Lady Bird Johnson

First Lady and Texas Businesswoman

Lady Bird Johnson in a yellow gown and long white gloves, at a window - view of Washington Monument
Lady Bird Johnson: Formal Portrait in White House, 1965. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Occupation: First Lady 1963-1969; businesswoman and ranch manager

Known for: Beautification campaign; support for Head Start

Also known as: Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson. Named Lady Bird by a nursemaid.

Dates: December 22, 1912 - July 11, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson Facts

Born in Karnack, Texas, to a wealthy family: father Thomas Jefferson Taylor, mother Minnie Patillo Taylor

Married Lyndon Baines Johnson, November 17, 1934, after meeting him that summer


  • Lynda Bird Johnson Robb (1944-): married Charles Robb in East Room of the White House, December 9, 1967
  • Luci Baines Johnson Nugent Turpin (1947-): married Patrick Nugent August 6, 1966, at the White House, marriage annulled 1979; married Ian Turpin at the LBJ Ranch, March 4, 1984

Lady Bird Johnson Biography

Lady Bird Johnson's mother died when Lady Bird was five, and Lady Bird was raised by an aunt. She loved reading and nature from an early age, and graduated from St. Mary's Episcopal School for Girls (Dallas) and earned a history degree from the University of Texas (Austin) in 1933, returning another year to earn a degree in journalism.

After eloping with Congressional aide Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1934, Lady Bird Johnson miscarried four times before giving birth to their daughters, Lynda and Luci.

Lady Bird told Lyndon, during their short courtship, "I would hate for you to to into politics." But she financed his campaign for US Congress, using her inheritance as collateral to get a loan, when he ran in a special election in 1937.

During World War II, Lyndon Johnson was the first Congressman to volunteer for active duty. While he served in the Navy in the Pacific 1941-1942, Lady Bird Johnson maintained his Congressional office.

In 1942, Lady Bird Johnson bought a financially-troubled radio station in Austin, KTBC, using her inheritance. Serving as manager of the company, Lady Bird Johnson brought the station into financial health and used it as the basis for a communications company that also grew to include a television station. Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson also owned extensive ranching property in Texas, and Lady Bird Johnson managed those for the family.

Lyndon Johnson won a seat in the Senate in 1948, and in 1960, after his own bid for the presidency failed, John F. Kennedy selected him as running mate. Lady Bird had taken a public speaking course in 1959, and in the 1960 campaign began more active campaigning. She was credited by JFK's brother Robert with the Democratic win in Texas. Throughout his career, she was also known as a gracious hostess to his political and diplomatic guests.

Lady Bird Johnson became First Lady when her husband succeeded Kennedy after his assassination in 1963. She hired Liz Carpenter to head her press office, to craft her public image in the wake of the immense popularity of her predecessor, Jacqueline Kennedy. In the 1964 election, Lady Bird Johnson actively campaigned, again emphasizing Southern states, this time in the face of strong and sometimes ugly opposition because of her husband's support of civil rights.

After LBJ's election in 1964, Lady Bird Johnson took on several projects as her focus. She is best known for her beautification programs to improve urban and highway environments. She actively worked for legislation (unusual for a First Lady) to pass the Highway Beautification Bill, which passed in October 1965. She is less recognized for her role in promoting Head Start, a preschool program for disadvantaged children, part of her husband's War on Poverty program.

Because of her husband's ill health -- his first heart attack had been in 1955 -- and increasing opposition to his Vietnam policies, Lady Bird Johnson urged him not to run for reelection. She is credited with making his 1968 withdrawal speech even stronger than he had originally written it, adding "I will not accept" to "I will not seek the nomination."

After her husband's withdrawal from the 1968 election, Lady Bird Johnson maintained many of her own interests. She served on the University of Texas System Board of Regents for six years. She worked with her husband before his death to open his presidential library in 1972. They gave the LBJ ranch to the United States as a national historic site in 1972, while retaining rights during their lifetimes.

In 1970, Lady Bird Johnson converted hundreds of hours of taped daily impressions she'd made while in the White House, publishing them in book form as White House Diary.

In 1973, Lyndon Baines Johnson suffered another heart attack, and soon died. Lady Bird Johnson continued to be active with her family and causes. The National Wildflower Research Center, founded by Lady Bird Johnson in 1982, was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center in 1998 in honor of her work with the organization and issue. She spent time with her daughters, seven grandchildren, and (at this writing) nine great-grandchildren. Living in Austin, she spent some weekends at the LBJ ranch, sometimes greeting visitors there.

Lady Bird Johnson suffered a stroke in 2002, which affected her speech but didn't completely keep her from public appearances. She died July 11, 2007, at her home.


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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Lady Bird Johnson." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Lady Bird Johnson. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Lady Bird Johnson." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).