"The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom." - Caludia "Lady Bird" Johnson, First Lady of the United States
Claudia Alta Johnson, known to the world as Lady Bird, was born in Texas on December 22, 1913. She was the wife of Lyndon B. Johnson, president of the United States from 1963 to 1969 (who was also a champion debater and debate coach). Her nickname comes from a nursemaid who said, "She's as purty as a ladybird.”
But Lady Bird knew at an early age that it takes more than a pretty face to make a positive impact on society. In high school, she graduated third in her class and went on to graduate from the University of Texas with a B.A. in journalism and a teaching certificate. She was a shy child and young woman, but her responsibilities as a politician’s wife forced her to overcome her shyness. She said, “The way you overcome shyness is to become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.”
She was the first president's wife to become a millionaire on her own before her husband was elected to office. She turned an initial $41,000 investment into more than $150 million for the LBJ Holding Company. She also provided the funds for her husband to start his political career! "When Lyndon decided to run for Congress from Austin's 10th district, Lady Bird provided the money to launch his campaign. She took $10,000 of her inheritance from her mother's estate to help start his political career. The couple settled in Washington, D.C., after Lyndon was elected to Congress. After he enlisted in the Navy at the outset of the Second World War, Lady Bird ran his congressional office." (Wikipedia)
During her husband’s 1964 election campaign, she traveled on her own train promoting the Civil Rights Act and giving an extraordinary 45 speeches in just five days. She was the first First Lady to actively champion causes she believed important to society: civil rights, women’s rights, poverty reduction, and – perhaps her best-known cause – beautification of America.
After her tenure as First Lady, President Gerald Ford presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The citation contains the following praise: “Her leadership transformed the American landscape and preserved its natural beauty as a national treasure.”
This honor did not come easily as her actions to beautify the nation’s highways met a great deal of resistance from businesses and the billboard industry. A cartoon portrayed her as a “typical woman driver” plowing down highway billboards. Through the Highway Billboard Act she inspired, she certainly did. However, she was far from typical.
She spoke out for social justice and beautification projects through most of her remaining years. In 1982, with actress Helen Hayes, she founded the National Wildflower Research Center in Texas and raised $10 million for a second facility.
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