Stapleton, Ruth Carter (1929–1983)

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Stapleton, Ruth Carter (1929–1983)

American faith healer. Name variations: Ruth Carter. Born Ruth Carter on August 7, 1929, in Archery, Georgia; died on September 26, 1983, in Hope Mills, North Carolina; daughter of Earl Carter and Lillian (Gordy) Carter; attended Georgia State College for Women, 1946–48; attended Methodist College and the University of North Carolina, receiving an M.A. in English; married Robert Stapleton, on November 14, 1948; children: Lynn, Scott, Patti, and Michael.

The sister of former American president Jimmy Carter, Ruth Carter Stapleton was a popular Christian evangelist. The third of four children of Earl and Lillian Carter , Ruth was born in 1929 and raised on the Carter family farm in Plains, Georgia. The family belonged to the local Baptist congregation, but was not especially pious. Later in life, Stapleton would ascribe her emotional problems as an adult to her upbringing. She felt unloved by her mother, a nurse often absent from home. Her father, however, favored Stapleton over his other children and displayed an affection for her that others saw as unhealthy. After a public school education, she entered Georgia State College for Women in 1946. An average student, Ruth at the time had little interest in a higher education. She dropped out in 1948 to marry Robert Stapleton, a veterinarian, and moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina. She had four children (the last in 1959) and was, outwardly, a contented homemaker, wife, and mother of a prosperous family.

However, she secretly suffered from severe depression, which she attributed to being unprepared for the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood. She felt that she lacked a purpose in life; her depression caused her marriage to suffer, and eventually she withdrew emotionally from her family and friends. Hoping to find personal fulfillment, she resumed her education at Methodist College and the University of North Carolina, studying English, psychology, and theology. After completing a master's degree in English, she took a job teaching high school in Fayetteville. Still suffering from depression and a sense of failure, she went into psychoanalysis and also began attending Bible classes at nearby Fort Bragg. Although she left psychoanalysis after a few months, she began to find in Christian theology the inner peace she sought.

As religion gained importance in her life, she was dismissed from her teaching position for discussing the Bible in class. Shortly afterwards, she took over the Bible classes at Fort Bragg. She taught there until 1966, establishing a large following in the Fayetteville area with a dynamic preaching style that combined theology with elements of psychoanalysis. Yet she remained unfulfilled, and in 1966 her depression led her to attempt suicide. Following this trauma, she came to see the childhood roots of her emotional problems, and, as she stated, finally allowed God to heal the painful memories of her past. She became a "born again" Christian and developed a therapy of "inner healing" based on her own experience. Her marriage and her relationships with her children improved dramatically after her conversion. Hoping to help others reach the same kind of religious and emotional peace she had found, Stapleton, with her husband's aid, began preaching her message across the South. The response to her meetings—which blended self-help psychology, meditation, and prayer—was substantial, and earned her a reputation for faith healing. She was careful to maintain that she did no healing herself; all healing came from God.

In the same year as her own conversion, Stapleton was instrumental in the conversion of her older brother Jimmy, disconsolate after a lost gubernatorial race. Stapleton became involved as a campaigner in all of her brother's subsequent political races, drawing on her own wide following across the South and Midwest. Their joint celebrity led Time and Newsweek to publish interviews with Stapleton in the months prior to Carter's election as president in 1976. Carter believed his sister's celebrity and her ability to motivate her supporters were vital to his election.

In 1972, she and Robert Stapleton founded a non-profit corporation, Behold, Inc., to handle the income from her lectures, audiotapes, and books. Her popularity continued to grow during her 15 years of active preaching and made her relatively wealthy. Although she was personally a Southern Baptist, Stapleton's ministry was nondenominational and attracted Protestants and Catholics. She held workshops and spiritual healing retreats across the United States, then abroad, from Europe to Japan. Stapleton began publishing her message in 1976 with The Gift of Inner Healing, in which she described her own path to fulfillment. The work sold almost half a million copies, testifying to the widespread American following she enjoyed. Other works came later, such as Experiencing Inner Healing and In His Footsteps. These books offered a total therapy combining theology and psychology with prescriptions for a holistic diet and physical exercise. In 1978, she and her husband founded a retreat, Holovita Ranch, near Dallas, Texas.

In 1983, Stapleton was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the same disease Earl Carter had died from. She refused conventional medical care, relying instead on her belief in divine healing through prayer and meditation. She survived only a few months after the diagnosis, dying in September at age 54.


Bourne, Peter. Jimmy Carter. NY: Scribner, 1997.

Stapleton, Ruth Carter. The Gift of Inner Healing. Waco, TX: Word, 1976.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California