Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Taylor Johnson(December
22, 1912 – July 11, 2007)wasFirst
Lady of the United Statesfrom
1963 to 1969 during thepresidencyof
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 anentrepreneur,
creating the $150 million LBJ Holdings Company, and was a recipient of thePresidential
Medal of Freedomand theCongressional
Gold Medal, the highest civilian honors.
The Brick House, Lady Bird Johnson's birthplace and childhood home in
Claudia Alta Taylor was born inKarnack,
Texas, a town inHarrison
County, near the state's border withLouisiana.Her
birthplace was "The Brick House," a former slaveplantationmansion
on the outskirts of town, which her father had purchased shortly before her
all of both her maternal and paternal forebears had arrived in theVirginia
Colonyduring the late 17th and
early 18th centuries. Her father was a native ofAlabamaand
with small amounts ofWelshandDanish;
her mother was also a native ofAlabamaand
of English andScottishdescent.
Though she was named for her mother's brother Claud,during
her infancy, her nurse, Alice Tittle,commented,
she was as "purty as aladybird,"which
is a brightly coloredbeetlecommonly
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
15,000 acres (61 km2) 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
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
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,Timemagazine
described Lady Bird's mother as "a tall, eccentric woman from an old and
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 inAutauga
County, Alabama, 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
Texasand watching thewildflowersbloom
Field of Bluebonnets in Texas
When it came time to enter high school,Lady
Bird moved away from home to live with another family during weekdays in the
there was no high school in the Karnack area (her brothers had attended
boarding schools in New York). Eventually she graduated third in her class at
the age of 15 fromMarshall
Senior High Schoolin nearbyMarshall.
Despite her young age, she drove herself to school in her own car, a distance
of 15 miles (24 km) 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 thevaledictorianorsalutatorianspeech.
After graduating from high school in May 1928, Lady Bird entered the
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