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Lady Bird Johnson a Successful First Lady

History Professor Calls Lady Bird Johnson One of the Most Successful First Ladies

Catherine Allgor finds Mrs. Johnson especially skilled at running 'the unofficial machine of politics, the social sphere.'

(July 11, 2007)

Lady Bird Johnson, who died Wednesday in Austin, Texas, at age 94, was one of the most successful first ladies in the history of the role, says Catherine Allgor, a national expert on American first ladies and an associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.

Johnson's husband, Lyndon Baines Johnson, became the 36th president of the United States after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"Lady Bird Johnson was one of the most successful First Ladies in the history of the role," Allgor says. "Dolley Madison, the most modern politician of her time, would have deemed her sister southerner a worthy successor."

Lady Bird Johnson was especially adept at running "the unofficial machine of politics, the social sphere," where much business is accomplished, Allgor says.

Although Johnson is widely known for her highway beautification efforts, she was especially influential in conveying the moral message of the civil rights movement and in helping her husband get the Civil Rights Act passed, Allgor says.

"She made us feel, with her work in the civil rights movement, that we were good people who were having problems with race, but we were good people and would do the right thing."

Most modern nation-states are ruled by psychology and emotion, Allgor says. Johnson used them to call attention to her husband's message.

Allgor has written two books about American first ladies, including "Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington City Help Build a City and a Government," published by the University of Virginia Press, and "A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation," published in 2006 by Henry Holt. She also has written on politics, women, and religion for national publications.

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