In Honor of Rosalynn Carter: A Life Devoted to Equal Rights, Advocacy, and Service

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

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter died on Sunday, leaving a profound impact on mental health care reform and the ongoing effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

The ERA was written by suffragist Alice Paul in 1923 and was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until its passage in 1972, when it was submitted to the states for ratification. However, the ERA’s future was in jeopardy after Congress’ arbitrary seven-year deadline almost expired.

President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter took up the fight for passage of the ERA, with President Carter signing the Extension of the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification (HJRes.638) to express his support for extending the deadline to 1982. First Lady Carter would meet once a month at the White House with ERA activists and leaders, with representatives from groups such as the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Eleanor Smeal, 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 valued ally of the feminist movement and a committed advocate for equal rights, particularly through her commitment to the ERA. She will be missed.”

As First Lady, Rosalynn Carter redefined her role by going beyond the traditional duties of a hostess, engaging in substantive humanitarian work, and actively participating in Cabinet meetings. Her groundbreaking approach, characterized by professionalism and a desire for progress, set a precedent for future First Ladies.

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