“I’m sure that there is nothing that could be more distracting, disturbing and estranging to me than a continued evidence of indifference on your part. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and today Saturday and no sentiments of affection nor expressions of love,” 26-year-old Lyndon Baines Johnson wrote to Lady Bird on September 15, 1934, ten days after their initial meeting.
Lyndon had famously proposed to Lady Bird, only 21, at the end of their first date, breakfast at the Driskill Hotel followed by a drive through the countryside. Lady Bird, though she found the young congressional secretary “handsome and charming and terribly bright,” held back, wary to label this rush of initial interest as love. But the pair spent the next several days together, visiting Stonewall to meet his parents and the King Ranch to see the Klebergs. Lyndon then returned to Washington.
Over the next nine weeks, Lyndon and Lady Bird would continue their courtship at a distance, exchanging some 90 letters, postcards, and telegrams, up until they “committed matrimony,” in Lady Bird’s words, on November 17 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, in San Antonio. Until today, only seven of those had been released to researchers or the public.
“Many elements of their personality that we have come to know about them later in their lives show up in these letters,” said Regina Greenwell, a senior archivist at the LBJ Library. “You see LBJ’s ambition, determination, and persuasive powers.”
The earlier letters are characterized by Lyndon’s insistence that Bird declare she reciprocated his feelings. “Tell me soon, dear, just how you know you do feel—if feel you do,” Lyndon wrote in late September. “Your lack of decision hasn’t tempered either my affection, devotion or ability to know what I want.”
But, despite Lyndon’s repeated declarations, Lady Bird remained cautious: “Your letter yesterday sort of put me on the spot, didn’t it, dear? All I can say, in absolute honesty, is—I love you, I don’t know how everlastingly I love you,—so I can’t answer you yet,” she wrote on September 26. In mid-October she was still advocating that they proceed prudently: “I don’t want you to love me too completely—I don’t want you to urge me to marry you any more until January, when we see each other,” she wrote. “Must you have all or nothing? I love you more than anyone—and in a great many ways, my dear—tender and gay and deep and passionate … But we must wait until we know each other better—until there isn’t any doubt—until we’re sure we’ve a solid enough foundation to build on.”
And even after she had accepted Lyndon’s proposal in early November, Lady Bird tried to explain to him that the decision had shocked her family and friends:
Darling, darling the reason I talk and act the way I do is because everybody is so constantly urging me to ‘wait two or three months,’ ‘wait-wait,’ ‘two months isn’t long enough to have known the man you’re to marry,’ ‘if he loves you he’ll wait for you’—and so on until my head aches. By all these ‘everybody’ I mean … all the people who’ve known me since I was born and loved me so much.
But, for all the handwringing over the briefness of the courtship, the letters also contain much sweetness from both parties: “Your letters mean so much that when I don’t get one in the morning mail my stock immediately starts going down,” Lyndon wrote in late September. And, a few weeks later, Lyndon declared that one particularly touching letter from Bird was “more incontrovertible evidence that you are the greatest girl in the world.” And Lady Bird, for all her initial reticence, quickly shifted to warmth: “Goodnight, dearest. I love you, very much. I wish you were here this minute because I feel silly and gay and I want to ruffle up your hair and kiss you and say silly things!”
Below, scans of two of the original letters and transcripts of them. The full collection can be viewed at the LBJ Library’s website.
September 11, 1934 - Lyndon’s first letter to Lady Bird
[September 11, 1934]
Tuesday Night –
After ten –
I feel almost like Huey Long must feel this time tonight as im partial returns come in from New Orleans and slowly indicate the defeat of his candidates. My campaign was much briefer–marked by less excitement and pronounced outwardly disturbance yet just as disturbing to the soul.
It was hard to leave you today. It is always hard to feel that you haven’t quite won–tho’ there may be some hope left in tomorrow. I had so hoped to feel when I left you that you would want to go with me but if you did–I didn’t understand it that way.
Knowing you has been one of my greatest pleasures. You know, I think, that you mean everything to me. I hope I may mean equally as much to you.
It is hard to tell you thro’ the medium of words what how satisfying and gratifying it was to be with you in your home. I beamed with pride as you played the part of the lady of the house. I breathed a sight of relief when I met your Dad but only a minute later I enjoyed a self soul satisfaction that only a good father could give his daughter’s lover. I want to and must know him better. While his baby is trying to make up her mind I’ll try to know the Daddy better.
We had a delightful trip to Memphis. Lunch in Texarkana—a cold drink at Little Rock and dinner here. No trouble but lots of explaining and denying.
We will probably spend tomorrow night in Bristol, Va. and drive to the Capital Thursday.
I hope my letter is waiting for me.
Before leaving I called Mrs. Boehringer and had a pleasant talk with her. Of course I insisted that she get you and Gene off to Washington as early