Figure 1.--Lyndon was photographed at 18 months in 1910. Although the custom was waining, many young boys still wore dresses in the 1910s.
Lyndon Johnson was the 34th president of the United States. He oversaw an unprecedented era of social reform in the United States and worked unceasingly toward a Great Society for the Nation. Great progress was achieved in civil rights which had a profound impact on the political system, especially in the South. His program to eradicate poverty made important progress, especially for the elderly. His social program, however, floundered as a result of the divisive Viet Nam War. Even so, the Johnson Administration succeded in enacting one of the most
important programs of social reform in American history. The historical assessment of the Johnson Administration continues to be clouded by the conduct and eventual failure of the War.
Lyndon's parents were deeply in love, but two more different different people could not be imagined that sired the future president. Cultured, educated Rebekah was quiet and demure. Sam was possesed with a firece temper. Hecwas loud, boisterous, and impatient and could curse with the best of them.
Sam Johnson grew up on a Texas farm, one of nine children. His father,
desperate for a son to help with the chores. His first four children had been girls and his friends had began to call him "Gal" Johnson. I'm not sure how Sam was dressesd as a boy. Presumably he commonly wore overalls on the farm. It was obvious from the beginning that Sam was sharp as a tack. The story is told of an elder sister diligently menorizing a 32 verse poem. She was astonished to hear her little brother, not yet of school age, reciting it in its entirity. Sam was also resslessly ambitious. As a boy he competed to plough straighter, ride faster,
and pick more cotton than his companions. As a teenager he soon developed ambitions to be more than a rancher. His father's lack of money made it impossible for Sam to finish high school. Public schools in Texas at the time required tuition. Sam earned money from odd jobs to keep himself in school. While small. school tuition was a barrier to many dirt poor farmers. He wanted to be a teacher and took state exams to qualify for a teaching certificate. He passed with impressive scores, but after teaching a few years his ambition carried him further. He wanted to be a lawyer, but his circumstances wouldn't allow it. He had to fall back on working his father's farm. Sam Johnson was a popular local figure and easily won election to the state legislature. He was a born legislator and scrupuosly honest. It was said that Sam Johnson was "straight as a shingle."
As a result, the small state stipend was not sufficient to support a family. He
had to leave the legislature. When he proposed to a local girl from a prominent family, he was rejected because of his limited circumsrtances. Then Rebekah Baines acepted his proposal and they were mairred in 1907. Rebekah's father was an attorney. Sam dabled in realestate and finally made his way back to the state
legislature. Although perpetually short of cash, he was a much beloved
local figure and was addressed as "Mr. Sam."
Rebekah Baines was the complete oposite of Sam Johnson. While Sam was rough hewn and volitile, Rebekah was refined and serious. As not infrequently is the case, these two people with such different personalities forged an affectionate and lasting partnership. Her father was a laywer and she came from an affluent
family, that ecountered financial problems when the local farm economy fell upon bad times. She was devoted to her father who instilled in her a passion for reading and learning. He taught her that a lie was an abomination to
the Lord. He instilled self-confidence in a shy, timid child. The death of her farther and his financial problems forced her to work. She taught and worked as a stringer for the Austin newspaper. It was on an assignment that she met Sam. She choose Sam Johnson even though he was completely unlike her father because he has, as her father did, principles. When Sam took her home to the Perdanales, nothing in her experience had prepared her for what she found. She could not believe the primitive conditions she found. She was a "... college graduate, a lover of poetry, a soft-spoken, gentle, dreamy-eyed young lady who wore crinolines adlace--and broad-brimmed, beribboned hats with long veils." The Johnso men and
women were hard working, but rough hewn. There was no love of poetry.
The men told thecrude jocks her father so disliked. They passed around a bottle or two and her father had warned her about that also. She had never done
physical labor before. Her new life as a Johnson woman involved daily manual labor. The Johnson women were farm women capable of hitching up a mule and plowing if necessary. There were no other houses visible from the Johnson porch. The isolation more than anything was difficult for Rebekah. When Sam was away, and he was away quite a lot, Rebekah had no one to talk with. She later wrote, "I was determined to overcome circumstances instead of letting them overwhelm me. At last I realized that life's real and earnest and not the charnming fairy tale of which I had so long dreamed." Lyndon as a boy was very attached to his mother. As a First grader he chose a poem for a reciation, "Why I'd rather be a mama's boy.".
Figure 2.--Lyndon at left was photographed at a family picnic in 1912 when he was about 4. Lyndon is standing in front of the car. He wears a plain white tunic. Notice his long wavy curls.
The Johnsons had five children, three girls and a boy. Lyndon
was the eldest.
Lyndon (1908-73): The elder son was born with a wonderlust which his patrents found hard to contol. As a boy, Lyndon's family was still relatively prosperous and his mother loved to dress him up. This became more difficult in the 1920s after his father lost the ranch.
Rebekah (19??- ): The girls often appeared in dresses, pinafores, and lace bonnets.
Josefa (19??- ):
Sam Houston: Sam Houston was about 5 years younger than Lyndon and looked up to his older brother. Lyndon was for ever taking advantage of him, like getting Sam Houston to do his chores or chipping in for a bike he couldn't possibly ride. Like Lyndon, his mother liked to dress Sam Houston in white sailor suits. The tunic suits Lyndon wore, however, were going out of style.
Lucia (1916- ):
The Johnson household was a loud-boisterous Texas family with Texas-sized passions. Dinner was loud as the children gulped down and their father who they loved dearly would klike nothing better to stir them with a good discussion or debate. A family friend writes, "They loved their father. When I see that family in my mind, I see him laughing, laughing with the kids. It was harum-scarum--not klikemy houser, where everything was decorum. But it was fun. We had such hilarious good times together. I see them as a warm, happy family." Johnson's biographer adds, "On this point, the people who know--the people who were there, who were in the Johnson home with the Johnsons--agree. As a score of them, and a score agree: it was a warm, happy family. Except, they also agree, for one of its members: the eldest son."
We have a good bit of information about the clothes Lyndon wore as a boy. He grew up in a Texas family of modest means. They were not poor, but money was not infrequently tight. His parents had middle class aspirations. His father, for example, wanted to be a lawyer. The clothes he wore are thus a good reflection of what average American boys, especially southern boys were wearing in the 1910s in the years before and during World War I. Lyndpn wore dresses as a little boy. As a somewhat older boy he wore tunic suits. Lyndon even as a boy was interested in clothes. His clothes were always different than the other boys. Sometimes they were more elegant than their weekday overalls and knickers or even sunday suits. Some were outlandishly elegant
for a town like Johnson City.
I don't think that Lyndon ever had long curls. A picture of him in 1912, hoever, when he was about 4, shows wearing wavy hair that covered his ears. His hair by 1913 was cut short.
Lyndon insisted in going to school at 4 years of age. His parents didn't
want to send him to the rough rural school, but Lyndon would take off on his own and his parents relented. At four Lyndon could read better than much older children and they rather stood in awe of him. His mother dressed him in a red Buster Brown suuit or white sailor tunic. Sometimes he wore a cowboy suit complete with a Stetson hat. The other boys wore overalls and other farm clothes. Lyndon didn't mind, however, being dressed differently--in fact he insisted on it. "He wanted to stand out," a cousin explains. Lyndon grew up, working his way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College. As a result, he learned compassion for the poverty of others when he taught students of Mexican ancestry.
H e campaigned successfully for the House of Representatives in 1937 on a New Deal platform, effectively aided by his wife, the former Claudia "Lady Bird" Taylor, whom he had married in 1934. During World War II he served briefly in the Navy as a lieutenant
commander, winning a Silver Star in the South Pacific. After six terms in the House, Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1948. Johnson in 1953, he became the youngest Minority Leader in Senate history, and the following year, when the Democrats won control, Majority Leader. He was one of the most masterful majority leaders in Senate history. He worked clkosely wide aide Bobby Baker. With rare legislative skill he obtained passage of a number of key Eisenhower measures. The democratic majority in the Senate as did the the democratic leadershipo in the House conducted affairs very differently than the Republican performance with President Clinton after the Republican Congressional success in 1894. Under Johnson there was considerable cooperation with the Republican Administration. Johnson's Senate career was cut short when he was selected by Senator Kennedy in 1960 to be his vice-presidential candidate. Johnson did not want to leave the Senate, but reluctantly accepted. In a very close election, it was Johnson's presence on the ticket that helped Kennedy carry some southern states and narrowly defeat Vice-President Nixon.
In the 1960 campaign, Johnson, as John F. Kennedy's running mate, was elected Vice President. On November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson was sworn in as President. "A Great Society" for the American people and their fellow men
elsewhere was the vision of Lyndon B. Johnson. In his first years of office he obtained passage of one of the most extensive legislative programs in the Nation's history.
Maintaining collective security, he carried on the rapidly growing
struggle to restrain Communist encroachment in Vietnam. First he obtained enactment of the measures President Kennedy had been urging at the time of his death--a new civil rights bill
and a tax cut. Next he urged the Nation "to build a great society, a
place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor." In 1964, Johnson won the Presidency with 61 percent of the vote and had the widest popular margin in
American history--more than 15,000,000 votes. The Great Society program became Johnson's agenda for Congress in January 1965: aid to education, attack on disease,
Medicare, urban renewal, beautification, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, control and prevention of crime and delinquency, removal of obstacles to the right to vote. Congress, at times augmenting or
amending, rapidly enacted Johnson's recommendations. Millions of elderly people found succor through the 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act. Programs that liberals had
sought since the New Deal were enacted in the first years of the
Johnson presidency. Large Democratic Congressional majorities and
Johnson's political insights allowed his administration to enact
one of the far reaching programs of reforms in American history.
These programs have largely continued intact, some have even been
expanded. The historical assessment of the Johnson presidency,
however, is still cloded by his decision to commit American combat troops to Vietnam. Under Johnson, the country made spectacular explorations of space in a program he had championed since its start. When three astronauts successfully orbited the moon in December 1968, Johnson congratulated them: "You've taken ... all of us, all over the world, into a new era. . . . " Nevertheless, two overriding crises had been gaining momentum
since 1965. Despite the beginning of new antipoverty and
anti-discrimination programs, unrest and rioting in black ghettos
troubled the Nation. President Johnson steadily exerted his influence against segregation and on behalf of law and order, but there was no early solution. The inter-city riots had the impact of sapping the support of middle America for further liberal programs in civil rights and anti-poverty. Capped with the failed Vietnam War policies, the Johnson Administration would be the high point of liberalism in America and the beginning of a return to conservatism that still dominates the American electorate at the
turn of the 21st Century. The other crisis arose from Vietnam. Faced with the fall of the
anti-communist regime in Viet Nam, Johnson decided on a major escalation and committed combat troops in 1965. Despite Johnson's efforts to end Communist aggression and achieve a settlement, fighting continued. The American military and political leadership,
including Johnson, badly miscalculated the cost in men and materials and the length of the struggle needed for victory. The American public increasingly began to see the cost as far outweighing the objectives and were increasing unwilling to send their sons to
fight a war that just seenmed to drag on. Controversy over the war had become acute by the end of March 1968, when Johnson limited the bombing of North Vietnam in order to initiate negotiations. At the same time, he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for re-election so that he might devote his full efforts, unimpeded by politics, to the
quest for peace. He clearly saw that the failure of his war policies would make his reelection difficult. When he left office, peace talks were under way; he did not live to see them successful, but died suddenly of a heart attack at his Texas ranch on January 22, 1973.
Christened Claudia Alta Taylor when she was born in a country mansion near Karnack, Texas, she received her nickname "Lady Bird" as a small child; and as Lady Bird she is known
and loved throughout America today. Perhaps that name was prophetic, as there has seldom been a First Lady so attuned to nature and the importance of conserving the environment.
Her mother, Minnie Pattillo Taylor, died when Lady Bird was 5, so
she was reared by her father, her aunt, and family
servants. From her father, Thomas Jefferson Taylor, who had
prospered, she learned much about the business world. An
excellent student, she also learned to love classical literature. At
the University of Texas she earned a bachelor's degree in arts
and in journalism.
Lady Bird met Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a
Congressional secretary visiting Austin on official business, in 1934,
He promptly asked her for a date, which she accepted. He courted her
from Washington with letters, telegrams, and telephone calls. Seven
weeks later he was back in Texas; he proposed to her and she
accepted. In her own words: "Sometimes Lyndon simply takes
your breath away." They were married in November 1934.
The years that followed were devoted to Lyndon's political
career, with "Bird" as partner, confidante, and helpmate. She
helped keep his Congressional office open during World War II when
he volunteered for naval service; and in 1955, when he
had a severe heart attack, she helped his staff keep things running
smoothly until he could return to his post as Majority Leader
of the Senate. He once remarked that voters "would happily have
elected her over me."
Lady Bird in the election of 1960, successfully stumped for
Democratic candidates across 35,000 miles of campaign trail. As
wife of the Vice President, she became an ambassador of goodwill by
visiting 33 foreign countries. Moving to the White House
after Kennedy's murder, she did her best to ease a painful
transition. She soon set her own stamp of Texas hospitality on
social events, but these were not her chief concern. She created a
First Lady's Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, then
expanded her program to include the entire nation. She took a highly
active part in her husband's war-on-poverty program,
especially the Head Start project for preschool children.
When the Presidential term ended, the Johnsons returned to Texas, where he died in 1973. Mrs. Johnson's White House
Diary, published in 1970, and a 1981 documentary film, The First Lady, A Portrait of Lady Bird Johnson, give sensitive
and detailed views of her contributions to the President's Great Society administration. Today Lady Bird leads a life devoted to her husband's memory, her children, and seven grandchildren. She still supports causes dear to her--notably the National Wildflower Research Center, which she founded in 1982, and The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. She also serves on the Board of the National Geographic Society as a trustee emeritus.
After repeated miscarriages, Lady Bird gave birth to Lynda Bird (now Mrs. Charles S. Robb) in 1944; Luci Baines (Mrs. Ian Turpin) was born 3 years later. The girls were teenagers when their father was catapulted into the White House. As far as I know, they never gave their father any real difficulties. he press referred to them as the Presisent's two "semi-lovely" daughters.
After repeated miscarriages, Lady Bird gave birth to Lynda Bird in 1944. Lynda graduated from the Universitybof Texas and was married in the White House. She married a hansome marine Corps officer that she met in the White House, Charles S. Robb. They had three daughters, Lucinda Desha, Catherine Lewis, and Jennifer Wickliffe. Robb went on to becomr Governor and Senator from Virginia and for a while was talked about as a possible presuidential candidate. Lynda chairs the "Reading is Findamental" board, the most important national literacy group.
Luci Baines was born 3 years after Lynda. She was a teenager when her father became president. She married Pat Nugent in a highly publicized wedding on August 6, 1966. They had four children: Lyndon (1967), Nicole Marie (1970), Rebekah (1974), and Claudia Taylor (1976). Despite the four children, there were serious problems in the marriage. The marriage was ended by a divorce in 1979. She then married Canadian financier, Ian Turpin. Mrs Turpin manages the family media enterproes--LBJ Holding Company. She married Canadian financier Ian Turpin. She is active in various civic affairs. She is a trustee of Boston University and especialy interested in issues concerning battered women.
Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power
(Knopf: New York, 1982).
Wead, Doug. All the President's Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families (Atria: New York, 2003), 456p.
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