tv The Presidency First Ladies in Their Own Words - Rosalynn Carter CSPAN March 25, 2022 2:03pm-2:45pm EDT
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store and google play. c-span now, your front row seat to washington, anytime, anywhere. >> her schedule was grueling, almost as tough as her husbands, yet through it all, roselyn remained a persistent campaigner. >> i tell them we lived in plains georgia, population of 6,083, and everyone always knew what i did. jimmy hasn't had a hint of scandal in his personal or public life, i believe he can restore that honesty, integrity and confidence in government we so sorely need in our government today. i think he'll be a great president. >> that was roselyn carter, arrived after the 1976 campaign
with a blueprint to go to work, she was a valued partner to her husband jimmy but found many obstacles facing a first lady who wanted to influence public policy. she became known as a staunch advocate for those struggling with her mental health. you'll hear directly with her with footage from c-span's library. first, her work on mental health issue and see why they became so important to her. the february 1977 event at the white house after president carter signed 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 paragraph that said i was interested in mental health so everywhere i went if people had a good program wanted me to see
it, i had are a chance to see things happening all over this country that were good, i also had some things happening 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 i was going to be the chairperson and i got a little -- i got a little note from somebody that says, according to the office of legal counsel of the department of justice, prohibits president from closure on a civilian position, a civilian position may be unpaid as well as paid, justice advised the 20 members of the coalition be serving in civilian positions, no problem however with you designated as
honorary chair person. so i'm going to be a very active honorary chairperson. i intend to, we're going to 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 couldn't think of saying i'm going to be president, it was something we never dreamed of happening but i was excited about it. i had campaigned the whole last year before the governor's 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,
and the issues, in fact, that's how i got involved in mental health issues, running, campaigning for jimmy. our big mental health facility hospital, there had been a big expose and the mental health systems act had been passed in 19, you know, this was '63 and this was 1966 when jimmy first ran for governor, but we got in late because our lean-in democratic candidate had a hard attack. but they were moving people out of the hospital because like 12,000 people when they had room for 3,000, it was awful, it was happening all over the country and they're rolling them out before they had new facilities for them. had no services in the communities and everybody started talking to me about what will your husband do if elected
governor of georgia? i just learned so much of what was going on and after realizing the election i worked four years to learn about mental health and after the first office, appointed government commission to improve services for the emotional and mentally hand kaep. i got a bit upset too, they covered my mental health work the first few meetings i had and then never showed up anymore and what i wanted to do was bring attention to the issue and how terrible it was and how few services there were. but, 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 that just didn't come so one day i was walking down the floor in the white house and met this woman who was one of the press
people. i said, you know, no one ever covers my meetings and she said ms. carter, mental health is just not a sexy issue. and that was, i didn't like, but i never did give her very much coverage for but we toured the country, found out what was needed, developed legislation and passed mental health systems act of 1980. it passed through congress one month before jumy, as he says, was involuntarily retired up from the white house, and incoming president never implemented it, one of the greatest disappointments of my life. >> you're watching american history tv, where you're listening to roselyn 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'll also hear her assessment of what she believes to be jimmy carter's biggest achievement, and her memories of the iranian hostage crisis which consumed her husband during the last months of his presidency. >> greetings from the caribbean, i've done this for two weeks, and i couldn't resist. but seriously, it was a good trip. this morning, in venezuela, president perry said to me jimmy's pan-american day speech and my visit to latin america had opened new paths in interamerican relations, instead of the fraternalism that characterized the past. we are ready and eager to develop balanced, natural, normal and equal relationships. i find good will and friendship
everywhere i went. they love you in the caribbean and in latin america and every head of state i spoke 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 made progress in all of these areas. i'm glad to be back home, with amy and jimmy. i'm going to convey all this information 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 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 been all over
the country telling people what he was going to do and i wanted to be sure he did it. and i could go out into the countryside and talk to people. presidents can become very isolated and one reason, they have have such huge entourages, they go out and can't really have access from people but also people tell the president what he wants to hear and i could get information and, about how the energy crisis at that time was hurting people, problems of the elderly. had one woman tell me her house had been taken away because she had paid for it but her husband taken a second mortgage on it, and in 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, and then as he struggled with an issue, maybe something i said
would help him to make a decision. >> when the administration began, for example, and he was going through the process of choosing a cabinet, did you weigh in on any of those decisions or did he ask your advice on various individuals. >> oh i talked about all of them. we had lots of input from people. jimmy consulted a lot of people about who would be best for certain positions then we would have a list and then he would narrow it down. i told him what i thought about people when i always did with issues and so forth, always told him. he always knew how i felt. sometimes he took my advice and sometimes he didn't. he made the decisions. >> do you think that your voice was one he tended to listen to with greater, that had greater weight than perhaps some of his other advisers.
just because sometimes a spouse is not going to necessarily have the kind of outside agenda that an employee or an appointee might someday have? >> i don't know -- on some things i knew about like mental health, womens issues, problems of the elderly and those things he always listened to what i had to say but there were so many issues i didn't know about. he could talk to me, perhaps as we were trying to make latin america a nuclear-free zone, he talked to me about the whole issue of i think the brazilians bought a power plant from the germans and were trying to prevent that sale going through, didn't make very good friends in germany, but the there's no way i could advise him on that but i knew he was going to do it, we wanted a nuclear free zone, so i
could go to latin america and talk to the head of state about it. but our relationship was not one where 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 out in the countryside, when i went to latin america and then he made the decision. we had so few women in congress back then. it's been a long time since jimmy was president. i mean amy was nine years old and last week had her 27th birthday. been a long time, and there were not very many women in congress at that time. we were working really hard to elect women all over the country, working really hard to get the equal right's amendment ratified. >> that was an effort you joined at the in houston, the women's conference, joined mrs. ford and mrs. johnson as a joint effort. >> women's conference, but then
i knew every single legislature in every single state who was against the equal rights amendment and i called every one of them. more than one time. [ applause ] and i think you had two in florida, two in nevada or somewhere, 11 in one state. we had gotten i think maybe 13, 13 more votes we could have ratified the equal rights amendment. we really worked on t but then we were able to get the extension through. i think that was 1978 we got the extension for ratification, then of course another president came in office and that was all gone. >> what about the tendency of the press to sort of pidgeonhole people? i mean was an easy caricature
creates of hillary clinton, nancy reagan, barbara bush, your view, of all the first ladies, how wide was the gap between the press perception of you and who you really were? who you, you felt should be conveyed to the press? >> i remember when jimmy was elected there was a page cartoon in the paper, with carter, his mother, me, hey stacks, we had straw hat and see straw between our teeth. went from that to being steel, steel is tougher than magnolia southern, than i was fuzzy, then i was most powerful, so had a full range of images.
i didn't think i was any of that. well i was proud i was from the south. 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 governors wife, had my projects, entertained ambassadors instead of heads of state and georgia legislatures 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 then the whole campaign, sentencing my biographical sketch saying i was interested in mental health issues so everywhere i went in the country campaigning, people would show me their mental health facilities, either because they were proud of them or, few were proud of then, because they were good, mostly because they needed help.
so even before jimmy was inaugurated, i had put together mental health task force. jimmy announced we had been in the white house less than a month. i had been working on the equal rights amendment, wanted to get that ratified i had worked, my own interest on problems of the elderly kanl in the campaign because when you're in a campaign people take you to their friends and people and always take you to a golden age club or home because there's a lot of people there and most of the time they were democrats. and they would want me to go visit them so i became really interested. i work on the other hand immunization, i had a good immunization program in georgia, 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 about my issues, in fact, announced my mental health task force, the president's commission on mental health, mental health task force now but this was president's commission on mintal health, had a big ceremony, invited people from all over the country interested in mental health and i was really excited, had the best people in the country. next day, i picked up the washington post and not one word. i was really distressed. new york times had a good article but not one word. and so then i fussed about it and people, some of the press people came to maybe one or two meetlings but we worked in that task force on that commission and we met long hours and worked and finally, one of the press people said to me, mrs. carter,
mental health is just not a sexy issue, well that made me mad. they would cover the things they would think are important and didn't cover -- i didn't want mental health covered because it was my project, but the stigma is so bad. and the people in the country know it's an acceptable thing to work on, you know, it could help people out in the country so i really wanted it to be covered. so there were frustrating times but i had things 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 womens pages and most tension still focused on social matters. as kathy said yesterday on the panel, press was more interested in what i was going to wear than in the projects i intended to take on, at that point, so interested in my inaugural gown and wanted to know why i was only serving wine at state
dinners rather than had i expected to improve care for people with mental illnesses. a very traditional and narrow view of the first lady's role and presented my staff with a lot of problems. i remember when i first met to review the organization of the first lady's office, there were four secretaries, social, press, departments and personal. no one had the things i would plan to do and i had pledged in the campaign to have jimmy's start of presses commission, establish a presses commission on mental health, i wanted to get the equal rights amendment ratified, work on elderly issues. i had seen so many people, been to, i think, every senior citizen's facility in the country. i had all kinds of plans and 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 still exists today, but still in georgia, you may remember jimmy cut my staff. [ laughter ] but i did rely on volunteers but i learned one thing quickly, it's difficult for people to say no to the first lady of the united states so i could call on experts. >> i usually finished my work by 5:00 in the afternoon. >> and he would call me, we got to talk a while or play tennis so i had to stop planning anything after 4:30, we would take some exercise, if it was raining, go bowl in the bowling alley down stairs in the white house and have some time
together. >> mrs. carter as you sit in the white house here, is there a moment you remember in the time you spent in the white house coming here? >> i remember the first day when he was, after the inauguration when i came walking in the door and he was sitting behind the day it was -- >> impressive? >> it was impressive, yes. but then, i remember when the panama canal treaty was signed and he called me at the last vote and i came running over to the oval office. that was special, but i was in and out. the last day that we were in the white house, the day of the inauguration of president reagan i came over several times telling him to get dressed for the inauguration because he was still working on the hostage situation. there were a lot 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 since his presidency, that human rights policy has continued. and so, i think as far as that concerned, we're better off. because our country changed the way we conduct our foreign policy, we take human rights in this country into consideration, and our relationships with different countries. so i think we are better off in that way. as far as freedom around the world, lots of people that are not free, and we have a lot of problems with the court of agriculture, health problems in some of the developing countries of the world and we see the people are not free, there are too many wars, too much
suffering. i think anything we can do to help people have a better and freer life, we, our country should do it and we do and try to do. it was awful. i rook back now at many 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. and it was just thinking about we met with the families all along and thinking of the people whose family members were there and what it was doing to jimmy's presidency, and it was awful. it was awful. but, and i would go out and campaign. i had found out earlier that i
could, when a president goes out, he's so surrounded that people, he speaks to them, says hello and stuff but doesn't get close enough to people to have conversations, normally like he would otherwise, about what their hopes and dreams were, what they talk about, what i was doing or what jimmy was doing or anything that could help them. i had learned that early when jimmy was, during his presidency, but i would go out and everybody would say tell the president to do something and tell him to he's got to do something. i would come home and say why don't you do something? and he said what do you want me to do? you want me to mind the harbors? which is a lot of people were talking about, he said, and then have them bring out one person everyday and hang them in public? well maybe that was not the best thing to do. but it would, you know, i wanted it over and of course, he did
too. everybody did, i mean the people in the country, every night a new tv program started and nobody got over it at all, i mean could get over it. i just think about it because with the everyday, every night. it was awful. >> you're watching american history tv where you're listening to roselyn carter in her own words. you'll hear her congressional testimony from 2011 as a former first lady, still advocating for her special causes. >> we're honored to have with us today, former first lady roselyn carter. we're all familiar with ms. carter's tireless advocacy alongside had her husband, president carter. she is a advocate for care workers and mental health issues at home, president of the
roselyn care center for caring at jefferson sburkts whether she leads the institutes effort to promote the bell-being of family care takers throughout the country. she is an invasion for many and a legend in her own right. >> i'm very pleased to be here this afternoon to speak about care giving, an issue 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 small town, but i still vividly remember going to my secret hiding place, the outdoor privy to cry, if i was alone. i felt the need to care for my father and younger siblings but i didn't 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 three years of his life he was bedridden and totally dependent on her, family members, neighbors and friends for all his needs. my story is not unique but today, the works that were so much a part of my life in our small town, neighbors, the church, are not there you for millions of americans. families are dispersed, advances in medical science means we're much longer yet resources enable us to live independently are sorely lacking. we face a national crisis in care giving especially for elderly citizens. most elderly and disabled people live at home today, about 90% of the care they need given by unpaid informal care givers,
most often family members, providing tasks that only skilled nurses performed just a decade ago and with minimal preparation and training. maybe of these caregivers are frail and elderly themselves and find the burdens of caregiving overwhelming. >> as we close our look at roselyn carter here on america history tv, you'll 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'm 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, betty was the wife
of the vice-president of the united states. she had danced with a dance company and performed in carnegie hall. she was a leader in the fight for womens rights, and she had come to georgia with a michigan art train, a project taking 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 guest 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 didn't tell her then 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,
but 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 womens issues. her public disclosure of her own battle with breast cancer lifted the veil of secrecy with this terrible disease. she used the influence of office of first lady to promote early detection and millions of women in her debt today. and she was never afraid to speak the truth, even about the most sensitive subjects including her own struggles with alcohol and painkillers. she got some criticisms. i thought she was wonderful and her honestly gave to others every single day.
by her example also helped me recover in 1980, having embraced the cause of 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 in a panel at the ford presidential library on the role of first ladies. we found our interest in addictive diseases and mental health came together in many ways and a that we could be a stronger force if we worked as partners and we did, for many years. sometimes, turning to washington to lobby for our causes, especially for mental health and substance use disorder and see
all health insurance plans. and i am so glad she lived to see this happen. we didn't 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. but when we got to washington, she would round up the republicans. i would round up the democrats, and i think we were fairly effective, most of the time. after the 1984 conference, betty wrote me a note i still treasure in which she expressed admiration for women who had the courage and did what others were too timid to attempt. isn't this the most appropriate description of betty? someone who was willing to do things a bit differently than they've been done before? someone who had the courage and grace to fight fear, 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 jerry developed a closer relationship than any other presidents after leaving the white house. i think betty and i had a relationship and i would share betty and i shared another passion, our husbands and our families. her partnership with jerry both public and private, helped heal the nation and strengthen the family unit in its many forms. her love of her children, michael, steven, and susan was unbounded 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, grandmother and great grandmother today, jimmy and i extend our deepest most sincere sympathies and want you to know the love and respect we have for this extraordinary woman. it was my privilege to know her. >> roselyn 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 carter, always been integral part of our life, fighting disease, bringing hope, i hope i have contributed some to mental health issue and see 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, had programs in 77 other countries, we'd go to africa two or three times a year and to go to those villages and now things are coming to fruition, we've been working on all these years, like almost eradicated guinea worm, to go to a village where there
is no longer guinea worm, it is a celebration. one of the good things 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 the people in the villages and the health department does too and we work with them. and they do the work. i mean just to go to a village and explain to them about guinea worm, if you can get the achieve to approve, that's what you have to do but if they see or hear about it from another country, they're so happy you're there. but just to see, to go back when it's gone from a village, almost gone, and the hope it gives to them. many of the time it's the first time they have ever seen that was successful and it's just so wonderful to see the hope on their faces. that something good is happening.
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 ladybird told me. i think i have learned you can do anything you want to. used to ask me what the first lady ought to be paid, well if you get paid, then i have to do what first lady is supposed to do but you can do anything you want to and it is such a great soap box, i mean such a great opportunity. so i would advise any first lady to do what she wanted to do. if she doesn't -- and another thing i learn is you're going to be criticized no matter what you do. i could have stayed at 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, just live with it, expect it, 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 she wants to do because women have changed in this time, you know, what women do now has changed from what they did when i grew up. i could be a secretary, schoolteacher, librarian, a few things, but now women most women are more active so 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 roselyn carter and 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 alzheimers 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. >> there are a lot of places to get political information. but only at c-span do you get it straight from the source. no matter where you're from or where you stand on the issues, c-span is america's network. unfiltered, unbiassed, word for word. if it happens here, or here, or here, or anywhere that matters, america is watching on c-span. powered by cable.
>> now available for preorder in the c-span shop, c-span's 2022 congressional directory, go there today to order a copy of the congressional directory, this compound spiral-bound book is your guide to the federal government with contact information for every member of congress including bios and committee assignments, also contact information for state governors and the biden administration cabinet. preorder your copy todayality c-span shop.org or scan the code with your smart phone, every purchase helps support c-span's nonprofit operation. >> our weekly series, the presidency highlights the politics, policies and legacies of u.s. presidents and first ladies. this week, former president reagan speech writer peggy nugan among those rememberic the 40th president. during a com
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