tv The Presidency First Ladies in Their Own Words - Rosalynn Carter CSPAN October 25, 2022 12:42pm-1:23pm EDT
all this. >> thank you for joining us on american history tv for this special look at betty ford, in her own words. next week, roslyn carter, a long time advocate for the mentally ill and a forthright political partner to her husband, jimmy carter. american history tv's first ladies series is also available as a podcast. you can find it wherever you get your podcasts. weekends on c-span two are an intellectual feast. every saturday, america history tv documents america story and on sundays, book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span two comes from these television companies and more. including cox. >> homework can be hard, but squatting in a diner for internet work even harder. that is why we are providing lower income students access to affordable internet. so omar can just be homework.
cox, connect to compete. >> cox, along with these television companies, social -- support c-span 2 as a public service. >> her schedule was grueling, almost as tough as her husband's, yet through it all rosalynn remained an earnest and gracious campaigner. >> people ask me every day -- everybody knows everything you do. i just tell them that we were born and raised as georgia women. it has a population of 683, and everyone has always known everything i did. and jimmy has never had any hint of scandal in his perfect life. i really think he can restore that honesty, integrity, openness, confidence in government that we so sorely need in our country today. i think he'd be a great president. >> that was rosalynn 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 the first lady who wanted to influence public policy. she became known as a staunch advocate for those struggling with their mental health. you will 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. a 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, an important early forum. now, listen to her in her own words. >> as you probably know, for the past year and a half or a little more, i have campaigned all over the country. in 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. i also had some things happening that i thought needed help. i 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. [laughs] and i got a little -- [laughter] -- i got a little note from somebody that says -- [laughs] -- according to the department of legal counsel of the department of justice and so forth -- to a civilian position. as civilian position maybe unpaid as well as paid. justice is advise that the 20 members of the commission including the chairwoman be serving in a civilian positions, and have no problems with there being an honorary chairperson. [laughter] i am going to be a
very active honorary chairperson. i intend -- 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 from hearings in the next six months. i intend to be active. >> he could hardly say, i'm going to be president. it was just something that we never, ever dreamed would happen. i was excited about it. i had campaigned the whole last year before the governor's race for him, and it was hard. amy was a baby. i didn't like to leave her all the time. i enjoyed it. i mean, i learned so much about our state. we have 159 candidates. i knew the capital
of every county. and issues, in fact, that's how i got involved in mental health issues, campaigning for jimmy. we had a big mental health facility hospital that had been a big exposé. the mental health systems act had been passed in 19 -- this was -- yeah, 63 and this was 1966 when jimmy first ran for governor. got beat that time, but got in because the democratic candidate had a heart attack. they were moving people out of the hospital because there were like 12,000 people and they had room for 3000. it was awful. it was happening all over the country. they were moving them out before they head any facilities for them. those services in the communities. everyone started talking to me about what will your husband do
if he's elected governor? i just learned so much about what was going on. after we lost that election, i worked for four years to learn a little bit about mental health. i got upset with the president because i covered my mental health work, the first few meetings i had. and then the never showed up anymore. and one of the the things i wanted to do was bring attention to the issue, and how terrible it was, and how few services there were. 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, they just didn't come. and, so when i was walking on the floor in the white house, i met this woman who was one of the press people, i said, you know,
they never cover my meetings. she said, mrs. carter, mental health is just not a sexy issue. and that i didn't like. but i never did get very much coverage for it. but we toured the country, and that was needed. we developed legislation. past the mental health systems act of 1980, it passed through congress one month before jimmy, as he says, was involuntarily retired from the white house. incoming president never implemented it. it was one of the greatest disappointments of my life. >> you are watching american history tv, where 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 believes 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] [laughter] i've done this for two weeks, and i couldn't resist. but seriously, it was a good trip. this morning, in venezuela, the president said it to me that gyms pan american speech, and my visit to latin america has opened a new path in inter american relations, instead of the paternalism that has characterized the past. we are ready and eager to develop balanced, natural, normal, and equal relationships. i found
goodwill and friendship everywhere i went. they love you in the caribbean and in latin america. and every head of spate, state that i spoke with, with without exception, 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, nuclear nonproliferation, economic development, arms control. i think we've made progress in all of these areas. i'm glad to be back home. i'm glad to be with amy and with jimmy. i am 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. [laughter] i think my role was more one of a sounding board for jimmy. he could explain the issues to me, and in the process think them
through. and he knew i was interested in them because i had traveled all over the country telling people what he was going to do, and then i make sure he did. [laughs] and i could go out into the countryside and talk to people. presidents can become very isolated. one reason is because they have such huge -- also, people tell president what he wants to hear. i could get information how the energy crisis at that time was hurting people. i had one woman tell me her house had been taken away because she had paid for it, but her husband had taken a second mortgage on it. in that state there were no laws that prevented her husband from losing the house those kinds of things that could come home and bring to jimmy.
as he struggled with an issue, maybe something i said would help him make a decision >> when the administration began and he was going through the process of choosing a cabinet, did you weigh in on any of those decisions? did you ask as advice on various individuals? >> oh, i talked about it all. we had lots of input from people. jimmy consulted a lot of people and would narrow down a list. i told him what i thought about people. which i always did. he always knew how i felt. sometimes he took my advice and sometimes he didn't. he made the decision. >> do you think your voice was one that he tended to listen to, that had a greater weight that
perhaps some other of his advisers? just because sometimes a spouse is not going to necessarily have the kind of outside agenda that an employee or a pointy might someday have. >> i don't know. on some things that i know about, like mental health and women's issues and problems with the elderly, those kinds of things. he always listened to what i had to say. but there were so many issues that i did not know about. he could talk to me. we were trying to make latin america nuclear free zone, so he would talk to me about the whole issue. i think the brazilians had bought a power plant from the germans, and we were trying to prevent that sale going through. did not make very good friends in germany. [laughs] but there was no way i could advise him on that. but i knew that he knew what he wanted to do. i knew that we wanted a nuclear
free zone, so when i went to latin america i spoke to head of state about it. our relationship was not one where i would say, that is what you ought to do. it was never that way. i told him how i felt. i told him what i learned when i was out in the countryside, or when i went to latin america, and then he made the decision. we had so few women in congress then. it's been a long time since jimmy was president. i mean amy was nine years old. last week she had her 27th birthday. been a long time. and there were not very women -- many women in congress at that time. and we were working really hard to elect women all over the country. we were working really hard to get equal rights ratified. >> that was an effort that you joined it -- in houston, the women's conference. you joined mrs. ford and mrs. johnson. it was a joint effort.
>> i knew every single legislator and every single state that was against the equal rights amendment. i called every one of them, more than one time. >> [applause] >> i think we had two in florida court -- and two in nevada or somewhere, 11 in one state. i think there was maybe 13, 13 more votes we could have ratified equal rights amendment. we were really there. then we were able to get the extension through. i think that was 1978, we got the extension for ratification for four years. then of course another president came in office and that was all gone. >> what about the tendency of the press to sort of pigeonhole people?
there was an easy caricature created of hillary clinton and of nancy reagan, and of barbara bush, of you, of all of the first ladies. 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? >> i remember, after jimmy was elected, there was a whole page cartoon in that washington post with the carter family. there were haystacks. we had on straw hats, and there was straw between our teeth. [laughter] and then i went from that to being a steel magnolia. i also thought that was pretty good because steel is tough, and magnolia's southern. and then i was fuzzy. i was fuzzy for a while. then, i was most powerful. so i had a full range
of images. i didn't 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 legislators instead of congress people. there was a lot that i had learned. and i couldn't wait to get to washington to work on mental health because i had a chance to do it in the whole country. and in the campaign, i had incidents in my biographical bit saying that i was interested in mental health issues. everywhere i went in the country, i campaigned. i had people show me their mental health facilities, either because they were proud of them. some were proud of them because they were 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. wed been in the white house for less than a month. i was working on the equal rights amendment and i wanted to get that ratified. i had worked. i think, maybe my interest in problems of the elderly came into the campaign. when you are campaigning, people in the community will take you to crowds of people, and they always take you to a golden age club because there are a lot of people there. most of the time, they were democrats. they would want me to go visit them, so i became really interested in those. i worked on immunization. i had had a good immunization program in georgia. i worked on immunization. so, i knew i had an agenda when i got to the white house. i knew what i wanted to do. i was frustrated because i couldn't always get
the kind of publicity i wanted to about my issues. in fact, i announced my mental health task force, the president's commission on mental health. this was the president's commission on mental health. we had a big ceremony, invited people from all over the country who are interested in mental health, the leaders in the field. and i was really excited. i had great people, the best people in the country. the next day, i picked up the washington post, and not one word, not one word! i was really distressed. the new york times had a good article, but there was not one word. so then, i fussed about it. the people in the process, the price people would come to maybe one or two meetings. but, we worked on that task force and that commission. and we met long hours and we worked. finally, one of the press people said to me, well, mrs. carter, mental health is just not a sexy issue. that made me mad. that
really made me mad. so i was frustrated sometimes because they would cover the things that i didn't think was important. and they didn't cover... you know, i didn't want mental health covered because it wasn't my project. but, the stigma is so bad. if people in the country know that it's an acceptable thing to work on -- you know, it could help people out in the country. i really wanted it to be covered. so, there were frustrating times, but i had things that i wanted to do when i came to the white house. >> in 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. as cathy said yesterday on the panel, the press was more interested in what i was going to wear then in the projects i intended to take on. at that point, they were so interested in my inaugural gown. and they wanted to know why i was only serving wine at state dinners, rather
than how i expected to improve care for people with mental illnesses. it was a very traditional and narrow view of the first ladies role, and 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 with the things that i had planned to do. and i had pledged in the campaign to have jimmy start a president's commission, establish a president's commission on mental health. i wanted to get that equal rights amendment ratified. i wanted to work on elderly issues. i have seen so many people. in the campaign, i think i had been to every senior citizens facility in the country. i had all kinds of plans. and after several weeks of studying, we created a brand new office to work on projects. can you believe that i had a director of projects? it still
exists today. but still in georgia. i think you might remember jimmy cut my staff. [laughs] not everybody's staff. [laughs] but, i did rely on volunteers, but i learned one thing very quickly. it's very difficult for people to say no to the first lady of the united states. so, i could call on experts. >> i would finish my work by about five in the afternoon. >> and he would comey about 4:30 and say we are going to jug, we are going to play tennis or something. so i had to stop planning anything after 4:30. in the afternoon, we would just do some kind of exercise. if it was raining, we would go down and pull in the bowling alley downstairs in the white house. just have some time together.
>> this is carter, as you sit in this office here, is there a moment that you remember in the time that you spent in the white house, coming here? >> i remember the first day after the inauguration, when i came walking in the door and he was sitting behind the desk. it was really. [laughs] >> did it impress you? >> it was impressive, yes. and then i remember when the panama canal treaties were signed and he called me for the last vote, and i came running over to the oval office. that was special. but i was in and out. the last day we were in the white house, the day of the inauguration of president reagan, i came over several times to tell him he had to come home and get dressed for the inauguration, because she was still working on the hostage situation. there were lots of momentous occasions in our white house
life. i think jimmy's greatest achievement was his human rights policy, which calls for freedom for people and the rights that they have around the world. and i think that that human rights policy has continued. and so, i think that, as far as that is concerned, we are better off, because our country changed the way we conduct our foreign policy. we take human rights in this country into consideration in our relationships with different countries, so 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. and we have a lot of programs at the carter center with agriculture, and health programs, and some of the developing countries of the world. and we see that the people are not free, and there are too many wars, too much suffering. i think, anything we
can do to help people, to have a better and freer life, our country should do it. we should try to do it and we do it at the carter center. it was awful. i look back now, i have memories just waiting for the press conference in iran to see what happened that day, because we had no idea what was going on. the only way we knew what was going on was when they came in and out. then it was just thinking about, we met with the families all along, and thinking about the people whose family members were there and what it was doing to jimmy's presidency. it was awful. it was awful. and i would go out. i would go out and campaign. i had found out
earlier that i could -- when a president goes out, he is so surrounded. people -- he speaks to them. he says hello and so forth. but he doesn't get close enough to people to have conversations normally like he would. you know, what's their hopes and dreams, what they thought about what i was doing, or what jimmy was doing. anything that could help him. i had learned that early with jimmy, during his presidency. i would go out, and everybody would say, tell the president to do something! and, tell him that he's got to do something. i would come home, and i would say, why don't you do something? and he we'd say, what do you want me to do? do you want me to mine the harbors? which a lot of people were talking about. than have them bring the one person every day and hang them in public? well, that might not be the best thing to do. [laughs] you know, i wanted it over.
of course, he did to, everybody did. 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 there every day, every night. 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 mr. carter's tireless advocacy along with her husband jimmy carter on behalf of conflict resolution around the world. she is also a dedicated advocate for caregivers and mental health issues here at home. mrs. carter is president of the rosalynn carter institute for caregiving at georgia
southwestern state university where she leads the institutes effort to promote the well-being of family caregivers throughout our country. she is an inspiration for many and a legend in her own right. >> i'm very pleased to be here this afternoon to speak about caregiving, an issue that is very important to me. it's been part of my life since i was 12 years old. and my father was diagnosed with leukemia at age 44. we lived in a very small town, and all the neighbors rallied around. but i still vividly remember going to my secret hiding place, the outdoor privy, if you can believe that, to cry. that's 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 didn't always feel like being strong, but my mother. 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 that were so much a part of my life in a small town neighbors, extended family, the church, they are not there for millions of americans. families are fractured and dispersed. women, the traditional caregivers, and are now a 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 and caregiving, especially for our elderly citizens. most frail 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 italy -- are frail and elderly themselves, and find the burdens of care of a -- caregiving overwhelming. >> as we close our look at rosalynn carter here on american history tv, you will hear her account of the partnership and 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 she'll talk about her legacy. >> betty ford was my friend, and i am honored to be here today to help celebrate the life of this truly remarkable woman. i never imagined when we first met 40 years ago that we would develop such a close, personal friendship.
at that time, that he 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. she had come to georgia with the michigan art train, a project taking six cars filled with great art, to rural communities across the country. jimmy was 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 that she immediately put me at ease, and we had a good time together. of course, i did not tell her that my husband was thinking about running for president. 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. and 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, her public disclosure of her own battle with breast cancer lifted the veil of secrecy from this terrible disease. she used the 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 hope to others every single day.
but her example also helped me recover from jimmy's loss 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 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 use disorders in all health
insurance plans, and 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. [laughter] 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 their convictions, and did what others were too timid to attempt. isn't that the most appropriate description of betty? someone who was willing to do things our bit differently than they had been done before? someone who had the courage and grace to fight for, stigma, and prejudice wherever she encountered it. and today, it's 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 gerry, 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 varied forms. her love of her children -- michael, jack, steven and susan -- was on bounded.
and her grandchildren were a source of constant pleasure. when we got together later in life, we talked about our hopes and dreams for 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. thank you. >> rosalynn carter, you've had 33 years post presidency, the longest in history now, and you and president carter have been very active. what do you think your legacy, first of all, as first lady is, or what would you like it to be?
>> well, i hope my legacy continues more than just first lady, because the carter center has been an integral part of our lives, -- is waging peace, 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. but i also hope -- i mean, i have had great opportunities for so long now, and to go to africa on one of those countries -- we have 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. i mean, 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, to help people in that country how to do something. and we work with the people in the villages, and the health department does too, and we 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 their chief to approve, that's what you have to do. but 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 something good is happening. i didn't mean to get
emotional. >> what's your advice to future first ladies or first husbands? >> well, in the first place i would say enjoy it, which is what lady bird told me. but i think i have learned that you can do anything you want to. they used to ask me if i thought the first lady ought to be paid. if you get paid, you have to do what first ladies are 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, poured tea, had receptions and i would have been criticized 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 it and live with it and never let it influence me. but i would just tell her, just to enjoy it and do what she wanted to do. and the process, i know another first lady will have things that she wants to do, because women have changed and this time. what women do has changed from the time i grew up. i could be a secretary, school teacher, librarian, a few things. but now, women, most women, are more active. i just do what you want to do, and don't worry about the criticisms. >> 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 in 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. >> if you are enjoying american history tv, than sign up for our newsletter using the qr code on the screen to receive the weekly schedule of upcoming programs like lectures in history, the presidency, and more. sign up for the american history tv newsletter today and make sure to watch american history tv every saturday, or anytime on line at c-span dot org slash history. >> on the teleprompter, while you are reading the words. [laughter] i hope we are rollg.