Lady Bird Johnson
|First Lady of the United States|
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
|President||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|Preceded by||Jacqueline Kennedy|
|Succeeded by||Pat Nixon|
|Second Lady of the United States|
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
|Vice President||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|Preceded by||Pat Nixon|
|Succeeded by||Muriel Humphrey (1965)|
Claudia Alta Taylor
December 22, 1912
Karnack, Texas, U.S.
|Died||July 11, 2007 (aged 94)|
West Lake Hills, Texas, U.S.
|Resting place||Johnson Family Cemetery|
(m. 1934; died 1973)
|Education||St. Mary's Episcopal College for Women|
University of Texas, Austin (BA, BJour)
Claudia Alta Taylor "Lady Bird" Johnson (December 22, 1912 – July 11, 2007) was the first lady of the United States from 1963 to 1969 during the presidency of her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson. Before, she had served as second lady of the United States from 1961 to 1963.
Early life[change | change source]
Johnson was born Claudia Alta Taylor on December 22, 1912 in Karnack, Texas. She was a descendant of English Protestant martyr Rowland Taylor through his grandson Captain Thomas J. Taylor II. Her parents were Minnie Pattillo-Taylor (1874–1918) and Thomas Jefferson Jonson Taylor (1874–1960). Lady Bird had two elder brothers, Thomas Jefferson Jr. (1901–1959) and Antonio, also known as Tony (1904–1986).
She was named for her mother's brother Claud.
During her infancy, her nursemaid, Alice Tittle, said that she was as "pretty as a ladybird." Opinions differ about whether the name refers to a bird or a ladybird beetle, the latter of which is commonly referred to as a "ladybug" in North America. The nickname virtually replaced her first name for the rest of her life. Her father and siblings called her Lady, and her husband called her Bird—the name she used on her marriage license. During her teenage years, some classmates would call her Bird to provoke her, since she reportedly was not fond of the name.
Her father, a native of Alabama, had primarily English ancestry, and some Welsh and Danish. Her mother, also a native of Alabama, was of English and Scottish descent.
Lady Bird had two elder brothers, Thomas Jefferson Jr. (1901–1959) and Antonio, also known as Tony (1904–1986). Her widowed father married twice more. His second wife was Beulah Taylor, a bookkeeper at a general store. His third wife was Ruth Scroggins, whom he married in 1937.
Lady Bird was largely raised by her maternal aunt Effie Pattillo, who moved to Karnack after her sister's death. She also visited her Pattillo relatives in Autauga County, Alabama, every summer until she was a young woman. As she explained, "Until I was about 20, summertime always meant Alabama to me. With Aunt Effie we would board the train in Marshall and ride to the part of the world that meant watermelon cuttings, picnics at the creek, and a lot of company every Sunday." According to Lady Bird, her Aunt Effie "opened my spirit to beauty, but she neglected to give me any insight into the practical matters a girl should know about, such as how to dress or choose one's friends or learning to dance."
Lady Bird was a shy and quiet girl who spent much of her youth alone outdoors. "People always look back at it now and assume it was lonely," she once said about her childhood. "To me it definitely was not. ... I spent a lot of time just walking and fishing and swimming." She developed her lifelong love of the outdoors as a child growing up in the tall pines and bayous of East Texas, where she watched the wildflowers bloom each spring.
There is a story about her nickname, Lady Bird. Once a nursemaid said about her, "She's as purty as a ladybird.” This nickname continued, and people called her "Lady Bird." Some speculate that the nursemaid was referring to a "ladybug," which is also known as a "ladybird," when she gave Johnson this nickname. Johnson was of Danish, English, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry.
Marriage[change | change source]
When she was a child, she developed love for the nature. Because of her efforts, the government of Texas agreed to plant wildflowers on the sides of the roads in Texas.
Second Lady of the United States[change | change source]
John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate for the 1960 election. Kennedy asked Lady Bird to become very involved in the campaign, because his wife, Jacqueline, was pregnant. Lady Bird traveled a lot during the campaign; she visited 11 states, and appeared at 150 events. In November, Kennedy and Johnson won the election.
As the wife of the vice president, Lady Bird would serve as a replacement for Jacqueline Kennedy at official events and functions. In her first year as Second Lady, she filled in for Mrs. Kennedy at more than 50 events, roughly one per week.
On November 22, 1963, the Johnsons were with the Kennedys in Dallas when President Kennedy was assassinated; they were two cars behind the President in his motorcade. Lyndon was sworn in as president on Air Force One two hours after Kennedy died, with Lady Bird and Jacqueline Kennedy by his side. Afterward, Lady Bird created a tape where she recorded her memories of the assassination. She did this as a way to help her deal with the assassination. She gave a transcript of the tape to the Warren Commission.
Days after the assassination, Lady Bird worked with Jacqueline Kennedy on the transition of her husband to the White House. However, Lady Bird felt she would not be as popular as Kennedy. On her last day in the White House, Jacqueline Kennedy left Lady Bird a note in which she promised she would "be happy" there.
First Lady of the United States[change | change source]
As First Lady, she was very active. She was the first First Lady to have a press secretary. Liz Carpenter, her fellow from the University of Texas, served as Lady Bird’s press secretary from 1963 until 1969. Carpenter also served as Lady Bird’s staff director.
She started a project to make the capital look nicer. It was called the Society for a More Beautiful National Capital. The plan was to plant millions of flowers around Washington, D.C. She said, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope."
As the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson used her influence to achieve some new things for the society. Two important things were:
- She started a beautification program for Washington D.C., the capital city. The program aimed to improve the condition in the capital for the people who lived there, as also for the people who visited the capital. Based on this, many other states of the United States started similar programs for their capital cities.
- The US Congress passed the Highway Beautification Act in 1965. This Act (that is a law) restricted roadside advertisements. It also gave rules for planting flowers and plants on sides of the roads. All these made the highways more beautiful.
She continued as the First Lady until 1969, when her husband's presidency ended. She was replaced by Pat Nixon.
She worked extensively with the American Association of Nurserymen (AAN) executive Vice President Robert F. Lederer to protect wildflowers and promoted planting them along highways. Her efforts inspired similar programs throughout the country. She became the first president's wife to advocate actively for legislation when she was instrumental in promoting the Highway Beautification Act, which was nicknamed "Lady Bird's Bill". It was developed to beautify the nation's highway system by limiting billboards and by planting roadside areas. She was also an advocate of the Head Start program to give children from lower-income families a step up in school readiness.
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. Her press secretary from 1963 to 1969 was Liz Carpenter, a fellow alumna of the University of Texas. As a mark of changing times, Carpenter was the first professional newswoman to become press secretary to a First Lady; she also served as Lady Bird's staff director. Lady Bird's tenure as First Lady marked the beginning of the hiring of employees in the East Wing to work specifically on the First Lady's projects.
President Johnson had initially said he would turn down the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1964, having been unhappy during his service in President Kennedy's administration and believing the party did not want him. Although aides could not sway him, the First Lady convinced him otherwise, reassuring him of his worthiness and saying that if he dropped out, the Republicans would likely take the White House.
During the 1964 campaign, Lady Bird traveled through eight Southern states from October 6 to 9 in a chartered train, the Lady Bird Special, at one point giving 45 speeches over four days. It was the first solo whistle-stop tour by a First Lady. In the same month, Lady Bird continued her campaign tour by airplane, with stops in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky.
In the November 1964 presidential election Johnson won a landslide victory over his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater. At the ceremony to swear in the new president, Lady Bird held the Bible as her husband took the oath of office on January 20, 1965, starting a tradition which continues.
On September 22, 1965, Lady Bird dedicated a Peoria, Illinois, landscape plaza, with the president of the Peoria City Beautification Association, Leslie Kenyon, saying during the ceremony that Lady Bird was the first presidential spouse "who has visited our city as an official guest in our 140 years of existence."
On September 22, 1966, Lady Bird dedicated the Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona, fulfilling a goal that both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had sought to accomplish. She said the dam belonged to all Americans amid an increasing concern for water that affected every American "no matter whether he lives in New York or Page, Arizona."
In late-August 1967, Lady Bird traveled to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to attend the Expo 67, a White House aide saying she had been urged by the President to travel there since his own trip three months prior.
In mid-September 1967, Lady Bird began touring the Midwestern United States as part of a trip that one White House described as "mostly agriculture during the day and culture at night." President Johnson was then declining in support by farmers, months before a planned re-election bid. Speaking to a crowd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 20, Lady Bird said problems within American cities were creating crime.
In January 1968 at a White House luncheon, Eartha Kitt, when asked by the First Lady what her views were on the Vietnam War, replied: "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot." Kitt's anti-war remarks reportedly angered Lyndon and Mrs. Johnson, and this resulted in the derailment of Kitt's professional career.
Toward the end of Johnson's first term, Lady Bird was anxious for her husband to leave office. In September 1967, Lady Bird voiced her concerns that a second term would be detrimental to his health. Health concerns may have been one of reasons why President Johnson decided not to seek re-election.
In 1970, Lady Bird published A White House Diary, her intimate, behind-the-scenes account of her husband's presidency spanning November 22, 1963, to January 20, 1969. Beginning with President Kennedy's assassination, she recorded the momentous events of her times, including the Great Society's War on Poverty; the national civil rights and social protest movements; her activism on behalf of the environment; and the Vietnam War.
Lady Bird was acquainted with a long span of fellow First Ladies, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Laura Bush. She was protected by the United States Secret Service for 44 years.
Biographer Betty Boyd Caroli said in 2015 of Lady Bird that
She really invented the job of the 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.
Writing in 1986, William H. Inman observed that Lady Bird was considered by some "the most effective First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt", citing her battles against highway billboard forests, auto heaps, and junk piles as well as her support for American public landscapes maintaining beauty and sanity.
Later life[change | change source]
Even after retiring as the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live an active life. She gave her time to programs that were for nature. She founded a non-profit organization. The name of the organization is Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The Center develops native plants of Americas and uses the same for cleaning up areas.
During the 1970s, 1980s, and the early 1990s, Lady Bird Johnson was the most active presidential widow. During these years, Jacqueline Kennedy did not attend many functions, as she wanted to protect her privacy. However, with growing age, Lady Bird Johnson’s health became weak. She suffered two strokes: first one in August 1993, and the second one in May 2002. Her eyesight failed, and she could not speak. In February 2006, her daughter Lynda Johnson Robb informed people that her mother is now totally blind and that she "is not in very good health". Mrs. Robb said that she and her sister Luci Johnson Nugent still read to their mother and talk to her.
She was the only living presidential widow from May 19, 1994 to June 5, 2004. This was the period between the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the day when Nancy Reagan was widowed. Lady Bird Johnson died on July 11, 2007. Lady Bird Johnson was 94 years old. She was the oldest First Lady alive until her death. She had even outlived Pat Nixon, who was First Lady after Johnson. Only one First Lady had lived longer: Bess Truman. Bess Truman had lived up to 97 years of age. Lady Bird Johnson, Bess Truman, Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford are the only four First Ladies to have lived over 90 years or more. The United States Secret Service continued to protect her until she died.
In culture[change | change source]
Many places and characters are named after Lady Bird Johnson:
- There is a park in Washington, D.C. named Lady Bird Johnson Park.
- There is a center in Austin, Texas named the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
- There is a lake in Austin, Texas named Lady Bird Lake.
- Hank Hill from King of the Hill once said that he named his dog, Lady Bird, after Lady Bird Johnson.