Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi was born Rita Carpenter in November 1949 to C. Hunt Carpenter, who made a fortune in the insurance business, and Reba Garlington, who came from a rich cattle family. She was born in San Antonio and moved with her family to Austin when she was 11. At the University of Texas, she studied history and political science — graduating in 1971 — before joining the Peace Corps, where she taught children in Micronesia. She later returned to the university for her graduate degree.
Rita, who was interested in politics, began working for the Republican Party of Texas, and after a short-lived first marriage, she left Austin for a position on the Republican National Committee in D.C. — head of opposition research. But when she began dating a Democrat — Rep. John Jenrette Jr., of South Carolina — her employer was none too pleased. “A month after I moved in with John, my boss at the RNC called me into his office and delivered an ultimatum: either quit seeing John the Democrat or quit my job,” she wrote in The Washington Post in 1980. “Too stubborn to let anyone dictate to me, I quit my job.”