First Ladies: Lady Bird Johnson

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Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson broke new ground by interacting directly with Congress, employing her own press secretary, and making a solo electioneering tour as

Lady Bird Johnson

First Lady. She was the wife of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Claudia Alta Taylor was born on December 22, 1912 in Karnack, Texas. She was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Minnie Lee Pattillo Taylors. She had two brothers. As an infant her nurse said she was “purty as a ladybird” and the name stuck.

Her mother died in 1918 and her father would remarry twice more. She was largely raised by her maternal aunt, Effie Pattillo.

She had to live with another family during the school week while she attended high school, as their was no high school in her town. She graduated third in her class at the age of fifteen.

In May 1928, she entered the University of Alabama where she took journalism. She became homesick and later transferred to St. Mary’s Episcopal College for Women and later the University of Texas.

While at the University of Texas, she met Lyndon B. Johnson, through a mutual friend. She said she felt like a “moth drawn to the flame”. Johnson proposed on their first date and remained persistent until she accepted, which was ten weeks later. They were married on November 17, 1934 in San Antonio, Texas.

The couple had two daughters, after enduring three miscarriages. Their daughter Lynda Bird was named in 1944 and Luci Baines was born in 1947. Both Lady Bird, her husband and both daughters have the initials LBJ.

Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird finances her husband’s first run for congress from an inheritance left by her mother’s estate. While he served in World War II, Lady Bird ran his office.

Lady Bird sometimes served as a mediating force between her willful husband and those he encountered.

During World War II, Lady Bird spent part of her inheritance to purchase a radio station in Austin, Texas. In 1952, she purchased a TV station, much to her husband’s protest. She served as president of the LBJ Holding Co. Her small investment turned her into a millionaire. She was the first president’s wife to have become a millionaire in her own right before her husband was elected to office. She remained involved with the company until she was in her eighties.

When John F. Kennedy, chose Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, Lady Bird played a huge role in campaigning, as Jacqueline Kennedy was expecting.

Lady Bird filled in for Jackie Kennedy at various social events during the Kennedy Administration.

The Johnson’s were two cars behind President Kennedy when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lady Bird later said the day was unforgettable. Lyndon was sworn in as President on Air Force One two hours after JFK died, with Lady Bird and Jacqueline Kennedy by his side. Afterward, Lady Bird created a tape on which she recorded her memories of the assassination, saying it was “primarily as a form of therapy to help me over the shock and horror of the experience.” She submitted a

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson

transcript of the tape to the Warren Commission as testimony.

As First Lady, Lady Bird started a capital beautification project. It was intended to improve physical conditions in Washington, D.C., for both residents and tourists, by planting millions of flowers, many of them on National Park Service land along roadways around the capital. She said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

Lady Bird created the modern structure of the First Lady’s office: she was the first in this role to have a press secretary and chief of staff of her own, and an outside liaison with Congress.

She was also an advocate for Head Start and promoted the Civil Rights Act.

Lady Bird became the first First Lady to hold the Bible as her husband took the oath of office on January 20, 1965 – a tradition which continues.

In 1969, the couple returned to their ranch in Texas upon leaving the White House.

In 1970, she published a book about her time in the White House.

President Johnson died in 1973, several years after leaving office.

Lady Bird Johnson

In 1982, Lady Bird and actress Helen Hayes founded the National Wildflower Research Center west of Austin, Texas, as a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving and reintroducing native plants in planned landscapes.

In the years afterward leaving office she stayed busy with her causes and honoring various presidents and First Ladies.

Lady Bird Johnson died on July 11, 2007 at her home in Texas. She was buried beside her husband.

She was the first former First Lady to die in the 21st century.

Lady Bird Johnson was a lifelong advocate for beautifying the nation’s cities and highways. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, the highest U.S. civilian honors.

She was protected by the United States Secret Service for 44 years, longer than anyone else in history.

Biographer Betty Boyd Caroli said in 2015 of Lady Bird that “She really invented the job of modern first lady. She was the first one to have a big staff, the first one to have a comprehensive program in her own name, the first one to write a book about the White House years, when she leaves. She had an important role in setting up an enduring role for her husband with the LBJ Library. She’s the first one to campaign extensively on her own for her husband.”






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