In Texas, the name Lady Bird Johnson demands a great amount of respect. That’s because Lady Bird was a Texan through and through. Her life began in rural Karnack – thanks to determination and hard work, she eventually became the owner of several mid-size media companies, the First Lady of the United States and a protector of the nation’s wildflowers.
But along the way, the story of Lady Bird has shifted and people have decided focus less on her strengths and more on the mercurial nature of her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson. What people often ignore is the political partnership that the two shared.
Betty Boyd Caroli writes about the compromise, responsibility and the strength of Lady Bird in her new book, “Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President.”
“In doing First Ladies, I decided that Lady Bird Johnson really wrote the book for modern First Ladies,” Caroli says. “She did a lot of things that now we take for granted… that they’ll have a very competent, large staff that will have a project that complements what the president’s trying to do.”
Caroli says folks often have the idea that she was a doormat, but in fact she was a resource for her husband as he pieced through how to approach Vietnam and party politics.
“People saw that side of her and they didn’t see the side that talked back,” she says. “If you read her unpublished diary, you see that he put great trust in her judgement.”
Lady Bird contributed $10,000 to his first campaign, but Caroli says she wanted to know whether he had a good shot at winning before contributing to his campaign.
“She sort of kicked the tires on that one before she bought the car,” she says. “It wasn’t like she was going to put up money for a losing campaign.”
Many in LBJ’s administration saw her as the honey to his sting, and they were devoted to her. “She did a lot of damage control in the White House,” Caroli says, “people that he would insult in the most vulgar terms, and then she would have to clean up.”
One infamous anecdote involved a photo shoot with Lady Bird out in a patch of wildflowers. The White House photographer, after LBJ yelled at him when they were nowhere to be found and Lady Bird came back to smooth things over, said he wasn’t sure how he felt about the President, but he told Caroli he “would walk over hot coals for Lady Bird.”