The Private Files

Dispatches from a Generation of Global Health Nurses and Trailblazers

"I Say What I Want."

A reporter showed up at Miss Lillian's home during her son's 1976 presidential campaign

Miss Lillian: "Welcome to Plains! It's so nice to see you! Would you like some lemonade? How was your journey? Your dress is beautiful."

*Pours lemonade*

Reporter: "Miss Lillian, your son's running for president and said he'll never tell a lie. Now, as a mother, are you telling me he's never told a lie?"

Miss Lillian: "Oh, Jimmy tells white lies all the time!"

Reporter: *Jumps at the admission* "Tell me what you mean: What is a 'white lie'?"

Miss Lillian: "Remember when I said Welcome to Plains and how good it is to see you? That's a white lie."

Lillian Carter

Miss Lillian Carter

Miss Lillian Carter

Lillian and Jimmy Carter

Miss Lillian Carter and her son, Jimmy Carter

Miss Lillian Carter and her son, Jimmy Carter

Lillian Carter

Lillian Carter shares a moment with a child during a global health trip

Lillian Carter shares a moment with a child during a global health trip

Lillian Carter and media

Lillian Carter being interviewed by the media

Lillian Carter being interviewed by the media

Lillian Carter in an office

Lillian Carter surrounded by her son's presidential campaign posters

Lillian Carter surrounded by her son's presidential campaign posters

In her life, Lillian Carter was never one to shy away from helping people or trying new experiences. The same can be said about the nurses shaped by the global health center that bears her name. The LCC embodies Miss Lillian’s spirit as a nurse activist known for willfulness, compassion, and an absolute lack of concern for convention.

Bessie Lillian Carter ("Miss Lillian") was born in 1898 in Richland, Ga. Miss Lillian pursued a career in nursing against her family's wishes, completing her nursing degree at Grady Memorial Hospital School of Nursing and accepting her first nursing role at Wise Sanitarum.

Throughout her life, Lillian Carter defied social norms including expectations surrounding motherhood, women in the workplace, and segregation. Her activism included speaking out against segregation and breaking customs in the South at the time. She would welcome Black friends and neighbors in through her front door, entertain Black friends in the  living room, and invite them to stay even after her husband came home from work.

Miss Lillian met her husband James Earl Carter during nursing school and married him after graduation. Together they had four children, including future US President Jimmy Carter. Miss Lillian lived authentically, staying true to her beliefs even if it meant sometimes unsettling those around her. Rather than attending local church services, she created her own Bible study group on Sunday mornings; instead of giving up her career for marriage, she continued to care for the hundreds of workers in her husband's businesses; and instead of staying home upon James Earl's death, she accepted the role of house mother for Kappa Alpha Order, a fraternity of 100 students at Auburn.

And that was just for starters. Miss Lillian went on to manage a nursing home in Georgia and eventually joined the Peace Corps. She was 68 when she was deployed to a leprosy colony near Mumbai, India. Already an activist when her son ran for President, Miss Lillian was frequently called upon by the media to share her thoughts on issues of the day.

Watch Johnny Carson try to keep up with her.

The Mission of the Lillian Carter Center

Improve the health of vulnerable people worldwide through nursing education, research, practice, and policy.

The guiding philosophy of the Lillian Carter Center reflects the work of Lillian Carter as both a nurse and social activist. It assumes a strong public health orientation in all endeavors. LCC  projects are guided by the local communities in which they take place and they apply an interdisciplinary lens to understand and address the multiple interlocking  factors that influence health. These factors can include access to fresh food and clean water, community ties, personal stress, lived environment, availability of health services, social issues, and more.

The LCC ensures that global-minded research, service learning, and social responsibility are infused throughout School of Nursing curricula. Students are encouraged to explore opportunities for service learning in partner locations such as Moultrie, Ga., Haiti, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Ethiopia, and others.

A cornerstone of the LCC's approach is working with local, national, and global partners to ensure comprehensive and sustainable solutions. For instance, in Ethiopia, collaborations between business, government, communities, and families are enabling the re-purposing of factories to manufacture chlorhexidine. This disinfectant is used to clean babies' umbilical cords, which plays an essential role in infection prevention and survival during the critical early days of life.  

"Emory is unapologetic about doing good - I will say that over and over again. Somehow, doing good and social justice are in its marrow. I loved what I felt there and the sense of real possibilities to make a difference and be in a community of those who were doing good."

- Marla Salmon, founding dean of the Lillian Carter Center

Lunch with the President

In 2000, former Emory Nursing dean Marla Salmon, Kathyrn Kite, and Judith Wold took a risk on a big idea and asked President Jimmy Carter for his help to make their vision for the Lillian Carter Center a reality. Dean Salmon recounts her memory of that day:

Dean Salmon: "A center for international nursing was something I saw as both critical to the future of the School and highly aligned with Emory’s values and strengths.  I was inspired by the work that President Carter and the Carter Center were doing—and wanted to find ways to connect the School to this amazing man.  When I thought about  how his mother was a nurse who had worked in the Peace Corps, the idea really took hold."

"The catalytic moment—one of deep inspiration for me—was when I met President Carter over lunch and “pitched” my idea to him.  I wanted to name the center after his mother, but really needed his support and involvement. How lucky we were to receive it! And to have the commitment and engagement of the Carter Center going forward."

"The inspiration for the LCC was not mine alone. None of this happened in a single day.  It was a process that was sparked by the lives and experiences of the many nurses and midwives around the world who fed our spirit and imagination.  The core of what would become the LCC today was forged by the strength of that first cadre of risk takers (including the two authors of this history) who signed on with nothing tangible to hang onto and made it work."

Kathy Kite

Kathryn McCain Kite

Kathryn McCain Kite

Martha Rogers and team

Martha Rogers (second from L)

Martha Rogers (second from L)

Elizabeth Downes with Kathy Kite

Elizabeth Downes (L)

Elizabeth Downes (L)

Lynn Sibley

Lynn Sibley

Lynn Sibley

Judith Lupo Wold

Judith Lupo Wold

Judith Lupo Wold

The Leading Ladies of the LCC

Kathryn McCain Kite

Served as the inaugural senior administrative director of the LCC from 2001-2020. Kathryn and her colleagues played a pivotal role in the foundation of the LCC, the early forums, and the global partnership building that has made the LCC what it is today.

Martha Rogers

Former faculty and director of the LCC. Martha served as the Emory faculty lead of the Kenya workforce informatics project.

Elizabeth Downes

Founding member of the LCC's leadership. Today, she serves as the center's assistant dean for global health and co-director.

Lynn Sibley

Certified nurse midwife who dedicated her career to advancing midwifery education and care delivery globally. Sibley was a tenured professor and director of the Center for Research and Maternal Newborn Survival at the School of Nursing with a secondary appointment at Rollins School of Public Health. She was an affiliate associate professor in the Department of Anthropology as well.

Judith Lupo Wold

Clinical professor emeritus who served as director of LCC's Farmworker Family Health program from 2002-2018. She is now director emeritus and leads fundraising efforts for the farmworker program.

Global Health Programs

"We were set on doing good and getting away with it."

- Judith Lupo Wold

The Lillian Carter Center has featured many global health programs dedicated to making a difference in communities across the world. The LCC has worked in a multitude of countries including India, Germany, Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Georgia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan, and more.

Students are encouraged to explore opportunities for service learning as part of their nursing education by traveling internationally or domestically to one of the LCC's partner locations.

"All of our partnerships came from faculty that had personal connections to the country or community involved. Without those personal connections, neither the projects nor the trust and esteem needed to make the projects work would have been possible. It was - and is - the people connections that made the LCC the success it has become. Without the passion of our faculty and staff, none of this would have been possible." - Judy Wold and Kathryn Kite

Global Service Learning Immersions

The LCC supports faculty and students who wish to connect coursework with global service learning. Showing students how curricula intersect with global issues affords Emory nurses a unique understanding of healthcare, policy, and culture.

Emory's nursing students have the opportunity to participate in global service learning projects in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Peru, and more.

Service Learning in the American South

Service learning was formally written into School of Nursing curricula in 2005 as "an educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and fosters social responsibility."

These are not volunteer “drop-in” activities, but rather sustained, impactful partnerships with consistent faculty leads. Students learn about and with the communities they serve, assessing strengths and needs and jointly planning activities and interventions.

The School maintains more than 50 outstanding community partners including the following organizations:

  • Atlanta Harm Reduction Clinic
  • Boat People SOS
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Clarkston Community Center
  • Community Advanced Practice Nurses (CAPN) Inc.
  • Community Friendship, Inc.
  • Ellenton Clinic
  • Fugees Family, Inc.
  • The Gateway Center
  • The Global Village School
  • The Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta
  • Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta
  • Latin Community Fund and Latin American Association
  • Mercy Care of Atlanta

Service Learning Spotlight: The Farmworker Family Health Program

The Farmworker Family Health Program (FWFHP) is part of a coalition of community organizations and health science colleges that bring no-cost health services to farmworkers and their families. Students and faculty from Emory and other schools provide planned, episodic care in rural Georgia each summer, and community partners like the Ellenton Farmworker Clinic offer follow-up services throughout the year. By bringing together academic, governmental, and community partners the FWFHP is able to offer integrated and comprehensive care to people who might otherwise not have access to US health systems. 

The on-site work for the FWFHP takes place during a two-week period each summer in intensive outreach settings such as local fields, camps, or schools. These settings serve as an extension of universities' clinical training programs. The intensive addresses urgent primary care needs and its clinical teams include nurse practitioners and nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, and dental students. Interpreters and clinic workers provide support across teams. Students offer care to hundreds of people, and they gain invaluable clinical and cultural insights in return.

The FWFHP brings care directly to farm workers and their families during summer months. Each year, more than 600 people receive interventions they would not otherwise have access to.

Moultrie, GA

A student participates in the Farmworker Family Health immersion program in Moultrie, Ga.

A student participates in the Farmworker Family Health immersion program in Moultrie, Ga.

Student doing exam

A student provides vital health care screenings for the children of migrant farmworkers in Moultrie, Ga.

A student provides vital health care screenings for the children of migrant farmworkers in Moultrie, Ga.

Farmworker in field

A nursing student assists a farmworker in the field

A nursing student assists a farmworker in the field

As of 2021, the FWFHP has provided free healthcare to 20,000 medically underserved farmworkers and their families across four rural Georgia counties.

Student in Moultrie, GA

Leading the National Ebola Response

When the first patients were airlifted to Emory Campus and word spread that Ebola had in fact reached US soil, Dean Linda McCauley and her practice counterpart, Susan M. Grant, then chief nursing officer of Emory Healthcare (EHC), acted swiftly. As attention surrounding this global crisis shifted to Emory they gathered their teams, chose a command center, and made a plan. Within hours they had created a system for triaging the flood of community and press inquiries. They also established infection control protocols, disseminated knowledge across both institutions, and shared best practices with nurses on the Ebola care team. Crystal Johnson, 'OON, one of those nurses on the care team, described the training as “intense - like being in the military.”

This joint effort to protect the safety of the school, EHC, and surrounding communities solidified a high-functioning and prolific academic-practice partnership that remains active today. Emory Nursing, comprised of Emory Healthcare and the School of Nursing, and the infrastructure that it established during the Ebola crisis proved critical just five years later during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ebola outbreak brought the world to Emory’s doorstep and reinforced our need for unified global pandemic preparedness. The LCC played a central role in helping Emory nursing leaders to understand the global context and implications of their work. LCC input proved critical in Emory's local-to-global crisis response. 

At home, Emory nurses set the standard in caring for the first people with Ebola in the US.  Alumni Crystal Johnson, RN, Laura Mitchell, RN, and Jason Slabaugh, RN, were among the care team at Emory Hospital’s Serious Communicable Disease Unit (SCDU). Professor Sharon Varnairsdale co-created and leads the SCDU. Her team's research and practices were adopted nationally during COVID-19.

Overseas, students who had participated in the Complex Humanitarian Response course were dispatched to West Africa to work directly in the Ebola response. Rebeka Stewart, MPH/MSN, Mary Micikas, MSN, and Emily Headrick, MSN, accepted roles in Liberia and West Africa upon graduation.

LCC faculty and staff assumed a host of crisis leadership and support responsibilities. Drs. Elizabeth Downes, Caroline Coburn, and Dian Evans rapidly trained healthcare personnel at practice sites. PhD graduate Michelle Dynes served as an epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC and served in Sierra Leone

LCC leadership spearheaded efforts to educate peers at Emory and beyond about Ebola, crisis response, and pandemic preparedness. They shared tactics in national forums during COVID-19. Dean McCauley published a manuscript on strategies for academic crisis response. The methods she described are based on the National Incident Response system (NIMS), a federal protocol for crisis management, which the School of Nursing and LCC leadership creatively applied to SON scenarios.

Messages on post-its

The Future of Community Engagement at the Emory Nursing Learning Center

The Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing has expanded its footprint with the opening of the Emory Nursing Learning Center, a 70,000 square foot space in Decatur, Ga. The $20.6 million expansion boats a state-of-the-art simulation and skills lab that provides experiential and immersive learning for students and the Emory Nursing Experience, a program for continuing professional education in partnership with Emory Healthcare.

This space serves as a hub for community partners to collaborate, leverage innovative tools and technologies, and build the connections they need to advance their missions. We are gathering insights from stakeholders across partner organizations, patient groups, and the City of Decatur to determine how to best position the ENLC for effective community engagement.

Having a physical presence in the community–one that is highly visible, with a long-term lease, in a distinctive building and a high foot-traffic area–will help us to build long-term reciprocity and trust with the people and communities we serve.

Student outside of the Emory Nursing Learning Center

The Future of Nursing Leadership

Children in chairs

If the sky is the limit, what does the Lillian Carter Center look like to you in 5 years?

Faculty and students

"We will train our students to be leaders and partners in health systems and in public health, and to build resilience for themselves, and the patients and communities they serve. Generations of NHWSN nurses to come will continue to advocate for health and social justice across the globe and in their communities. Staying true to Lillian Carter’s pioneering spirit and fearless leadership, we will train nurse leaders who step in and step up – to lead, to serve, to care for, and to advance health and wellbeing for all people, especially the most vulnerable among us."

- Lalita Kaligotla, professor and senior director for leadership & engagement

How has the LCC grown in the last decade?


594 students

15,660 service-learning hours

9,615 clients served


678 students

18,589 service-learning hours

10,518 clients served


668 students

17,138 service-learning hours

9,824 clients served


645 students

17,137 service-learning hours

9,344 clients served


LCC programs pivoted or paused to allocate all energy, people, and power to COVID-19 response.


LCC programs returned to regular programming and will perform service-learning activities both globally and locally.