First Lady Biography: Lady Bird Johnson
LADY BIRD [CLAUDIA ALTA] TAYLOR JOHNSON
Birth: 22 December, 1912
*Despite her legal name of "Claudia," Mrs. Johnson has been known as "Lady Bird" since childhood, when her nursemaid Alice Tittle commented that she was "as purty as a lady bird." It is unclear what kind of reference this may have been.
**The two-story brick southern plantation mansion, with traditional balcony where she was born is still standing and a registered national landmark.
Thomas Jefferson Taylor II; born 29 August, 1874, Autauga County, Alabama; General store owner; cotton planter; land owner; died 22 October, 1960, Marshall, Texas; turning his store profits into real estate, he owned some twelve thousand acres of cotton, perhaps the largest landowner in Harrison County, Texas; he donated nearly 400 acres of property, some two-thirds of his total, to the state and it became Caddo Lake State Park; he also owned the property on which the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant was built during World War II.
Minnie Pattillo Taylor, born 16 May, 1874 in Alabama; married Thomas J. Taylor in Autauga County, Alabama on 28 November, 1900; died 4 September 1918; Some sources claim a date death of 14 September; Mrs. Johnson recalls the dismay of relatives at the tombstone date error. "Forgetful of self she lived entirely for others" is the epitaph. The town of birth is not known but she did live her early life in Billingsly, Alabama.
first stepmother, name, date of birth, date of marriage, date of death, unknown, marriage ended in divorce, 1930's; second stepmother, Ruth Scroggins, date of birth unknown, married in Marshall, Texas, 1930's. date of death unknown
Ancestry: English, Scottish; The Taylor family was of English extraction. Mrs. Johnson's mother's family name was Pattillo. Likely because Mexico borders her native Texas, it had been mistakenly published in some accounts that her mother's family was of Spanish ancestry. In fact, the origin of the name is "Pittillo" and her first American ancestor was James Pittillo of Bristol Parish, Virginia. The family emigrated from Scotland. Documentation provided by the archivist of the LBJ Library, using two reference books: Taylor & Shaffer Ancestors by Joseph P. Hammer, Austin, TX 1994; and Patillo, Pattillo, Pattullo, and Pillillo Families, compiled by Melba C. Crosse, Fort Worth, TX, 1972.
Birth Order and Siblings: Third of three children; two brothers: Thomas Jefferson Taylor, Jr. (20 October 1901- 1 November 1959); Antonio "Tony" J. Taylor (29 August, 1904 - 31 August, 1986)
Physical Appearance:Small stature; brown hair; brown eyes
Religious Affiliation: Baptized at age five in the Methodist faith of her father; she later became Episcopalian. She often attended services with her husband in a Disciples of Christ parish, his faith.
Education: Attended grade school in Karnack and Jefferson, Texas and also, briefly in Alabama (1918-1923); Marshall Public High School (1923-1928) where she graduated at age fifteen, third in her class; St Mary's College for Girls, (1928-1930) boarding school, Dallas, Texas; University of Texas at Austin (1930-1933), bachelor's degree in history, graduating with honors; University of Texas at Austin (1933-1934) bachelor of journalism degree, graduating with honors. While at the University of Texas at Austin, Lady Bird Taylor also studied shorthand .
Occupation before Marriage:Lady Bird Taylor expressed an interest in pursuing a career in writing or journalism; ten weeks after graduating, she met Lyndon Baines Johnson on 31 August, 1934. They began a whirlwind courtship that resulted in their marriage three months later.
Marriage:21 years old, on 17 November, 1934 to Lyndon Baines "LBJ" Johnson (born 27 August, 1908, near Stonewall, Texas, died, "LBJ Ranch" Stonewall, Texas, 22 January, 1973), former teacher, congressional aide, National Youth Administration Director, at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas. LBJ gave Lady Bird Taylor a $2.50 wedding ring bought at Sears. The couple honeymooned in Mexico and then made their home in Washington, D.C. during most of the year, with visits home to Texas.
Lynda Bird Johnson (Robb), born 19 March, 1944; Luci Baines Johnson (Nugent Turpin), born 2, July, 1947; Lynda Johnson was married in the White House in December of 1967 to Marine Charles S. Robb, who later served as Governor and U.S. Senator from Virginia. Luci Johnson was married in a the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to Patrick Nugent in August of 1966, with a wedding reception that followed, in the White House. They divorced in 1979.
Occupation after Marriage: Lyndon Johnson made his first run for the U.S. Congress in 1937 following a campaign which was partially funded by ten thousand dollars Lady Bird Johnson had inherited from her mother. Her father donated twenty thousand dollars. Mrs. Johnson recalled that she also cast her first vote that year for a president, choosing the mentor of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As a congressional spouse during the Depression, she came to first meet incumbent First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when the latter arrived at a Congressional Club Luncheon that was held to raise funds to purchase a wheelchair for a disabled child. As Mrs. Roosevelt arrived at the event, Mrs. Johnson took silent color-film home movies of her. She also soon accepted the First Lady's invitation to tour the blighted, impoverished sections of Washington, D.C. She came to know many of the political figures of the era, befriending the likes of House Speaker Sam Rayburn, from Texas, and Congressional spouses, including Pat Nixon and Betty Ford.
In 1940, Lyndon Johnson volunteered to serve as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, receiving a silver star in Pacific, 1941-1942. In his absence, Lady Bird Johnson ran his congressional office, composing correspondence, coping with political problems arising in his district, and giving special attention to visiting constituents. She said the experience gave her a sense of personal accomplishment and confidence.
In 1943, she invested an inheritance of $17,000 from her final settlement of her mother's estate in the purchase of KTBC, a small Austin, Texas radio station. KTBC had limited broadcast hours and was in considerable debt. She hired new on-air talent, found commercial sponsors, kept all the financial accounts, and even cleaned up the old facility. She would serve as manager, and then as chairman of what later came to be known as KLBJ for some four decades. Although she was the owner in papers filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Lyndon Johnson used his influence with the FCC to permit KTBC to increase its transmission region and to broadcast all-day round. By the time the family sold the enterprise in the 1980's it was a media conglomerate that had provided them with substantial earnings. Mrs. Johnson further diversified with investments in large ranching properties, which she also managed.
After six terms in Congress, (1937-1949) LBJ was elected to the United States Senate (1949-1961), where he was eventually elected Majority Leader. His success was aided by his relationship with Speaker Rayburn, and further solidified by the bond between Rayburn and Mrs. Johnson. Her knowledge of political issues greatly expanded under Rayburn's tutelage. Rayburn spent much of his leisure time with the family. When Senator Johnson suffered a heart attack, Mrs. Johnson asserted that his recovery must take precedent over his public duties. She kept a room at the Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was recovering to be at his side; it was also where his political aides gathered to funnel the decisions and issues he needed to review through Mrs. Johnson. Through these years, she also grew in confidence, able to calmly meet the often contentious demands and rash remarks of her husband, both personally and politically. Despite his commanding presence and personality, she was one of the few people who could temper him, and gain his undivided attention. Lady Bird Johnson continued to maintain strong constituency ties and often led tours of the capital city for visiting Texans. She came to know the District of Columbia well. Her affection for the city would further come into play in her later beautification efforts. In 1958, she won her first public recognition; she was the recipient, with famous dancer Marge Champion, of the Togetherness Award.
In 1960, Majority Leader Johnson ran in the primaries for the Democratic presidential nomination. At the convention, held in Los Angeles, Lady Bird Johnson was openly disappointed that the nomination went to fellow U.S. Senator, John F. Kennedy (Democrat-Massachusetts). The following morning, Kennedy called the Johnson suite. Lady Bird Johnson answered the phone, then told her husband who was calling and that she felt certain Kennedy was going to ask LBJ to run as vice president with him. She implored him not to accept. After consultation with Mrs. Johnson and Rayburn, LBJ accepted. Lady Bird Johnson took a substantive and publicly active role in the 1960 campaign, all the more visible since Kennedy's wife Jacqueline was pregnant and unable to make appearances around the country. Declaring the Democratic Party, "the party with heart" she traveled 35,000 miles over seventy-one days. The presidential candidate's brother Robert F. Kennedy told Time magazine that she helped to carry Texas for the ticket.
Mrs. Johnson made a concerted effort to keep the South part of the Democratic voting bloc. Although previously reluctant to make speeches, she enrolled in a public speaking course in 1959, which prepared her for the campaign. Her insistence that her receptions be racially integrated made news in the South, and she often received guests with prominent African-American women. On one occasion, she and her husband were spat upon by racists as they crossed the street to attend a campaign luncheon in Dallas, Texas. Her refusal to turn against her southern heritage was a factor in at least mitigating some of the regional hostility to the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. At one Montgomery, Alabama event, Mrs. Johnson recognized several cousins in the audience and called them to the podium, winning the crowd's sympathies. Even when heckled by Republicans at an airport appearance and swatted with a picket sign by one of them, she retained her poise.
With LBJ's ascendance to the vice presidency, (20 January, 1961 to 22 November, 1963) Lady Bird Johnson became the nation's "Second Lady." Often with only a moment's notice, she substituted for the First Lady at scheduled events, when Jacqueline Kennedy was unable to appear. She traveled extensively with the Vice President both domestically and internationally, including a tour of Middle Eastern nations. Lady Bird Johnson also continued to manage her business and her success was publicly recognized when she was presented in 1961 with the Businesswoman's Award by the Business and Professional Women's Club, and in 1963 with an Industry Citation from the American Women in Radio & Television. She also was an active fundraiser for heart disease prevention in the Washington community and in 1962 received the Distinguished Achievement Award, from the Washington Heart Association.
When President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, seated next to his wife in a Dallas, Texas motorcade, Mrs. Johnson was in a car behind them with her husband. She was preparing to host the Kennedys as guests at the Johnson ranch in Stonewall, Texas. Instead she was thrust into the role of First Lady. After providing comfort to the widowed Mrs. Kennedy, she also determined to record her thoughts of the tragic experience. It was the first entry of what would become a unique historic document, a daily recorded diary of her life in the White House.
Campaign and Inauguration:Lady Bird Johnson was involved in numerous aspects of her husband's run for president in 1964 for a full term of his own. Before he had committed to running, she drafted a nine-page memo outlining what she saw as the reasons why he must run. She did not want to be a "scapegoat" for the frustration she saw him having if he did not run, and feared "[y]ou may drink too much - for lack of a higher calling." She added that, "I can't carry any of the burdens," but believed he would find "achievement amidst all the pain."
In the midst of the race, LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. Mrs. Johnson's support of this was so strong that she sat in the front row as he took pen to paper, the only woman present. Despite being First Lady for only several months, she had already established a record as being supportive of civil rights. Even the small symbolic act of touring with an African-American congressional wife arm-in-arm through the White House living quarters earned her praise in the national black daily newspaper Chicago Defender. The traditionally pro-segregationist Democratic South was wary of the direction the Johnsons were taking the party and it was again the First Lady who expressed her understanding of the resistance. Without denigrating their traditions, she emphasized how racial integration would benefit southerners of all races in a "new South." The issue arose sharply at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City when Mississippi African-Americans, declaring they had been purposely barred from their state's all-white delegation, formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and demanded that LBJ recognize, and permit them to be seated in the hall. LBJ asked his wife to draft his potential response to this. The First Lady penned a statement, affirming that the legal delegation should be seated but that the "steady progress" on racial equality that LBJ had initiated would stand and continue under him as president "within the framework of justice." Ultimately, a compromise was achieved.
Civil rights remained the primary campaign focus of Lady Bird Johnson as she undertook an unprecedented role, a schedule of speeches and appearances independent of her husband, targeted to a specific demographic. On a train the "Lady Bird Special," she led women supporters and press through eight southern states for four days, delivering stump speeches from the caboose. The endeavor was well-organized, with "hostesses" in uniform clothing as aides. Buttons, badges and ribbons were produced to mark the occasion. Before the trip, the First Lady telephoned political leaders of the states she was visiting. Many were pro-segregation but nevertheless felt it would be rude not to greet her at a depot in their districts. She and her close friend and press secretary, Liz Carpenter drew on their experiences of the 1960 campaign. While there were threats made against the First Lady's life and some picket signs protested the message of her speeches, Mrs. Johnson remained politely steadfast in her message: "It would be a bottomless tragedy for our country to be racially divided…" An effort by segregationists to suggest that she was an indifferent landlord who provided no utilities to African-Americans on her inherited property proved false and had none of the intended impact.
LBJ won in a landslide, garnering 61 percent of the popular vote, and 486 electoral votes compared to Republican candidate Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater's 38 percent, and 52 electoral votes. While there were no tracking polls taken to indicate whether Mrs. Johnson affected the results, unprecedented campaign visibility of the incumbent First Lady did shape the public impression of how LBJ would carry out his mandate.
When first sworn in as president in Dallas in 1963, the oath of office been administered to Vice President Johnson and the Bible upon which he placed his hand was held by Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the only woman to do so. This image was indelibly impressed in the world's imagination by widespread dissemination of the picture capturing that moment. It was clearly evoked when Lady Bird Johnson broke a new precedent during the 20 January, 1965 Inaugural ceremony when she held the a "missal", which is an altar book for the Catholic Mass (there was no Bible available on Air Force One) on which her husband placed his hand while repeating the presidential oath of office. Every First Lady since then has followed the custom.
First Lady:51 years old
22 November, 1963 - 20 January, 1969
Moving into the White House on 8 December, 1963, Lady Bird Johnson's first months as First Lady were overshadowed by the mourning for President Kennedy and a groundswell of sympathy and interest in Jacqueline Kennedy. In consideration of this, Mrs. Johnson did not undertake a fully-blown public role. She did identify those projects and programs that her predecessor had begun which also interested her, and continued them, most especially efforts on behalf of White House history. She corresponded with Mrs. Kennedy, welcoming her advice on matters such as the placement of portraits or the purchase of china. President Johnson, by executive order, permanently established the Committee for the Preservation of the White House begun as an informal organization by the widow.
What marked Lady Bird Johnson as unique among her predecessors was her own interest and study of the First Ladies. She had become familiar with many of their biographies through her numerous visits since the 1930's to the Smithsonian Institution exhibit of their gowns. She also would visit several presidential homes during her tenure and show as much interest in the objects associated with First Ladies as she did with those of Presidents. This had the effect of making her perhaps one of the few women to assume the position with a highly conscious sense of the public expectations, the limitations and the opportunities that came with it. "She's not elected," she reflected in 1987, "he is elected, and they are there as a team. And it's much more appropriate for her to work on projects that are a part of his Administration, a part of his aims and hopes for America."
In identifying and carrying out the issues and projects of importance to her, Mrs. Johnson also had the assistance of her press secretary and staff director Liz Carpenter, a professional journalist who understood the needs of media editors. During the Kennedy presidency, Carpenter had worked for both Johnsons, serving as the first-ever female aide to a vice president. With them in Dallas at the time of the Kennedy assassination, she wrote the first remarks Johnson made to the world as the new president. As press secretary, she was able to translate Mrs. Johnson's work into stories that were accessible to the public, giving momentum to the First Lady's objectives. The First Lady and her press secretary put considerable effort into the former's public speeches, and doing considerable rewriting. This was a first in terms of public communications of a First Lady: those few of her predecessors who had spoken publicly almost always did so without a prepared text.
Outside of Vietnam War policy and other foreign affairs decisions, Mrs. Johnson had considerable influence over the President. She critiqued his speeches, often offering suggestions for improvements. He confided the details of the crises and issues facing him daily.. She offered pragmatic and realistic solutions to his more impulsive reactionsShe purposefully inserted herself when matters of his personal well-being were at hand. She exercised enormous control over his diet, sleeping habits and general health matters. Lady Bird Johnson also reprimanded LBJ' when he acted spontaneously but with potentially damaging press reaction, such as giving ten-gallon cowboy hats to the Japanese prime minister and foreign minister. She was highly conscious of how even inconsequential acts shaped public perception of his presidency.
Lady Bird Johnson kept fully abreast of the intricacies of LBJ's legislation, on issues of special interest to her like environmentalism. She knew which members of Congress were supportive of his policy and those that required lobbying. She developed personal relationships with members of his Cabinet, his general office staff, his press secretaries and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One of the youngest among LBJ's aides, press secretary Bill Moyers had begun his career as a news editor at the Austin television station owned by Mrs. Johnson. On those occasions when LBJ had shown his anger or irritation at an aide, the First Lady often worked to patch up any animosity. Her efforts to forge a personal connection extended to foreign officials as well. Prior to a foreign trip, Mrs. Johnson studied a world map to understand the nation to be visited in a larger context, as well as its economic, social and political landscape. In 1966 she became the first incumbent First Lady to visit Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.
She developed camaraderie with the wives of Cabinet members, aides and Congressional leaders. Mrs. Johnson arranged for programs and briefings of the still-almost exclusively female spouses of Congress. Esther Peterson, LBJ's special assistant on consumer affairs, credited the First Lady with raising the President's consciousness on the equal competence of women in public service and influencing his efforts on the advancement of women. On a public scale, this translated into Mrs. Johnson addressing the need for women's increased activism in civic affairs. "They can push and prod legislators. They can raise sights and set standards," she remarked in her first major speech, to the 1964 graduating class of Radcliffe College. "If you achieve the precious balance between a woman's domestic and civic life, you can do more for zest and sanity in our society than by any other achievement…"
A strong and vocal advocate of women seeking higher education, she was the recipient of honorary degrees from Middlebury College, the University of Texas, Austin (Doctor of Letters), Texas Women's University (Doctor of Laws), Williams College (Doctor of Humane Letters) and Southwestern University (Doctor of Humanities).
The professional achievements of women became a touchstone of Mrs. Johnson's tenure, illustrated by her series of sixteen "Women Do-er" luncheons from 1965 to 1969. Over an afternoon meal, she would ask a women leader on a contemporary social issue to address a group of other women who worked in the same or inter-related fields, and then prompt a cross-audience dialogue. She also insisted that ordinary women who were not professionals in that given field be invited, to have their perspective included. The speakers ranged from Dr. Mary Bunting, the first woman on the Atomic Energy Commission to Judge Marjorie Lawson of the D.C. Juvenile Court.
Lady Bird Johnson recalled that it was while she listened to her husband's 1964 State of the Union Address to declare "unconditional war on poverty" that she determined to involve herself in some element of this. It came definitively in her work with the Office of Economic Development chief Sargent Shriver and his vision for a program that would provide underprivileged pre-school children with early education skills and basic medical care and nutrition. Emerging from a report issued by a panel of child development experts and initially intended as an eight-week summer program, "Project Head Start" was given enormous visibility when the First Lady supported it. She not only filmed an introductory film about the program that was broadcast nationally, and visited several programs underway that summer, but when Head Start funding was threatened, she successfully intervened to save it. As National Chair of Head Start, she hoped it would prove to be "the big breakthrough we have been seeking in education…a lifeline to families…lost in a sea of too little of everything - jobs, education, and most of all perhaps - hope." The program proved extremely successful and has remained in place for over forty years, now administered by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
The one project most closely associated with Lady Bird Johnson's White House years is "Beautification," an umbrella title for a wide variety of efforts, legislation and public campaigns that were a combination of rural and urban environmentalism, national parks conservation, anti-pollution measures, water and air reclamation, landscaping and urban renewal. From her childhood days spent along in the Alabama countryside and bayou, to her long drives between Texas and Washington, Mrs. Johnson had long loved the land and been sensitive to its increasing neglect and misuse. A reference to the beauty of the natural landscape in a speech at the University of Michigan of President Johnson in May of 1964, she later recalled, prompted her to focus on what might be her work during what she hoped would be a full four-year term as First Lady. She formally launched "Beautification" on 4 February, 1965, two weeks and one day after the Inauguration.
Her initial effort was the creation of a Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, bringing together wealthy philanthropists, local civic leaders and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall whose department oversaw the National Park Service.
Some two million daffodil and tulip bulbs, 83,000 flowering plants, 50,000 shrubs, 137,000 annuals and 25,000 trees were planted around or near the public buildings, "masses of flowers were the masses pass." She took a further interest in the development of the national mall where the various Smithsonian museums were located, coaxing modern art collector Joseph Hirshhorn to donate his collection to the institution which would later create a museum bearing his name located there. She encouraged the Job Corps to expand the professional skills it taught to include landscaping; She further gave impetus to the continuance of a Pennsylvania Avenue redevelopment, an idea begun by President Kennedy. Lady Bird Johnson created the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and the Children's Garden on the White House South Lawn.
The First Lady next took her committee into the low-income areas of the city, largely populated by African-Americans, in preparation for the work they would conduct there: the cleaning, refurbishment and maintenance of city schools, the installation of recreation areas, massive housing project trash cleanups, and the implementation of a summer "Projects Pride" program employing college and high school students in neighborhood tree plantings and conservation, pest control, sanitation and renovation of decaying public buildings. Much of the work was funded by the subsequently-created Society for a More Beautiful Capital, which raised private monies. About one hundred projects resulted.
On 24 May, 1965, Lady Bird Johnson addressed the two-day White House Conference on Natural Beauty, setting a tone for the various pieces of environmental and conservation legislation the Administration would initiate over the next four years. She attended their meetings and met with members of the 115-person panel from business, labor, public service, civic organizations, botany and other related fields.
As her efforts expanded on a national level, she was not above inquiring about negligence within the federal government. After receiving a citizens' report that one of the worst local eyesores was an air-force base near a highway, for example, she spoke with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Within days, the site was cleared. She encouraged local and state air-pollution regulation and during one "substantive meeting" with the U.S. Conference of Mayors on the issue, urged them to lobby Congress for more funding. She did, however, avoid becoming embroiled in disputes between the federal government and private conservation groups over a planned dam construction at the Grand Canyon.
Stressing that beautification was good for business, she met with some success in the private sector. The National Coal Association supported her opposition to strip-mining. Shell Oil found financial benefit in her urging of improved gas stations. She convinced some utility companies to run their overhead electric lines underground. She soon found great support from many quarters. The United Auto Workers supported her in pressing for more state and local efforts. The Keep America Beautiful, Inc. sent out thousands of information packets to state and local officials urging community efforts against "Litter Bugs" . New ideas were generated: signage designers proposed more organic symbols - like a cup to represent a coffee shop - instead of bright neon signs. Many women members of local garden clubs were at the forefront of forming new local beautification committees: civic work expanded the Administration strong-armed members to support the bieir previous efforts of planting flowers into local ordinance issues, and numerous women began to rise in municipal politics through the "beautification" movement. A postage stamp urging Americans to "Plant for a More Beautiful America" was unveiled. Public reaction was overwhelmingly enthusiastic although one veterans group protested the planting of yellow flowers at a monument, considering it the color of cowardice, and the pork industry protested "Keep America Beautiful, Inc.'s" use of the word "pigs" to describe those who littered.
A greater resistance, however, emerged with the most overtly political element of beautification, the initiation by the Administration of "Lady Bird's Bill," the Highway Beautification Act. It essentially called for severe limitations of roadside billboard advertising. Under the initially proposed act, twenty percent of federal highway grants would be refused to states which did not clear junkyards and remove or reduce billboards from interstate and major highways. It was soon realized that junkyard regulations already existed - but were not being enforced; the legislation then re-focused specifically on advertising billboards.
President Johnson made it a personal mission to get the bill passed in honor of his wife and was willing to expend his political capital to do so. Cpmgress reacted with strong resisitance when the administration strong-armed members to support the bill. The powerful Outdoor Advertising Association of America, along with many labor unions whose members were employed by various industries that advertised on the roadsides fought the Johnson effort at every turn. They exercised enormous lobbying power over members of Congress . It was a situation in which the First Lady decided to personally intervene, lobbying members of Congress by telephone, offering a strong but reasonably expressed explanation for the necessity of passage.
Criticism was aimed directly at Mrs. Johnson in some cases. Congressman Bob Dole sarcastically quipped that "Lady Bird" be substituted every time the title "secretary of commerce" appeared in the bill. One cartoon lampooned the First Lady as a "typical woman driver" who hit and knocked down a series of billboards. A Montana billboard proposed: "Impeach Lady Bird." The bill passed on 7 October, 1965. When LBJ signed the legislation, he handed the pen to his wife. She was also successful in having her choice, Fred Farr named as the new coordinator of the Bureau of Public Lands to oversee implementation. Enforcement funds were adamantly denied by Congress, however, and over time the lack of authority to hold states responsible corroded. Undaunted, the First Lady appealed to the private sector to at least enhance the highways, with landscaping using wildflowers that were indigenous to the region.
Following the successful passage of the bill, the First Lady starred in an ABC television special in 1966, "A Visit to Washington with Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson on Behalf of a More Beautiful America," for which she received a George Foster Peabody "Emmy" Award.
While regeneration and preservation of the national forests and parks and rehabilitating neglected urban parks was a logical element of her overall beautification agenda, it also dovetailed with what Mrs. Johnson later described as a "balance problem" the President discussed with her: more Americans needed to be encouraged to spend their discretionary vacation incomes within the U.S. borders rather than overseas. Increasing tourism at the National Park sites served both purposes. The Interior Secretary, helped facilitate much of the First Lady's national beautification agenda that prompted NPS budget increases. He accompanied her in a series of colorful "Discover America" trips to national parks. Together they went white-water rafting, hiking, camping under the stars, dedicating a dam, walking the beaches, exploring ancient forests, visiting a native American Indian reservation - all of it receiving in-depth domestic and international coverage. Lady Bird Johnson would travel over 100,000 miles on about forty tours. The trips also underlined the Administration's nearly two hundred laws related to land, air and water reclamation, preservation and conservation, and wilderness and park acquisitions.
Lady Bird Johnson had the joy of living with her two daughters in the White House, seeing them both married during their time there. The lives of her two new son-in-laws, however, also struck a poignant note: both were sent to Vietnam to fight in the escalating war.
The first signs of anti-war sentiment that the First Lady encountered came during her hosting of a unique White House Festival of the Arts, the first such presidential effort to showcase artistic disciplines including painting, writing, poetry, and sculpture, by leading contemporary figures. The problems began when Robert Lowell publicly withdrew his initial acceptance to read his poetry because of his opposition to the war. Other writers then signed an open letter of war protest that was published in national newspapers. During an afternoon reading, author John Hersey went through with his threat to read his anti-war poem "Hiroshima," frequently glaring at the First Lady. Although she knew Hersey had been intending to read the poem and made it clear that she did not want him to do so, she did not withdraw the invitation. In 1967, her events were increasingly overshadowed by anti-war protestors carrying picket signs and chanting slogans.
When she spoke at new Center for Environmental Studies at Williams College, she was met by an army of students in white armbands, mourning those killed in Vietnam. As she was introduced, many students walked out. As she was leaving the event, she heard a low buzz of students repeating, "Shame, shame." At Yale, she was greeted with harshly-worded picket signs and a university president who sympathized with the protesting students. The most dramatic confrontation posed to the First Lady over the Vietnam War occurred in the White House itself, at an 18 January, 1968 "Women Do-Er" luncheons. One of her guests, actress-singer and social activist Eartha Kitt stood up and sharply confronted the First Lady about the effects of the Vietnam War on juvenile delinquency. Lady Bird Johnson calmly responded that as horrible as the war was, it did not serve as justification for violence or the prevention of constructive efforts in other aspects of national life. Kitt's remarks shocked the public: no such previous type of incident had occurred in the White House, let alone intended for a First Lady who had no direct responsibility for the policy being questioned.
Publicly, Lady Bird Johnson strongly supported her husband but there is indication that she privately questioned the actual results of the frequent bombings urged by LBJ's military advisors. In 1987, she would state that the Vietnam War was "long" and "undeclared," and that if ever a similar situation arose, "it had sure better be preceded by an Alamo or a Pearl Harbor so that there is a clear-cut declaration and coalescing of the American people." However personally painful the anti-war movement could be to her family, Lady Bird Johnson wrote in a 1967 entry in her diary that she did "not want to live only in the White House, insulated against life. I want to know what is going on…"
Even within the protective bubble of her movements as First Lady, she was highly conscious of the war and its affects at home. When she returned to Washington late one night in a festive mood, for example, and glimpsed floral wreaths being unloaded at Union Station, she turned somber, knowing immediately they were for fresh graves in Arlington National Cemetery. Beyond the anti-war and the environmental movements, Lady Bird Johnson was acutely conscious of the changes everywhere in the culture, whether it was the pop art of Andy Warhol, who attended a New York museum opening along with the First Lady; or the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, who performed at the White House; or Beatlemania, a fan of which included her younger daughter.
The war had also taken a visible toll on LBJ's health. Conscious not only of how he limited his hours of rest but his previous near-fatal heart attack, Lady Bird Johnson began to sense that his seeking re-election would be a mistake. She felt this way not only in terms of his personal health, but also his decreased ability to lead a united nation. She firmly made her views known in another lengthy memo. When he decided not to seek the Democratic nomination for another term, it was the First Lady who insisted that he add the phrase "I will not accept" to prevent any possibility of another term.
Four days later, on 4 April, 1968, Lady Bird Johnson was the first voice of the Administration to address the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ensuring urban riots it prompted. Then attending HemisFair '68 in San Antonio, Texas, she said, "let us not set the fires of hatred but quench them…we are living in an age of great variety….What we have become, we owe to dozens of different peoples…in these troubled tragic hours, we need to remember that we are moving forward." Two months later, when the late brother of President Kennedy, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Democrat - New York) was also shot, Lady Bird Johnson wrote with immediate concern to her predecessor, the Senator's sister-in-law Jacqueline Kennedy.
In the same period of time, former President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a series of heart attacks and began what would be a permanent hospitalization until his death a year later. When Lady Bird Johnson visited him in the Washington area Walter Reed Hospital, his wife Mamie Eisenhower spoke privately with her. In the atmosphere of assassination, the former First Lady expressed her fear about having to eventually live alone as a widow at her isolated farm. Mrs. Johnson spoke about the concerns to LBJ and he signed legislation providing for lifetime Secret Service protection for presidential widows. Although Jacqueline Kennedy had received this protection by special legislation (and lost it later that year, on 20 October 1968, when she remarried); it was not automatic.
In her closing White House days, Lady Bird Johnson Park, a National Park Service property, was dedicated in the Washington area in honor of the larger legacy she left to the nation. Although her effort dovetailed into earlier calls by groups such as the Sierra Club and environmentalists like Rachel Carson, the global visibility of the president's wife made the increasingly serious ecological threats not just to the United States but the world an issue about which citizens from all walks of life became more conscious. In many of her speeches, she further considered the costs of an increasingly technological society to not only the earth but humanity itself.
Life after the White House
Upon their retirement, the Johnsons returned to Texas, living in their ranch house in Stonewall, not far from Austin. The former First Lady immediately involved herself in her community. She led the Town Lake Beautification Project, a local effort to create long trails for residents who wanted to walk, hike and bicycle along the Colorado River there, and to plant flowering trees along the path. She encouraged similar activity around the state, establishing the Texas Highway Beautification Awards. She not only hosted the annual award ceremony but handed out checks from her personal account to the winners.
Lady Bird Johnson met with architects as she took the lead in the planning of what would become the Johnson Presidential Library and Museum.. With Lyndon Johnson having been a teacher and hoping to conduct some government lectures, and with Lady Bird Johnson being a loyal alumna (the "Texas Ex's") of the University of Texas at Austin, they decided to have the library affiliated with the university. It was the first presidential library to do so. Mrs. Johnson went on to serve a six-year term as a regent of the University of Texas from 1971 to 1977, and later served on the university's centennial commission. Her support for higher education continued, and she was the recipient of honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from the University of Alabama, Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Washington College in Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, the State University of New York, Southern Methodist University, St. Edwards University and Boston University. George Washington University awarded her an honorary doctorate of Public Service.
Understanding her place in history, she also began the task of editing what would become her memoirs, A White House Diary (1971), drawn from the hundreds of hours of her daily taped recollections as First Lady. In December 1972, the Johnsons deeded their ranch house and property to the National Park Service. As other presidential couples had also arranged for, they maintained the right to live there for life. Ironically, Lyndon Johnson died of a sudden heart attack just a month later. In time, Mrs. Johnson would serve as the honorary chair of the LBJ Memorial Grove. Located along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., the park borders the one named for her.
Mrs. Johnson also continued her commitment to the national parks, historical sites and environmental issues. The year she left the White House, she accepted membership on the National Park Service’s Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments. In 1999, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt said, "Mrs. Johnson has been a 'shadow’ Secretary of the Interior' for much of her life." She has served as a trustee of the American Conservation Association and the National Geographic Society, continuing as a trustee emeritus of the latter organization. She was appointed to the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration's Advisory Council as co-chairman by President Gerald Ford, and then the Commission on White House Fellowships by President Jimmy Carter.
It was two Republican Presidents who awarded the former First Lady with some of the highest awards given to civilians: the Medal of Freedom from Ford in 1977, and the Congressional Gold Medal from Reagan in 1988. Lady Bird Johnson consistently maintained warm relationships with presidential families of both parties. She continued her friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, visiting her in the summer of 1993 when both were vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, and then attending her funeral nine months later. She corresponded with Pat Nixon and spent some time with her while both attended the dedication of the Reagan Library in 1991, along with the Carters, Reagans, Fords and Bushes. Following the White House ceremony hosted by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter where the Panama Canal was officially turned over to the nation of Panama, Mrs. Johnson accepted their invitation to spend a night in her former home. As a fellow Texan, she had established relationships with both Barbara Bush and Laura Bush and despite their differing political allegiances, there were frequent expressions of mutual admiration. She was an early and vigorous supporter of Bill Clinton for President, and often commiserated with Hillary Clinton as she endured criticism for her activism. She shocked many political observers by joining Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter in unison on stage at the 1977 Houston Conference on Women, a gathering vigorously opposed by conservative women.. Although she had previously expressed her feminism in more subdued measures, Lady Bird Johnson also joined Betty Ford on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1983 at a rally pushing for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Despite her later ardent defense of War on Poverty programs which were abolished or faced budget cuts, and her campaigning for her Democratic son-in-law Charles Robb in his successful races for governor of Virginia and U.S. Senator from that state, Lady Bird Johnson was not viewed as a strictly partisan figure. Public admiration for her is reflected in the diverse organizations that made her the recipient of their awards during her post-White House years: The Industrial Designers' Society of America, Weizmann Institute of Science, Ladies Home Journal, the American Legion, Southern Baptist Convention, Lord & Taylor, American Horticultural Society, J.C. Penney, Motorola, National Wildlife Federation, Daughters of the American Revolution, Environmental Law Institute, the American Academy of Achievement, Garden Club of America - to name but a few.
Prompted by her concern that native plants and indigenous wildflowers were rapidly disappearing from the American landscape, on her 70th birthday in 1982, Lady Bird Johnson together with Helen Hayes created the nonprofit National Wildflower Research Center. She made a personal donation of sixty acres of land near Austin, and $125,000; matching gifts flooded in, establishing a $700,000 endowment and the center opened the following year. She served as chairman of the board of directors. In 1988, Lady Bird Johnson co-authored with Carlton Lees the book, Wildflowers across America, donating all proceeds to the center. In 1992, to mark her 80th birthday, the LBJ Foundation Board of Directors created the Lady Bird Johnson Conservation Award. In 1995 the center expanded into a new forty-two-acre facility. In 1998, the center's board unanimously decided to rename it the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
11 July 2007, her Austin home. At 94, she lived longer than any other First Lady except Bess Truman
LBJ Ranch, Stonewall, Texas