U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson Personal Life Part 1

About the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, personal life and marriage, history and biography.

36th President

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON

Personal Life: On a summer evening in 1934, during a vacation from his duties as secretary to Congressman Kleberg, the 26-year-old Johnson paid a visit to a friend in Austin. There he met a 21-year-old journalism student named Lady Bird Taylor. As soon as he managed to elude his date for the evening for a few moments, Johnson asked Lady Bird to join him for breakfast the next morning. A shy, strikingly intelligent girl (she had graduated from the University of Texas in the top 10 of her class), Lady Bird was the daughter of a well-to-do Texas merchant and landowner. Her real name was Claudia Alta Taylor, but when she was a baby her black mammy had reportedly exclaimed, "Lawd, she's as pretty as a lady bird," comparing the child to the large, brightly colored beetle that was common in the region. The nickname stuck, despite Claudia's frequent protests, and by the time she met Lyndon she was "Bird" to all her friends. Though some observers felt that her bright eyes and sensitive features were spoiled by a nose that was too sharp and too long, Lyndon declared her "the prettiest girl I ever saw." As they sat at breakfast on their first date, he began talking immediately about himself, his family, and his grandiose plans for the future. As Lady Bird recalled later: "I knew I had met something remarkable, but I didn't quite know what." With little difficulty, Lyndon persuaded her to join him for a drive after breakfast, and after a few more hours of talk, he floored her by proposing marriage. Her answer was no, but Lyndon was hardly the man to take no for an answer. Within a week of their first meeting, Lady Bird had been hustled off to Johnson City to meet the family, and Lyndon had demanded that she take him home to meet her widower father. Mr. Taylor was duly impressed. "You've been bringing home a lot of boys," he said. "This time you brought a man." Nevertheless, Lady Bird continued to resist Lyndon's pleas for an immediate marriage. When he returned to his job in Washington, he sent her an autographed photo: "For Bird, a lovely girl with ideals, principles, intelligence and refinement, from her sincere admirer, Lyndon." After six weeks of daily phone calls and letters, he returned to Texas and told Bird, "If you say no, it just proves that you don't love me enough to dare to marry me. We either do it now, or we never will." Lady Bird held her breath and finally agreed. LBJ, behind the wheel of his car, let out a yip and headed for San Antonio and a hurry-up wedding. A friend in local politics helped the couple circumvent the normal channels in getting their wedding license. Lyndon purchased a ring from Sears, Roebuck for $2.50. After a whirlwind courtship lasting a total of two months, they were married.

In the years that followed, Lady Bird ran the Johnson household with little help from her busy husband. She even managed to overcome her natural shyness and help LBJ with his politicking. As Jackie Kennedy observed years later: "Lady Bird would crawl down Pennsylvania Avenue on broken glass for Lyndon." At first the Johnsons managed to live on Lyndon's modest government income, but after eight years, Lady Bird accepted a $64,000 inheritance from her father and decided to invest it in a ramshackle Austin radio station. Using her own remarkable business skills plus Lyndon's government connections, Lady Bird went on to build a multimillion-dollar communications empire. As Sam Rayburn aptly observed, "Marrying her was the smartest thing Lyndon ever did."

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