Former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, a supporter of women’s rights and a passionate environmentalist, died last night of respiratory failure at the age of 94. Born in Karnack, Texas in 1912, the former first lady spent her life as an advocate for important social causes, including environmental protection, civil rights, the eradication of poverty, and women’s equality.
Johnson’s pursuit of equal rights for women began during her time in the White House and continued after her husband’s death. A passionate supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), she made use of her political background and experience to fight for women’s rights. In 1977, Johnson attended the International Women’s Year Conference in Houston which addressed issues including the ERA, lesbian and gay rights, and abortion. In 1981, Johnson stood with fellow first lady Betty Ford to address a crowd at the National Organization for Women’s national conference about the ratification of the ERA.
Johnson is well-known for her devotion to environmental preservation. Lobbying for the Highway Beautification Act, the first lady sought to push billboards 50 yards away from roadsides and insisted junkyards be screened from view. The legislation represented only one of the 150 environmental laws enacted with her support during Johnson’s presidency, including the landmark Clean Air Act. After her husband died in 1973, Johnson continued her environmental work, raising $10 million for the National Wildlife Research Center and sitting on the Board of Directors for the National Geographic Society.
While Johnson contributed a great deal to the environmental movement, she also worked address the nation’s problems related to poverty, racism and women’s equality. During the 1964 election, Johnson made a tour of eight Southern States to garner support for the Civil Rights Act. Despite warnings that the trip would be unsafe, the first lady was resolved to spread her message that “the Civil War should at long last come to an end, which could only happen if the South shed its racist past and moved into the modern world,” Jan Jarboe Russell wrote in her biography of Johnson.
Lady Bird Johnson will be buried on Sunday beside her husband at a family cemetery in Texas. She is survived by her two daughters, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines, and seven grandchildren.