“Lady Bird” Johnson
Known as “Lady Bird” Johnson, she was married to Lyndon B. Johnson, who served as president to the United States from 1963 – 1969. While she was First Lady, Lady Bird wanted to be known for her actions instead of her fashions. However, the Johnson’s experience would show that “no matter how forceful and dynamic a modern First Lady was, she remained an extension of her husband” (Troy, 134). In trying to expand their power, the Johnson’s discovered the extent of the American Presidency and of American power.
Her given name was Claudia Alta Taylor. She was born on December 22, 1912 in Karnack, near Longview, Texas. When she was two, the family cook/nurse gave her the name “Lady Bird,” which has stayed with her all her life. Bird’s father was a well to do merchant, Thomas Jefferson Taylor. When Lady Bird was five, her mother died, so her aunt along with the family servants helped Thomas Jefferson raise his daughter. Lady Bird did very well in school and developed a love for classical literature. She earned a liberal arts and journalism degree from the University of Texas in Austin. After graduation, Lady Bird used her money and developed skills as a successful businesswoman. In 1943, she bought a radio station that she turned into an extremely valuable broadcasting business.
When Lady Bird Johnson met Lyndon Johnson in September 1934, he was then secretary to a congressman. They hit it off instantly and got married two months later in November. The couple had two daughters: Lynda Bird in 1944 and Luci Baines in 1947 (thus, keeping their trademark of LBJ).
Lady Bird became the Second Lady in 1961, when Lyndon Johnson became vice president of the United States to President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was assassinated, Lady Bird came into the role of First Lady while her husband became the next President.
Using her business skills, Mrs. Johnson was able to increase the efficiency of the daily operations when she moved into the White House. She did a wonderful job hosting several social functions at the White House; she would always try to please everyone. Mrs. Johnson was the first true advisor First Lady to flaunt her influence. She would always call and would schedule her day around President Johnson.
Mrs. Johnson set an extraordinary pace as First Lady. She would take on the President’s issues as her own. Mrs. Johnson tried to encourage a “more vital type of woman” for American society. Mrs. Johnson hosted monthly “Woman Doers” luncheons and invited “can-do” type of women. She hired a reporter as press secretary and staff director – Liz Carpenter. During this time, President Johnson is famous for saying, “A woman’s place is not only in the home, but in the House, the Senate, and throughout governmental service.”
In 1965, Mrs. Johnson started her beautification program. She started began at home, in Washington, D.C. by planting trees and flowers. She traveled to make speeches and to advocate her beautification program. While the President often distanced himself from what he called “Lady Bird’s business,” he did try to get the beautification legislation passed. LBJ threw out his wife’s name in order to get the bill though. And all her hard work paid off, since she did help push the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 through Congress. This legislation created restrictions to billboards along the nation’s highways. However, with the growing dislike of the Johnson’s during the Vietnam War, there was an attack on the 1965 Highway Beautification Act. For example, the billboard owners worked against Mrs. Johnson by offering federal agencies free highway advertising for public service messages.
Since her position as First Lady, Mrs. Johnson has continued her interest in environmental matters. In 1982 she founded the National Research Center, a non-profit education organization, which she still supports. Then in 1988 she coauthored the book Wildflowers Across America.