Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lady Bird Johnson, who was born Claudia Alta Taylor on December 22, 1912, in Karnack, Texas. Her nickname stems from childhood, when a nursemaid remarked that she was as “purty as a little ladybird.” It turned out to be an appropriate moniker for the future First Lady, who spent much of her childhood outdoors in East Texas bayou country and developed a lifelong love and affinity for nature.
Mrs. Johnson will best be remembered for awakening the nation’s environmental conscience. “Getting on the subject of beautification is like picking up a tangled skein of wool,” she wrote in her diary on January 27, 1965. “All the threads are interwoven—recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate, and rapid transit, and highway beautification, and the war on poverty, and parks—national, state, and local.”
Using the nation’s capital as a model, Mrs. Johnson, with the help and encouragement of philanthropist Mary Lasker, organized a committee that raised private funds to plant trees and flowering plants in the monumental areas of the city. Her efforts prompted local businesses and others in Washington, D.C., to begin beautification efforts in less touristy neighborhoods. She also encouraged community involvement in efforts to improve public spaces, schoolyards, and parks.
President Johnson supported his wife’s initiatives as part of his own strong commitment to the environment, and she worked with her husband to enact such landmark legislation as the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.
Mrs. Johnson is perhaps best known for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which sought to control billboards and remove or screen junkyards that blighted the nation’s highways. She remained committed to highway beautification after leaving the White House and supported the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987, which allocated federal funds for landscaping projects using native plants, flowers, and trees along the highways.
In 1982, on her 70th birthday—when most people are focused on retirement—Mrs. Johnson dedicated herself to the creation of the National Wildflower Research Center. The center has grown into an international leader in research, education, and projects that encourage the use of wildflowers and native plants. In 1997, a new, larger facility in Austin, Texas—renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center—continues Mrs. Johnson’s commitment to promote the beauty and sustainability of native wildflowers, plants, and landscapes.
The was released November 30, 2012, and is now available for purchase online and in Post Offices.