LBJ’s Love Letters

by Katherine Howell

Pegged to Valentine’s Day, the LBJ Library has released for the first time the courtship letters of President Johnson and Lady Bird, and they make for fascinating reading. In early September 1934, when he was a young law student and secretary for a Texas congressman in Washington, D.C., Johnson was introduced to Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor by a mutual friend. Within 24 hours he had proposed to her, and he spent the next eight weeks writing feverishly impatient and insistent letters to Lady Bird, who was living in her family home in Karnack, Texas, having just completed a journalism degree at the University of Texas. Lady Bird was more reticent at first, questioning if the feelings they felt would be “everlasting,” but she ultimately disregarded the warnings of family and friends that “two months isn’t long enough to have known the man you’re to marry,” and they were wed in November of that year.

LBJ was not convinced in his early correspondence that he would ultimately succeed in his wooing, though. On September 15 he wrote her that “I’m sure that there is nothing that could be more distracting, disturbing and estranging to me than a continued evidence of indifference upon your part.” On September 23, he was feeling a little petulant: “I have asked you to write me daily so often that what pride and self-respect I have been able to retain since meeting you occasionly asserts itself, and, consequently, my requests, expectations, and letters to you necessarily have been fewer here of late.” He thanks her for conveying the cook’s good opinion of him but wishes for “some reassurances of yours to blend with those considerate utterances.” Lady Bird rebuked him, “My darling, please don’t be so — whatever it was — in your letters, anymore. You sound like you thought I didn’t care about you at all. In fact, you sound silly!”

In addition to exchanging letters, postcards, and the occasional telegram, they regularly had long-distance phone calls on Sundays (“Nobody in Marshall knows you can talk that far over the phone — especially just for fun and not business,” wrote Lady Bird), an expense that LBJ groused about at one point. He also sent her a series of books to read — about Roosevelt, Lincoln Steffens, Washington, D.C., and Nazism (“I shall be thrilled to get the book on Naziism. Its such a controversial subject and I know nothing at all about it.”)

Though Lady Bird’s father was among those who cautioned her not to rush into marriage, he had a high opinion of the future president:

He thinks you are fine, Lyndon. He said, “He looks perfect physically and that counts a lot, honey.” (Fancy his having thought of that!) And he thinks you are going far, and that you love me, and that you’ll be good to me.

In an October letter, Lady Bird inquired about a potential job that LBJ was considering. “Please tell me as soon as you can what the deal is . . . I am afraid its politics. — Oh, I know I haven’t any business — not any ‘proprietary interest’ — but I would hate for you to go into politics.”

She must have reconciled herself to it in the end.

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