Duties of A First Lady


I feel as if I am suddenly on stage for a part I never rehearsed.
Lady Bird Johnson


Portrait of Lady Bird

Portrait of Lady Bird Johnson at the White House, May 8, 1968.
LBJ Library photograph (C9959-23A) by Robert Knudsen.
This image is in the public domain and may be used free
of charge without permissions or fees.



  On November 22, 1963, with the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency, and Mrs. Johnson was catapulted into the position of First Lady. Lady Bird confided to a friend: "I feel as if I am suddenly on stage for a part I never rehearsed." Mrs. Johnson was being much too modest, as she was probably one of the best prepared first ladies. As the wife of Lyndon Johnson, she had been in the political world of Washington, D.C. since 1934.


 
  Throughout the administration she saw her primary role as one of creating a warm and comfortable environment for the President. Near the end of the administration when a reporter asked Mrs. Johnson about the role of a First Lady, she reiterated the theme, saying, "Her role principally, is to support and give solace and companionship to her husband...to give him an island of serenity in which to work, to do his job." But she did more.


 
   

The Constitution of the United States does not mention the First Lady. She is elected by one man only. The statute books assign her no duties; and yet, when she gets the job, a podium is there if she cares to use it. I did.
Lady Bird Johnson


   
  Late in November 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy asked Mrs. Johnson to continue the work she had begun in restoring and preserving the White House and its contents. In March 1964, President Johnson signed an Executive Order establishing a Committee for the Preservation of the White House. Mrs. Johnson served as an active member of the Committee to ensure "continuity in all of the good things that have been done, [and] preservation of everything that has gone forward."


 
  As President Johnson pressed for legislation to end poverty and protect civil rights, Mrs. Johnson traveled with her husband on several high-profile trips, including a tour of desperately poor areas of Appalachia. During her husband's presidency, she traveled 200,000 miles and visited 40 states.


 
  To highlight issues of concern to women and recognize accomplishments made by women, Mrs. Johnson inaugurated a series of "Women Doers Luncheons" at the White House.


 
 
Doers Luncheon

Lady Bird Johnson and others listen to a speaker at a Women Doers Luncheon, April 2, 1968.
LBJ Library photograph (C9309-16) by Robert Knudsen. This image is in the public domain and may be used free of charge without permissions or fees.



 
  After her husband's election in 1964, Mrs. Johnson devoted much of her time to issues related to children and education, and conservation. Mrs. Johnson served as a "working" Honorary Chairman of Head Start, campaigned for her husband on the "Lady Bird Special" Whistlestop campaign train, and worked on beautification.


 
  In her over five years in the White House, Mrs. Johnson gave 164 speeches as First Lady. As the wife of the President, she served as hostess for social events. She was involved in over 700 activities including White House receptions, dinners, teas, luncheons, tours, trips, speeches and presentations.


 
  The First Lady's staff at the White House created an information sheet entitled "Mrs. Johnson's Duties as First Lady." A copy of the sheet may be seen here: Duties as First Lady


 
  At the end of the Johnson Administration, Howard K. Smith of ABC News interviewed Mrs. Johnson in a program entitled, "The View From the White House." A copy of the December 27, 1968 press release of the transcript may be seen here: View From The White House  
 
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