In her biography of Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson (1912-2007), Julia Sweig suggests that she was one of the most talented and influential and yet underappreciated First Ladies in U.S. history.
Lady Bird Johnson worked tirelessly for the conservation and the environment. More than 200 laws related to the environment were passed during the Johnson Administration, many of which are credited to Mrs. Johnson’s work. Among the major legislative initiatives were the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program, the 1965 Highway Beautification Act and many additions to the National Park system.
For 50 of those major initiatives related to conservation and beautification, President Johnson thanked his wife on July 26, 1968 for her dedication by presenting her with 50 pens used to sign these laws. She also received a plaque that read: “To Lady Bird, who has inspired me and millions of Americans to try to preserve our land and beautify our nation. With love from Lyndon.”
I am grateful to Mrs. Johnson’s website for providing this selection of her insightful observations:
o “Though the word beautification makes the concept sound merely cosmetic, it involves much more: clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas. To me…beautification means our total concern for the physical and human quality we pass on to our children and the future.
o “Some may wonder why I chose wildflowers when there are hunger and unemployment and the big bomb in the world. Well, I, for one, think we will survive, and I hope that along the way we can keep alive our experience with the flowering earth. For the bounty of nature is also one of the deep needs of man.
o “The environment is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.
Speech at Yale University, White House Diary, Oct. 9, 1967.
o “My hope for what lies ahead in the field of landscape design—our own and that of the professionals—isn’t a revolution against the use of non-natives, but a resolution to educate ourselves about what has worked for Mother Nature through the ebb and flow of time and to put that knowledge to work in the planned landscapes that are everywhere a part of our lives.
Letter from Mrs. Johnson on the Wildflower Center website. Date unknown.