Lady Bird Johnson, A Birthday Tribute: An Appreciation and Slideshow
December 22, 2012 marks the 100th birthday of Lady Bird Johnson, whose spheres of activity and influence were varied during her six years as the nation’s first lady. She expanded the professionalism of the East Wing staff devoted specifically to the first lady’s projects employing a chief of staff, a press secretary, and support staff to write speeches, maintain contacts with Congress and other groups, and engage in advance planning for her public appearances. During the 1964 presidential campaign she embarked on a political tour on her own, traveling through eight southern states by train on the 19-car “Lady Bird Special.”
However, it is as a tireless and effective advocate for the environment that Mrs. Johnson is most widely remembered. In her diary she compared beautification to “picking up a tangled skein of wool. All the threads are interwoven — recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate, and rapid transit, and highway beautification, and the war on poverty, and parks — national, state and local. It is hard to hitch the conversation into one straight line, because everything leads to something else.”
Through initiatives like the May 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty, Mrs. Johnson worked with conservationists, government officials, private business and private citizens to restrict use of billboards and automobile junkyards, encourage flower and tree-planting programs, and promote highways adjoined with wildflowers and natural vegetation such as grassland. Many of these ideas were authorized by the Highway Beautification Act, which became law in October 1965.
Mrs. Johnson’s Committee for a More Beautiful Capital was formed in February 1965 and met regularly at the White House as it supervised the planting of azaleas, cherry blossoms, daffodils, dogwoods, tulips and other trees and flowers throughout the inner city and open spaces of Washington, D.C., particularly on Columbia Island in the Potomac River (Columbia Island was re-named Lady Bird Johnson Park in 1968). She dedicated the White House’s East Garden to former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in April 1965 after completion of its redesign to feature a broad rectangular lawn and larger beds for seasonal flowers and ornamental hedges.
With Mrs. Johnson’s urging and support, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11145 in March 1964, authorizing creation of a Curator of the White House to assist in the preservation and protection of White House furnishings. The same Executive Order also authorized the Committee for the Preservation of the White House to establish guidelines, deliver advice and make proposals on acquisitions of furnishings for the White House.
LBJ Presidential Library › Lady Bird Biography