The First Lady's Gallery

The LBJ Presidential Library is undergoing a major redesign! During this period most of our permanent exhibits are closed. read more...

Portrait of Lady Bird Johnson Portrait of Lady Bird Johnson
credit: Frank Wolfe

On December 22, 1998, the LBJ Library and Museum opened a permanent exhibit about Lady Bird Johnson. The First Lady’s Gallery is a portrait of Mrs. Johnson’s legacy as a humanitarian, an unofficial diplomat, and a champion of nature. The exhibit tells the story of Lady Bird Johnson from the time she met Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1934 to her role as First Lady and then onto life after the White House.

Love letters from their courtship and Carol Channing’s feathered headdress from her Hello Dolly performance in the White House are just a few of the objects in the gallery. Showcasing her whistlestop campaign for LBJ’s 1964 re-election is a re-creation of the caboose platform on the ‘Lady Bird Special.’ Also highlighted in the gallery are programs Mrs. Johnson actively promoted as First Lady, such as Head Start, Vista, and the Space program.

The opening of The First Lady’s Gallery introduced never-before-seen footage from Johnson family home movies taken by Mrs. Johnson and previously unreleased recordings from her published book, A White House Diary. Another audio-visual highlight is a recording of Mrs. Johnson’s and LBJ’s love letters read by Kirk Douglas and Helen Hayes. Clips from ‘Life in the White House’ feature the fanfare of official state visits, wedding preparations, and the family being served cheeseburgers on a silver platter.

Claudia (Lady Bird) Taylor's graduation Claudia (Lady Bird) Taylor's graduation
credit: Unknown

The gallery also addresses Mrs. Johnson’s life after the White House and today. Her ongoing passion for beautification is well displayed with murals of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Town Lake, both in Austin, Texas. Her original office at the library is an unique part of the gallery. The office is exactly as she used it for over 25 years with its original desk and view of the Texas State Capitol in downtown Austin.

“The Constitution of the United States does not mention the First Lady. She is elected by one man only. The statute books assign her no duties; and yet, when she gets the job, a podium is there if she cares to use it. I did.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson in front of the Capitol Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson in front of the Capitol
credit: Unknown

“I wanted to teach in what I considered glamorous places like Hawaii and Alaska. But all that never happened because I met Lyndon.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Their courtship began over coffee at The Driskill in Austin. Lady Bird had recently graduated from the University of Texas and Lyndon was working as a congressional aide for Congressman Richard Kleberg. It was an eleven-week whirlwind courtship conducted at long distance.

“We wrote and he telephoned and we headed toward marriage.” —Lady Bird Johnson

It was the beginning of a remarkable partnership through history.

“He is an exciting man to live with, an me that to put all the heart and skill and brains you have into trying to make your government work a little bit better can be a wonderful life for a man—and his wife.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Their adventure led them through almost twelve years in Congress, twelve years in the Senate, the Vice Presidency, the White House unexpectedly and tragically, and finally, in 1964, into the presidency in their own right.

On the National Stage

Crossroads USA Tour Crossroads USA Tour
credit: Robert Knudsen

“I feel as if I am suddenly on stage for a part I never rehearsed.” —Lady Bird Johnson

“Shortly after the election of ’64, I began to realize that I wanted to choose some of those things in his administration that I was most in tune with, that made my heart sing most, and try to apply myself to them and support them in any way I could. Otherwise, the number of calls upon you would mean that your efforts would be fragmented and would be of little use. And so there arose to the surface the interest in children and education, which was formulated in Head Start, and in conservation, which found its expression very much in beautification.” —Lady Bird Johnson

As First Lady, Mrs. Johnson “put flesh on the statistics” by promoting many Great Society programs, including Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, and the War on Poverty. Her trips to the nation’s historical sights and scenic landscapes focused attention on “Seeing America First.”

Cherry Blossom Festival Cherry Blossom Festival
credit: Unknown

“We walked the problem of the environment on to center stage and put it on the national agenda—clean water, clean air, the amenities in all parks, in urban areas, all of that became a part of the national thinking.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Planting trees and flowers was the most visible manifestation of her commitment to the environment.

“I had the opportunity to do more than just enjoy the beauty I had experienced over the years. I took advantage of the public stage it provided.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Group portrait of Lady Bird Johnson and her staff Group portrait of Lady Bird Johnson and her staff
credit: Yoichi Okamoto

To focus public attention on the President’s programs, Mrs. Johnson, with the help of her press secretary and staff director Liz Carpenter; social secretary Bess Abell, and a small, devoted staff, dramatically changed the direction of a First Lady’s activities, letting “her role emerge in deeds instead of words.”

The Nation’s First Hostess

State Dinner honoring Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India State Dinner honoring Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India
credit: Frank Wolfe

“The White House is many things: museum for the public, home for a family, site for official entertainment.” —Lady Bird Johnson

“This house is a magnet, a crossroads for good conversation, for ideas, for stimulation. All the political leaders of the country, and indeed of the whole free world, come through these doors.” —Lady Bird Johnson

“The wind was snapping the flags, the troops were at attention, and up on the balconies above us trumpets blew and drums rolled as the long black limousines pulled up to the entrance. Out stepped Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the first time that we have received a woman Chief of State. Add to this the particular alchemy of the Nehru name and the size of the Indian country as an Asian democracy and you have a day alive with drama.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Performance of (Hello Dolly) Performance of (Hello Dolly)
credit: Robert Knudsen

Tonight offered the most star-studded entertainment the White House had seen in a long time—Carol Channing doing thirty minutes from ‘Hello Dolly.’ It was enchantment! —Lady Bird Johnson

Country Fair for children and grandchildren of Members of Congress, Cabinet members, and government officials Country Fair for children and grandchildren of Members of Congress, Cabinet members, and government officials
credit: Yoichi Okamoto

“This afternoon I went to the South grounds for the most unusual party that has ever been held here, a ‘Country Fair.’ I wanted to have one great party meant for the children. It was a huge success with a ferris wheel, and clowns and a merry-go-round, and of course, that delicious cotton candy.”
Lady Bird Johnson

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson and family celebrate Christmas Eve President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson and family celebrate Christmas Eve
credit: Frank Wolfe

Life as the First Family ranged from the everyday to state visits. In the private residence, holidays and family events were celebrated in typical fashion with the exchange of gifts.

The LBJ Ranch in Stonewall served as the Texas White House. The ranch provided an informal setting to conduct work and to entertain personal friends, executive staff, political colleagues, and head of state visitors.

“Rest at the Ranch is a complete misnomer to me. The house has become a joint residence and office. Visitors pour in and news pours out. And these old walls are bursting at the seams!” —Lady Bird Johnson

On the Campaign Trail

1964 Presidential campaign 1964 Presidential campaign
credit: Frank Muto

In the first campaign tour by a presidential candidate’s wife on her own, Lady Bird Johnson traveled through the South in 1964, both to overcome opposition caused by the passage of the Civil Rights Act and to demonstrate the South’s importance to the President and First Lady.

“I wouldn’t take anything for the Whistlestop through the South—forty-seven stops in four days! And the flying Whistlestops to other points of the country. Thinking back on that montage of depots, faces, signs, my mind always turns to the little town in North Carolina where a woman pushed through the crowd to grab my hand. That may be as close as many of those people ever get to government and I am glad we met and touched.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Mrs. Johnson’s active involvement in administration programs created a busy East Wing office. During her tenure as First Lady, she made 164 speeches, had 718 scheduled activities, and took 47 official trips.

“I read and dictate mail, sign autographs and pictures, read briefings about visitors when we are having a visit. To read the mail is a marvelous thing in itself. It is sort of like having the pulse of the country, the thinking and feeling.” —Lady Bird Johnson

“If we succeed, the Library will become established as a center that can make important contributions to our national life.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Championing the Environment

“My special cause, the one that alerts my interest and quickens the pace of my life, is to preserve the wildflowers and native plants that define the regions of our land—to encourage and promote their use in our planned landscapes wherever appropriate, and thus help pass on to generations in waiting the quiet joys and satisfactions I have known since my childhood.” —Lady Bird Johnson

Carrying Forward the Vision

Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation Board Meeting Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation Board Meeting
credit: Frank Wolfe

“The challenge we now face is to build on the record of the past; to continue accepting new responsibilities and seeking new opportunities to serve.” —Lady Bird Johnson

“Why did I record my daily activities? I realized shortly after November 22, that I stood in a unique position, as wife of the President of the United States. Nobody else would live through the next months in quite the way that I would and see the events unroll from this vantage point. And this certain portion of time I wanted to preserve as it happened. I wanted to remember it, and I wanted my children and grandchildren to see it through my eyes.” —Lady Bird Johnson

When she left the White House, Lady Bird Johnson edited the massive recorded diary that she had compiled during her years as First Lady. The resulting book, A White House Diary, was the most complete account of its kind compiled by a First Lady, recording what she did and how she operated in the White House.

One Woman’s Legacy

Lady Bird Johnson among Texas wildflowers Lady Bird Johnson among Texas wildflowers
credit: Robert Knudsen

“I believe that Lady Bird Johnson touched a fundamental chord in the American people. She enriched the lives of all Americans.” —Lyndon Baines Johnson

“Lady Bird has a great heart and tireless energy. Those who know and love her have benefited from these qualities as have countless others she has never met.” —Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

“I admire and revere Lady Bird Johnson because of who she is and because of the depth of the footprints she has made on our country.” —Barbara Jordan

“She’s a role model for leadership responsibility for women. That’s a big part of her legacy, above and beyond the environment.” —Laurance Rockefeller

“She brought to the White House a quiet strength, dignity and grace that virtually belied the tenor of the times.” —George Bush

“You reflect on the fullness of your life, you may take great pride in the endless contributions you have made in helping America shine with beauty!” —Ronald Reagan - June 24, 1992

“We have experienced in great abundance the gentleness and friendship that has made Lady Bird Johnson so universally loved.” —Gerald R. Ford

“We are proud to be among those whose lives she has touched.” —Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter