Episode 157: Lady Bird Johnson

Posted 21 July 2020 by

Lady Bird’s official White House portrait by Elizabeth Shoumatoff   Library of Congress

While researching Zephyr Wright, we both learned quite a bit about her employer, Lady Bird Johnson. Since we knew a lot about her (and our libraries were still closed) we thought we would share the story of this intelligent woman who had her own interests and accomplishments outside the work she did with her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Claudia Alton Taylor was born on December 22, 1912 in Karnack , Texas. She was the daughter of a wealthy landowner, Tomas Jefferson Taylor and his wife, Minnie Patillo Taylor. Claudia was given the nickname of “Lady Bird” by her nurse and, like a lot of childhood nicknames, it stuck no matter how hard she tried to shake it off.

Baby Bird, age two. So adorable! So serious!

Lady Bird was raised in a house with a very demanding, constantly working father, a loving but non-energetic aunt, and lots of servants who filled in the gaps (sounds like the set-up for a TV show.) We’re only two generations removed from slavery, and in the south, and Papa was a landowning merchant (read: his employees were sharecroppers, see: Fannie Lou Hamer episode.) After a Karnack public school education and a Dallas finishing school polish, Lady Bird took her double major, Cum Laude thankyouverymuch, from the University of Texas, Austin into a position as a…wife. A political wife in Washington, DC, to be exact, when she married then Congressional Aide, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and got herself a very demanding, constantly working husband.

The Taylor “house” in Karnack, TX where Lady Bird grew up.

Lydon worked his way up the political ladder: Congressman to Senator to Vice President of the United States…and when president John F. Kennedy was assassinated-President. LadyBird Johnson was deposited into the White House as First Lady in the shadow of the glamorous Jackie Kennedy but that was only one difference between the women. Lady Bird wasn’t just the pride of the South (for another year anyway) she was a businesswoman in her own right. She had helped finance Lyndon’s political campaigns, ran his Congressional office when he was at war, and was building quite a little media empire in Texas.

As First Lady, Lady Bird’s focus was on what we would call “environmental issues” but her programs were called, “Beautification projects.” The six years that she lived in the White House were tumultuous ones in US History…Civil Rights protests, assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the early years of Second Wave Feminism, and the Vietnam War.

The Johnson’s in the Oval Office: Lady Bird, President Johnson, Lynda and Luci

When her husband decided not to seek re-election in 1968, Lady Bird was ready for her own retirement and the couple moved back to their ranch outside of Austin, Texas. Sadly, Lyndon didn’t have much time in retirement (although he had enough to grow out his silver locks) and he passed away in 1973, but Lady Bird had maaaany years ahead of her. She spent a great deal of that time furthering environmental causes and established what is now the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center in Austin, and spent a lot of time with her grandkids.

Lady Bird Johnson died on July 11, 2007, she was 94 years old.

 

Time Travel With the History Chicks

We usually start with books, but thought you might like a little LBJ home movie action.

Lady Bird’s own home movies here’s one taken at the Brick House in the 1940s and we get a garden tour!

 

Books!

 

Jan Jarboe Russell

 

There are a lot of words in here, Lady Bird was a very prolific diarist

 

Michael L. Gillette

 

Betty Boyd Caroli

 

Kate Anderson Brower

Kathi Appelt, Illustrations by Joy Fisher Hein

Web!

The vast collection of LBJ (both of them…all of them) media is at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin and online, here is the main page on Lady Bird from the LBJ library, and when it’s safe from COVID, you can tour the Texas White House but they also have some online click-touring to do.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is probably best seen in person, but if you’re looking for native American flora, they have a pretty cool database for you wherever you may be.

PBS has a timeline with photos that is good for a general overview of her life.

An article on why President Johnson grew out his hair in retirement from The Atlantic.

Moving Pictures!

All The Way, 2016 movie with Bryan Cranston as LBJ (male) and Melissa Leo as LBJ (female.) 

Finally, a little documentary to wrap things up.

 

Break music, Flower petals being gently rocked by large and slow waves, by Jasmine Brunch

End song: Down South by Cary Kanno

both used with special permission from Ilicense

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