, i had entertained ambassadors instead of heads of state. i had entertained georgia legislatures and said of congress people. there was a lot that i had learned. i couldn't wait to get to washington to work on mental health. i had a chance to do it in the whole country. the campaign, my biographical state saying i was interested in and mental health issues. everywhere i went in the country campaigning people
which should meet the mental health facilities. either because they were proud of them, if you are proud of them, because they're good, mostly because they needed help. even before jimmy was inaugurated, after he was elected, i had put together a mental health task force. presidents commission on mental health. jimmy announced that we've been in the finance myth and. once we had -- i wanted to get that ratified. i had worked, i think maybe my interest and problems of the elderly came into the campaign. when you're campaigning, people in a community will take you to where there are crowds of people. they always take you to a golden age club, a convalescent home. there are a lot of people there. most of the time, they were democrats. [laughs] they would want me to go visit them. i became really interested in those. i worked on ammunition, i had a good immunization program and georgia. i worked on ammunition.
i knew i had an agenda when i got to the white house. i knew i would i wanted to do. i was frustrated because i couldn't always get the -- in fact, i announced my mental health task force. the presses commission on mental health. this was the presidents commission on mental health. we had a big ceremony, we invited people from all over the country who are interested in mental health. the leaders. i was really excited, i had great people, the best people in the country. the next day, i think the washington post came out. not one word. i was really distress. new york times had a good article. there was not one word. so then i fostered out it. people in the press, they would come, they came to maybe one or two meetings. we worked on that task force
and that commission. we met long hours. finally, one of the pressed people said to me, mrs. carter, mental health is just not a sexy issue. that made me mad. that really made me mad. i was frustrated sometimes. they would cover the things that i think was important. and they didn't cover. i did want mental health colored because it was my project. the stigma is so bad. people out in the country know that it's an acceptable thing to work on, it could help people out in the country. i really wanted it to be covered. they were frustrating times. i had things i wanted to do when it came to the white house. >> and 1977, the first lady was still traditionally covered by reporters writing for the women's pages. most of the attention was still focused on social matters. projectas cathy said yesterdaye panel, the press was more interested in what i was going to wear it then in the projects
i intended to take on. they were at that point so interested in my inaugural gown. they wanted to know, why i was only serving wine at state dinners, rather than how i and specht it to prove, care for peoples mental illnesses. it is a traditional and narrow view of the first ladies world. it presented my staff with a lot of problems. i remember when we first met to review the organization of the first lady's office, there were four secretaries. social, press, appointments, and personal. no one to help the things i had planned to do. i had pledged in the campaign to have jimmy start a press commission, press commission on mental health. i wanted to get the equal rights amendment ratified. i wanted to work on elderly issues. i had seen so many people in the campaign, i think every senior citizen facility in the country.
i had all kinds of plans. after several weeks of studying, planning, we created a brand-new office, director of projects. can you believe that it took that long to have a director of projects? it's still exist today. but still in georgia. i think you might remember, being my staff. [laughs] but i did rely on volunteers. i learned one thing very quickly. it's very difficult for people to say no to the first lady of the united states. i could call an expert. >> i finish my work by five in the afternoon. >> and you would call me about 4:30 and say, we are going to job, we're going to play tennis, or something. i had to stop planning anything after 4:30. afternoon, we would do some, we
would take some kind of exercise. if it was raining, we would go down and goal in the bowling alley downstairs in the white house. and just have some time to gather. >> mrs. carter, as you sit in this office here, is there a moment that you remember, and the time that you spent in the white house coming here? >> i remember the first day, the first day when he was, after the inauguration, when i came walking in the door, he was sitting behind the desk. it was impressive. i remember, when the panama canal treaties were signed, he called me when they're at their last vote. i came running to the oval office. i was in and out. the last day that we were in the white house, the day of they are not ration of president reagan, i came over several times to tell him he had to get dressed for the
inauguration. he was working, still working on the hostage situation. there were a lot of momentous occasions in the white house life. i think jimmy's grace's treatment was his humans rights policy. which called for freedom for people and the right that they have around the world. i think that since his presidency, that human rights policy has continued. i think as far as that is concerned, we are better off because our country changed the way we conduct foreign policy. we take human rights in these countries and consideration. our relationships with different countries. i think we are better off in that way. as far as freedom around the world, there are lots of people that are not free. we have a lot of programs with the carter center of our grid culture, health programs, and
some of the developing countries of the world. we see that the people are not free. too many wars. too much suffering. i think anything we can do to help people have a better and for your life, our country should do it. we should do it. we try to do at the carter center. >> it was awful. i look back now and i have memories. just waiting for the press conference in iran to say what happened that day, because we had no idea what was going on and the only way we knew what was going on was when they would come out and announce it. it was just thinking about and thinking, we met with the families all along and thinking about the people whose family members were there.
what it was doing to jimmy's presidency. it was awful. awful. i would go out, i would go out and campaign. i had found out earlier that, when a president goes out, he is so surrounded that people, he speaks to them, he says hello and stuff, but he does not get close enough to people to have conversations, you know, just normally like he would otherwise about what their hopes and dreams were, what they thought about what i was doing or what jimmy was doing or anything about them. i had learned that early when jimmy, during his presidency. i would go out and everybody would say tell the president to do something. tell him he's got to do something. i would come home and say why don't you do something? he said, what do you want me to do? do you want me to mine the harbors? a lot of people were talking about. and then have them bring out
one president every day and hang him in public. that's not the best thing to do. you know, i wanted it over. of course, he did as well. everybody did. people in the country, every night a new tv program started and nobody got over it at all, i mean could get over it. just think about it, because it was that every day. it was awful. >> you are watching american history tv where you are listening to rosalynn carter in her own words. you will hear her congressional testimony from 2011 as a former first lady, still advocating for her special causes. >> we are honored to have with us today former first lady rosalynn carter. we are all familiar with miss carter's tireless advocacy alongside her husband president carter. on behalf of human rights and conflict resolution around the
world, she is also a dedicated advocate for caregivers and mental health issues here at home. mrs. carter's president of the rosalynn carter institute for caregiving at georgia southwestern state university, where she leads the institutes efforts to promote the well-being of family caregivers who run our country. she is an inspiration for many and a legend in her own right. >> i am very pleased to be here this afternoon to speak about caregiving, an issue that is very important to me. it has been part of my life since i was 12 years old. my father was diagnosed with leukemia at age 44. we lived in a very small town and all of the neighbors lived around. i still vividly remember going to a secret hiding place, the outdoor privy, if you can believe that. that is where i could be alone. i was the oldest child and i felt the burden of needing to help care for my father and my three younger siblings, yet i
was afraid and did not always feel like being strong, but my mother depended on me. less than a year after my father died, my mother's mother died. and my grandfather came to live with us. he was 70 and lived to be 95. my mother cared for him at home until he died. i helped as much as i could, but i was married and living away much of the time. during the last few years of his life, he was bedridden and totally dependent on her, our family members, neighbors and friends for all of his needs. my story is not unique, but today the informal support networks have been so much a part of my life and a small town. the standing family in the church or not there for millions of americans. families of fractured and dispersed women, the traditional caregivers are now an integral part of the workforce. advances in medical science means we are living much longer. yet resources to enable us to live independently are sorely lacking. we face a national crisis in
caregiving, especially of our elderly citizens. most failed elderly and disabled people live at home today. about 90% of the care they need is provided by unpaid, informal caregivers, most often family members providing tasks that only skilled nurses perform just a decade ago and with minimal preparation and training. many of these caregivers are frail and elderly themselves and find the burdens of caregiving overwhelming. >> as we close our look at rosalynn carter here on american history tv, you will hear her account of the partnership at friendship she forged with her immediate predecessor, betty ford. a close relationship that mirrored the one between their husbands, jimmy carter and gerald ford. and we will talk about her legacy. >> betty ford was my friend. i am honored to be here today to help celebrate the life of this truly remarkable human.
i never imagined when we first met 40 years ago that we would develop such a close, personal friendship. at that time, betty was the wife of the vice president of the united states. she had danced with the martha graham dance company and performed in carnegie hall. she was a leader in the fight for women's rights. and she had come to georgia with a mission, it project taking six cars filled with great art to rural communities across the country. jimmy was the governor and we invited betty to stay at the governor's mansion. i was nervous. she was the most distinguished guests we had ever had, but when she arrived, she was so warm and friendly, but she immediately put me at ease. we had a good time together. of course i did not tell her then that my husband was thinking about running for president. [laughs]
the next time i met betty was at the white house shortly after the 1976 election. it might have been a very awkward moment, i know from personal experience that it was a difficult time for her. yet, she was just betty, as gracious as always. as i assumed the responsibilities of first lady, i had an excellent role model and a tough act to follow. betty broke new ground in speaking out on women's issues, helps public disclosure of her own battle with breast cancer, lifted the veil of secrecy from this terrible disease. she used influence of the office of first lady to promote early detection and millions of women are in her debt today. she was never afraid to speak the truth. even about the most sensitive subjects, including her own struggles with alcohol and pain
killers. she got some criticisms, i thought she was wonderful. and her honesty gave her to others every single day. by her example, also helped me recover from jimmy's lows in 1980. having embraced the cause of better treatment from men and women recovering from alcoholism and chemical dependence, she worked tirelessly as former first lady to establish the betty ford center. and showed me that there is life after the white house and it can be a very full life. in 1984, we both participated on a panel at the ford presidential library on the role of first ladies. we found that our interest in addictive diseases and mental health came together in many ways and that we could be as a stronger force if we worked as partners and we did, for many
years. sometimes, traveling to washington to lobby for our causes, especially parity for mental health and substance abuse disorders in all health insurance plans. i am so glad she lived to see this happen. we did not get everything we wanted, but we got a good start. i know that made her as happy as it made me. we talked about it. when we would go to washington, she would round up the republicans, i would round of the democrats and i think we were fairly effective, most of the time. after the 1984 conference, betty wrote me a note that i still treasure, in which she expressed her admiration for women who had the courage of those conditions and did what others could do and were afraid to attempt. isn't that the most appropriate description of betty? someone who is willing to do things a bit differently that had been done before.
someone who had the courage in grace to fight fear, stigma and prejudice wherever she encountered it. and today, it is almost impossible to imagine a time when people were afraid to reveal they had cancer, or to speak publicly about personal struggles with alcohol addiction. she was a tireless advocate for those struggling. some struggling alone, ashamed to seek help. it was a privilege to work with her to bring addiction and mental health problems into the light. historians have said that our husbands jimmy and jerry developed a closer relationship than any other presidents after leaving the white house. i think betty and i had a similar relationship. in closing, i just want to add that betty and i shared another passion. our husbands and our families. her partnership with gerry, both public and private helped
heal the nation and strengthen the family unit in its many forms. her love of her children michael, chad, steven and susan was unfounded. and her grandchildren, they were a source of constant pleasure. we got together later in life and talked about our hopes and dreams, of our children and grandchildren and also our great grandchildren. to you here who mourn the loss of your mother, your grandmother and great grandmother today, jimmy and i extend our most sincere sympathies and want you to know of the deep love and respect we have for this extraordinary woman. it was my privilege to know her. >> rosalynn carter, you have had 33 years post presidency, the longest in history now and
you and president carter have been very active. what do you think you are legacy, first of all, as first lady's? or what would you like it to be? >> i hope my legacy continues more than just first lady, because the carter center has been an integral part of our lives, fighting disease and building hope. i hope that i have contributed something to mental health issues and helped improve a little bit the lives of people living with mental illnesses. i also hope i have had great opportunities for so long now and to go to africa on one of those programs in 77 countries, we go to africa two or three times a year and to go to those villages and now things are
coming to fruition, we have been working all these years. we have almost eradicated guinea worm. to go to a village where there is no longer guinea worm, it is a celebration. i mean, one of the good things about the carter center is we don't give money to the government. we send people in to teach the, to help people in that country how to do something. we were with the people in the villages and the health department, we were working with them and they do the work and just go to a village and explain to them about guinea worm, if you can get your chief to approve, that's what you have to do. if they see or hear about it from another country, they are so happy you are there. but just to see, to go back when it's gone from a village or almost gone and the hope it
gives to them, most of the time it's the first thing they have ever seen that was successful and it's just so wonderful, just to see the hope on their faces. that's something good is happening. i did not mean to get emotional. >> what is your advice to future first ladies or first husbands? >> well, in the first place i would say enjoy it, which is wet lady bird told me. i think i have learned that you can do anything you want to. they used to ask me if i thought the first lady off to be paid, and i have to do it first ladies supposed to do, but you can do anything you want to do and it is such a great opportunity. i would advise any first lady to do what you want to do. if she doesn't, well, another
thing i learned is that you will be criticized no matter what you do. i could have stayed in the white house,, had receptions and i would have been good. as much as i was criticized outside, for what i did and i got a lot of criticism, but you learn to live with it as i said earlier. i mean, just live with it, you expect any live with it and never let it influence me. but i would just tell, just to enjoy it and do what you want to do and in the process i know another first lady will have things that she wants to do because women have changed in this time, would they do now has changed. i can be the secretary, school teacher, librarian, a few things, but now women, most women will act differently.
so just do what you want to do and don't worry about the criticisms. >> the thank you for joining us on american history tv for this special look at rosalynn carter in her own words. next week, nancy reagan, the former hollywood actress and first lady of california who deployed her keen political instincts at the white house to guide ronald reagan's presidency toward success and who humanized the devastating impact of alzheimer's disease with her care for the former president in his final years. american history tv's first lady series is also available as a podcast. you can find it wherever you get your podcasts.
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