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A portrait of Lady Bird Taylor at about age three
University of Texas Main Building
Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Taylor Johnson (December 22, 1912 – July 11, 2007) was First Lady of the United States from 1963 to 1969 during the presidency of her husband Lyndon B. Johnson. Throughout her life, she was an advocate for beautification of the nation's cities and highways and conservation of natural resources and she made that her major initiative as First Lady. After leaving the White House in 1969 and her husband's death in 1973, Lady Bird became an entrepreneur, creating the $150 million LBJ Holdings Company, and was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honors.

Early life

The Brick House, Lady Bird Johnson's birthplace and childhood home in Karnack, Texas.


Claudia Alta Taylor was born in Karnack, Texasmarker, a town in Harrison Countymarker, near the state's border with Louisianamarker. Her birthplace was "The Brick House," a former slave plantation mansion on the outskirts of town, which her father had purchased shortly before her birth. Nearly all of both her maternal and paternal forebears had arrived in the Virginia Colony during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Her father was a native of Alabamamarker and primarily of English ancestry with small amounts of Welsh and Danish; her mother was also a native of Alabamamarker and of English and Scottish descent.

Though she was named for her mother's brother Claud, during her infancy, her nurse, Alice Tittle, commented, she was as "purty as a ladybird," which is a brightly colored beetle commonly known as a ladybug in the United States. That nickname virtually replaced her actual first name for the rest of her life. Her father and siblings called her Lady, though her husband called her Bird, which is the name she used on her marriage license. During her teenage years, her schoolmates had called her Bird, though mockingly, since she reportedly was not fond of the name.Her father was Thomas Jefferson Taylor (August 29, 1874 – October 22, 1960), a sharecropper's son who became a wealthy businessman and the owner of of cotton and two general stores. "My father was a very strong character, to put it mildly," his daughter once said. "He lived by his own rules. It was a whole feudal way of life, really."

Her mother was the former Minnie Lee Pattillo (1874–1918), an opera lover who felt out of place in Karnack and who was often in "poor emotional and physical health." When Lady Bird was five years old, Minnie, while pregnant, fell down a flight of stairs and died of complications after miscarrying. In a profile of Lady Bird Johnson, Time magazine described Lady Bird's mother as "a tall, eccentric woman from an old and aristocratic Alabamamarker family, liked to wear long white dresses and heavy veils [... and who] scandalized people for miles around by entertaining Negroes in her home, and once even started to write a book about Negro religious practices, called Bio Baptism." Her unreconstructed husband, however, tended to see blacks as "hewers of wood and drawers of water," according to his younger son.

Lady Bird had two elder brothers, Thomas Jefferson Jr. (1901–1959) and Antonio, also known as Tony (1904–1986). She also had two stepmothers; the second, Ruth Scroggins, who married Thomas Taylor in 1937.

She was largely raised by her aunt Effie Pattillo, who moved to Karnack after her sister's death, although Lady Bird visited her Pattillo relatives in Autauga County, Alabamamarker, 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 environment as a child growing up in the tall pines and bayous of East Texas and watching the wildflowers bloom each spring.

Education

When it came time to enter high school (her brothers, however, had attended boarding schools in New York), Lady Bird moved away from home to live with another family during weekdays in the town of Jefferson, Texasmarker, since there was no high school in the Karnack area. Eventually she graduated third in her class at the age of 15 from Marshall Senior High School in nearby Marshallmarker. Despite her young age, she drove herself to school in her own car, a distance of each way, because, she said, "it was an awful chore for my daddy to delegate some person from his business to take me in and out." During her senior year, when she realized that she had the highest grades in her class, she "purposely allowed her grades to slip" so that she would not have to give the valedictorian or salutatorian speech.

After graduating from high school in May 1928, Lady Bird entered the University of Alabamamarker for the summer session, where she took her first journalism course, but being homesick for Texas, she did not return for the fall term at Alabama. Instead she and a high school friend enrolled at St. Mary's Episcopal College for Women, a strict Episcopal boarding junior college for women in Dallasmarker, where she "converted to the Episcopal faith," although she waited five years to be confirmed.

Field of Bluebonnets in Texas
After graduating from St. Mary's in May 1930, Lady Bird toyed with the idea of going back to Alabama, but another friend from Marshall was going to the University of Texasmarker, so she chartered a plane to go down to Austinmarker to check it out. Prophetically, as the plane landed she was awed by the sight of a field covered with bluebonnets and instantly fell in love with the city. Lady Bird received a Bachelor's of Arts degree with honors in 1933 and a second bachelor's degree in journalism Cum Laude in 1934 — a time when women were hard pressed to have a career of their own, let alone a college education. She was active on campus in different organizations such as Orange Jackets and believed in student leadership. Her goal was to become a reporter, but she also earned a teaching certificate. The summer after her second graduation, she and a girlfriend traveled to New York Citymarker and Washington, D.C.marker, where they peered through the fence at the White Housemarker.

Marriage and family

Her goal of a career in media was deferred when a friend in Austin introduced her to Lyndon Baines Johnson, a young up-and-coming political hopeful working as an aide to Congressman Richard Kleberg.

On their first date, which was breakfast the next morning at the Driskill Hotelmarker and a long drive in the country, Johnson proposed. Lady Bird did not want to rush into marriage, but Lyndon Johnson was persistent and did not want to wait. Lady Bird accepted his proposal 10 weeks later. The couple married on November 17, 1934 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texasmarker.

After three miscarriages, the couple had two daughters: Lynda (born in 1944), whose husband Charles S. Robb is a former governor of Virginiamarker and former U.S. Senator, and Luci, born in 1947, first married to Pat Nugent, then Ian Turpin. The couple and their two daughters all shared the initials LBJ. At the time of her death, Johnson had seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Early politics

When Lyndon decided to run for Congress from Austin's 10th district, Lady Bird provided the money to launch his campaign. She took $10,000 of her inheritance from her mother's estate to help start his political career. The couple settled in Washington, D.C. after Lyndon was elected to Congress. After he enlisted in the Navy at the outset of the Second World War, Lady Bird ran the congressional office.

Johnson sometimes served as a mediating force between her willful husband and those he had encountered. On one occasion, after Lyndon had clashed with a young Houstonmarker reporter, Dan Rather, Lady Bird followed Rather in her car and invited him to return and have some punch, explaining, "That's just the way Lyndon sometimes is."

Business career

In January-February 1943, Ladybird Johnson spent $17,500 of her inheritance to purchase KTBC, an Austin radio station that was in debt. She bought the radio station from a three-man partnership which included a future U.S. Secretary of the Navy and a future U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Robert B. Anderson.

She served as President of the company, LBJ Holding Co., and her husband negotiated an agreement with the CBS radio network. Lady Bird decided to expand by buying a television station in 1952 despite Lyndon's objections, reminding him that she could do as she wished with her inheritance. The station, KTBCmarker-7 (then affiliated with CBS as well), would make the Johnsons millionaires as Austin's monopoly VHF franchise. Over the years, journalists have written about how Lyndon used his influence in the Senate to influence the Federal Communications Commission into granting the monopoly license, which was in Lady Bird's name.

Eventually, Johnson's initial $41,000 investment turned into more than $150 million for the LBJ Holding Company. Johnson remained involved with the company until she was in her 80s. She was the first president's wife to become a millionaire in her own right.
Lady Bird Johnson in 1962


Second Lady of the United States

John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson as his running mate for the 1960 election. At Kennedy's request, Lady Bird took an expanded role during the campaign, due to Jacqueline Kennedy's pregnancy. Over 71 days, she traveled through 11 states and appeared at 150 events. Kennedy and Johnson won the election that November, with Lady Bird helping the Democratic ticket carry seven Southern states.

As the Vice-President's wife, Lady Bird often served as a substitute for Jacqueline Kennedy at official events and functions. The Johnsons were accompanying Kennedy in Dallas when he was assassinatedmarker, and Lyndon was sworn in as President two hours later.

First Lady of the United States

As First Lady, Johnson started a capital beautification project (Society for a More Beautiful National Capital) to improve physical conditions in Washington, D.C.marker, both for residents and tourists by planting millions of flowers. Her beliefs regarding the importance of national beautification can best be summarized in her statement that "where flowers bloom, so does hope." She worked extensively with American Association of Nurserymen (AAN) executive Vice President Robert F. Lederer to protect wildflowers and the planting of 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" and sought to beautify the nation's highway system by limiting billboards and by planting roadside areas. She was an advocate of the Head Start program.

Johnson created the modern structure of the First Lady's office; she was the first 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 University of Texas alumna. Carpenter was the first professional newswoman to be press secretary to a First Lady, and she also served as Lady Bird's staff director. Johnson's tenure as First Lady marked the beginning of the hiring of employees in the East Wing to work specifically for the First Lady's projects.

Mrs. Johnson in front of the South Lawn of the White House
During the 1964 election, Johnson traveled through eight Southern states in her own train to promote the Civil Rights Act, at one point giving 45 speeches over five days. It was the first solo whistlestop tour of a First Lady.

In 1970, Johnson 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 Kennedy's assassination, Mrs. Johnson recorded the momentous events of her times, including the Great Society's War on Poverty, the national civil rights and social protest movements, her own activism on behalf of the environment, and the Vietnam War. Johnson was acquainted with a long span of fellow First Ladies, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Laura Bush, and was protected by the United States Secret Service for 44 years, longer than anyone else in history.

Later life

A portrait of Lady Bird Johnson in the Texas Hill Country
The former First Lady in 1987
After former President Johnson died of a heart attack in 1973, Lady Bird remained in the public eye, honoring her husband and other Presidents.

In the 1970s, she focused her attention on the Austinmarker riverfront area through her involvement in the Town Lake Beautification Project. After her death in 2007, Town Lake was renamed Lady Bird Lakemarker to honor her efforts.

From 1971 to 1978, Johnson served on the board of regents for the University of Texas System. She also served on the National Park Service Advisory Board and was the first woman to serve on National Geographicmarker's Board of Trustees. President Nixon mentioned Johnson as a possible ambassador in a circulated memo, but nothing came of that proposal.

On December 22, 1982 (her 70th birthday), she and actress Helen Hayes founded the National Wildflower Research Center, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving and reintroducing native plants in planned landscapes, located east of Austin, Texasmarker. This earned her the nickname of "Johnny Appleseed" of Wildflowers. The Center opened a new facility southwest of Austin on La Crosse Avenue in 1994. It was officially renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centermarker in 1998 in honor of Johnson, who raised $10 million for the facility. On June 20, 2006, the University of Texas at Austinmarker announced plans to incorporate the Wildflower Center into the University.

For 20 years, Johnson spent her summers on the island of Martha's Vineyardmarker renting the home of Charles Guggenheim for many of those years. She said she had greatly appreciated the island's natural beauty and flowers.

On October 13, 2006, Johnson made a rare public appearance at the renovation announcement of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museummarker. Sitting in a wheelchair and showing signs of recent health problems, Lady Bird seemed engaged and alert, and applauded along with those present at the ceremony.

Final years

Health problems and death

In 1993, Johnson's health began to fail. In August 1993 she suffered a stroke and became legally blind due to macular degeneration. In 1999 she was hospitalized for a fainting spell and, in 2002, she suffered a second, more severe, stroke, which left her unable to speak coherently or walk without assistance. In 2005, she spent a few days in an Austin hospital for treatment of bronchitis. In February 2006, Lady Bird's daughter Lynda Johnson Robb told a gathering at the Truman Library in Independence, Missourimarker, that her mother was now totally blind and was "not in very good health."

In June 2007, Johnson spent six days in Seton Hospital in Austin after suffering from a low-grade fever. At 4:18 PM (CDT) on July 11, 2007, she died at home of natural causes, surrounded by members of her family and Catholic priest Father Robert Scott. At Johnson's funeral service her daughter Luci Baines Johnson remarked that one week before her death she made a public appearance and visited the New Austin Art Gallery. "It was a scene: mother was on IV, oxygen tube and a feeding tube. It looked like a mobile hospital. But she had a wonderful time," Luci said.

Three weeks before Lady Bird's death, the rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, which had been her second home for over 50 years, had announced to his parishioners that she had given $300,000 to pay off the church's mortgage.

Funeral services

Funeral service for Lady Bird Johnson
Nancy Reagan, Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter, Laura Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, (second row) Caroline Kennedy, Barbara Bush, Susan Ford Bales, (third row) Maria Shriver, and Patricia "Tricia" Nixon Cox attended, representing seven presidential families (excluding the Johnsons and counting George H.W. Bush's family and George W. Bush's family separately).

At 9:00 A.M. on July 15, a ceremonial cortège left the Texas State Capitolmarker. The public was invited to line the route through downtown Austin on Congress Avenuemarker and along the shores of Lady Bird Lake to pay their respects. The public part of the funeral procession ended in Johnson Citymarker. The family had a private burial at the Johnson family cemetery in Stonewallmarker, where Johnson was laid to rest next to her husband who died 34 years earlier.

Honors

Lady Bird Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald Ford on January 10, 1977. The citation for her medal read:

"One of America's great First Ladies, she claimed her own place in the hearts and history of the American people. In councils of power or in homes of the poor, she made government human with her unique compassion and her grace, warmth and wisdom. Her leadership transformed the American landscape and preserved its natural beauty as a national treasure."


Johnson then received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988, becoming the first wife of a president to receive the honor. In a 1982 poll taken of historians ranking the most influential and important First Ladies, Johnson placed third behind Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt for her work as a conservation activist.

In addition to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centermarker, she was honored by the naming of the Lady Bird Johnson Parkmarker on Columbia Islandmarker in Washington, D.C.marker, which was founded as a result of her efforts as First Lady to beautify the capital. She declined many overtures to name Austin's Town Lake in her honor after she had led a campaign to clean up the lake and add trails to its shoreline; following her death, Austin Mayor Will Wynn's office said it was a "foregone conclusion that Town Lake is going to be renamed" in honor of Johnson. The lake was renamed Lady Bird Lakemarker on July 26, 2007.

A majestic grove of coastal redwoods, named in her honor by President Nixon in 1969, is located just north of Orick, Californiamarker. "Lady Bird Johnson Grove" is part of Redwood National Park. In April 2008, the "Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Cherry Blossom Grove" was dedicated in Marshfield, Missouri. The dedication took place during the city's annual cherry blossom festival. Johnson had been supportive of the rural community and their initiative to plant cherry blossom trees.

Johnson was also named the honorary chairwoman of the Head Start program.

She held honorary degrees from many universities: Boston Universitymarker, the University of Alabamamarker, George Washington Universitymarker, Johns Hopkins University, State University of New York, Southern Methodist Universitymarker, Texas Woman's University, Middlebury Collegemarker, Williams College, Southwestern Universitymarker, Texas State University–San Marcosmarker, Washington Collegemarker and St. Edward's Universitymarker.

On June 7, 2008, the Texas State Democratic Party honored Johnson by renaming the state convention's Blue Star Breakfast as the 'Lady Bird Breakfast'. In January 2009, St. Edward's Universitymarker in Austin completed a new residence hall for upperclassmen bearing the name of Lady Bird Johnson Hall, or "LBJ Hall" for short.

References

  1. "Lady Bird Johnson, Former First Lady, Dies at 94", The New York Times, Associated Press, July 11, 2007
  2. Dallas Morning News, "Lady Bird Johnson dies at 94", July 12, 2007
  3. wc.roots.com
  4. "Vibrant spirit takes Lady Bird from a small town to UT", The Palm Beach Post
  5. Lady Bird Johnson: Her Early Years PBS
  6. "Lady Bird Johnson: Final Tribute"
  7. "Obituary: Lady Bird Johnson", BBC news website
  8. The First Lady Bird TIME
  9. So Glad, So Glad TIME April 3, 1964
  10. Wilson, Janet. "East Texas wildflower." Austin American-Statesman, July 13, 2007, p.2 (Lady Bird Johnson Commemorative Section)
  11. Former first lady leaves rich legacy as political wife, environmental activist, businesswoman. American Statesman
  12. Russell, Jan Jarboe, Lady Bird, A Biography of Mrs. Johnson, 1999, New York: Scribner, pp. 69-70
  13. TSHA Online - Texas State Historical Association
  14. Russell, Jan Jarboe, \billiam A Biography of Mrs. Johnson, 1999, New York: Scribner, pp. 70-71
  15. Russell, Jan Jarboe, Lady Bird, A Biography of Mrs. Johnson, 1999, New York: Scribner, pp. 71-72
  16. Russell, Jan Jarboe, Lady Bird, A Biography of Mrs. Johnson, 1999, New York: Scribner, p. 83
  17. Russell, Jan Jarboe, Lady Bird, A Biography of Mrs. Johnson, 1999, New York: Scribner, p. 88
  18. "Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady a Nation Mourns." AXcess News. Accessed online on July 12, 2007.
  19. New York Times "Lady Bird Johnson, 94, Dies; Eased a Path to Power" July 12, 2007
  20. Wilson, Janet. "Wife, mother, partner." The Austin American-Statesman, July 13, 2007, p.3 (Lady Bird Johnson Commemorative Section)
  21. [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4960783.html Houston Chronicle "Lady Bird Johnson, 94, Dies; Eased a Path to Power" July 12, 2007
  22. NPR "Former First Lady 'Lady Bird' Johnson Dead at 94" July 12, 2007
  23. Washington Post, "Lady Bird Johnson Gave America A Big Bouquet", July 12, 2007
  24. Recalling life in the mansion
  25. Lady Bird Johnson released from hospital June 28, 2007. Reuters @ MSNBC.com
  26. 4:18 (CDT) Former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson Dies at 94 Fox News
  27. Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, p. 29, July 13, 2007
  28. Episcopal Life Online - DIOCESAN DIGEST
  29. Raskin, Amy (2007). "Austin's Town Lake renamed Lady Bird Lake". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved on July 26, 2007.
  30. http://www.stedwards.edu/changeisgood/residencehallupdates.htm


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