Notable League Member: Lady Bird Johnson

By Kayla Vix for LWVUS, March 2019
Updated by Connie Wolfman for LWVNC, April 2021

April 1, 2021

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day later this month, the timing seemed perfect for a look at the remarkable life of former League member, Lady Bird Johnson.

According to historian Rita G. Koman, “Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy was to legitimize environmental issues as a national priority. The attitudes and policies she advanced have shaped the conservation and preservation policies of the environmental movement since then.” It will not comes as a surprise to environmental activists that this First Lady is finally receiving her due in a new, best-selling biography titled, "Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight," by Julia Sweig.

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day later this month, the timing seemed perfect for a look at the remarkable life of former League member, Lady Bird Johnson.

According to historian Rita G. Koman, “Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy was to legitimize environmental issues as a national priority. The attitudes and policies she advanced have shaped the conservation and preservation policies of the environmental movement since then.” It will not comes as a surprise to environmental activists that this First Lady is finally receiving her due in a new, best-selling biography titled, "Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight," by Julia Sweig.

Lady Bird Johnson was First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) from 1963 to 1969, a role that she helped to reshape. She was the first to employ her own press secretary and chief of staff. Breaking from tradition, she embarked on solo campaigns for legislation, including the Civil Rights Act.

Her sponsorship of the Highway Beautification Act became a defining moment in FLOTUS history. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), then a US House representative, actually proposed an amendment to replace the term “Secretary of Commerce” with the name “Lady Bird” wherever it appeared in the bill. Although the amendment did not pass, when President Johnson signed the bill, he gave the pen to his wife as a memento.

Lady Bird often expressed concern that the term “beautification” was too superficial. Rather, the intended magnitude of the legislation meant “clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas.”

Lady Bird remained a League member while residing in the White House. Both she and President Johnson addressed the League’s national convention in Pittsburgh in 1964, where she declared that the League’s work had a major influence on “Lyndon's own determination to give women a better break in government.”

Lady Bird’s commitment to the environmental movement was a lifelong journey. In 1977, President Gerald Ford presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award, concluding with the words, “Her leadership transformed the American landscape and preserved its natural beauty as a national treasure.”

On her 70th birthday, Lady Bird co-founded the National Wildflower Research Center with a donation of 60 acres of land near Austin. Today it is home to the most comprehensive native plant database in the nation.