Dorothy F. Carpenter, a legislator and community volunteer, was born in 1933 in Ismay, Montana, to Daniel and Mary Ann George Fulton. She graduated from Custer County High School in Miles City, Montana, in 1951 and attended Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, receiving a B.A. in 1955. She married Thomas Ward Carpenter that year; they had two children, Mary and James.
Carpenter taught elementary school in Texas from 1955 to 1957 and in Iowa in 1958. She was active in the Episcopal Church, the League of Women Voters of Metro Des Moines, and Planned Parenthood of Iowa; from 1977 to 1980 she served on the board of directors of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Carpenter, a Republican, was elected to the Iowa General Assembly in 1980. During her fourteen years in the Iowa House of Representatives, Carpenter served on several committees, including Ways and Means, Education, State Government, and House Administration and Rule. She was the Assistant Minority Floor Leader from 1980 to 1988. Carpenter retired from the General Assembly in 1994.