The Digital Journalist
Selected photos from Michael O'Brien's The Face of Texas.
© Michael O'Brien

Michael O'BrienWatch a video clip of Michael O'Brien discussing Lady Bird Johnson.
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Lady Bird Johnson/LBJ RANCH - Lady Bird Johnson was a President's wife, an accomplished First Lady, but she has lived a lifetime on her own since then, making a distinct mark on the world--literally. Her dedicated work on beautification projects--specifically her founding of The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and her program to plant wildflowers along Texas roads and highways--has had a profound impact on the state, not only aesthetically but environmentally. And her dream--to encourage the planting of indigenous species in yards, in parks, and along thoroughfares--has influenced individuals and environmental organizations around the world.

"My hope for what lies ahead in the field of landscape not 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," she says in her Wildflower Center missive. "Beauty in nature nourishes us and brings joy to the human spirit, it also is one of the deep needs of people everywhere."

Claudia Alta Taylor got the nickname "Lady Bird" as a little girl when one of her nursemaids pronounced her "as purty as a lady bird." She was born Dec. 22, 1912, in Karnack, TX to an affluent family. Her mother, Minnie Pattillo Taylor, died when she was just five, and Lady Bird was raised by her father, Thomas Jefferson Taylor--owner of a general store--with the help of her aunt and the family servants. She had two older brothers, Tommy and Tony.

She attended the University of Texas back when women were the exception on college campuses, studying arts and journalism. She met Lyndon Baines Johnson, the future 36th President, in 1934. He was a Congressional secretary. It was a quick courtship, and they were married the same year.

Lady Bird played an important role in her husband's political career. She borrowed from her inheritance to finance his first Congressional campaign; and she helped out in his office when he served in the Navy during World War II and when he suffered a heart attack in 1955.

Her challenge as First Lady was formidable: After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, she followed Jackie Kennedy, who had set a new elegant standard as the feminine White House counterpart. But Lady Bird established her own identity, supporting the "war on poverty" and the Headstart Program for preschool children. She began her beautification work in Washington, D.C., with her First Lady's Committee for a More Beautiful Capital.

Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson had two children: Lynda Bird (now Mrs. Charles S. Robb) and Luci Baines (now Mrs. Ian Turpin). Lady Bird lives in Austin and on the LBJ Ranch outside Johnson City, TX.