The White House: The First Lady Bird

  • Share
  • Read Later

(5 of 8)

He also proposed. Lady Bird invited him to Karnack to meet her father. Cap Taylor was impressed: "Lady, you've brought home a lot of boys. This time you've brought a man." But Lyndon scarcely seemed the man of Lady Bird's dreams. Eugenia Lassater recalls that "when we would talk about getting married, Bird would just say she wanted a nice man and a big white house with a fence around it and a big collie dog. She wanted a nice nine-to-five man. A John Citizen." Nevertheless, on Nov. 17, 1934, barely two months after they met, Lady Bird and Lyndon were married in San Antonio by a pastor they had never before met, with a hurriedly purchased $2.50 wedding band from Sears, Roebuck. Next morning Lady Bird stunned Eugenia Lassater with an exuberant phone call: "Lyndon and I committed matrimony last night!"

Howdy at the Barbecues. The couple lived on a frazzled shoestring in Washington on Lyndon's $3,204 secretarial salary. In 1937, when Johnson wanted to run for Texas' Tenth Congressional District seat, it was Lady Bird who made it possible. She got a $10,000 inheritance advance from her father and paid for the victorious campaign. The Johnsons soon jumped to a relatively comfortable $10,000 Congressman's salary, but Lady Bird did not yet get the hang of buying the right clothes. "She was still tacky," says Eugenia Lassater, "so I told her to turn herself over to a department store and let them dress her. Bird has credited me with teaching her how to dress. But it was the store." (Even today she is no fashion plate. Washington society writers have caught her wearing the same beige turban for months now, and some archly refer to Bird's familiar white chiffon evening dress as her "Vanity Fair nightgown.") Says Lady Bird: "I like clothes. I like them pretty. But I want them to serve me, not for me to serve them—to have an important, but not a consuming part in my life."

Once in Congress, Lyndon was on a whirlwind rise, and Lady Bird rocketed along beside him. In 1948, when he ran for the Senate, Lady Bird swallowed her shyness, forced herself to travel all over Texas, if only to say howdy at barbecues. On the night before the election, the car in which she was riding careened off the road, flipped over twice in the mud. "All I could think of as we were turning over was that I sure wished I'd voted absentee," recalls Lady Bird. But she hopped out unhurt, hitched a ride, borrowed a dress, and the same night shook hands with 200 women at a reception.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8