Dear Lady Bird
Lyndon Johnson's dogged pursuit of Lady Bird further revealed in a cache of never-before-seen love letters.
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“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 as possible.
I’m sad tonight but things get easier when I think of the sail – the evening before the night club trip – and the real understanding we reached Sunday night in front of Gene’s. It was then that I first realized that you were right in wanting to wait.
Honey – this is my first letter in months but after all you are my first love in years – good night.
I love you – Lyndon Baines
September 13, 1934 – Lady Bird’s first letter to Lyndon
[September 13, 1934]
I’ve been doing only simple things since you’ve left—going to see Lee Scott, the cabinet maker, about my book cases and considering the relative merits and beauties of cherry and walnut, and carving or no carving…And planning a white picket fence around the garden with a hedge of pink japonica and white lilac in front of it…And making nice things for our suppers.
So whatever shall I write you about, dear, when all the things I do are so innocuous and not thrilling?..Except to me–‘cause this is the first time I’ve ever really done anything. And I like it! I don’t like being a parasite.
There is a too-lovely moon. Have you seen it? I stood on the upstairs front porch a minute and watched it…I wish it wouldn’t shine while I’m home. Its nine o’clock, and I guess you are just about getting into the capital…
It was all so lovely—wasn’t it, dear? Whenever I’m not busy for a minute I just sit down and think about it. And grin, all to myself! If there were any people around to see me I feel sure they’d think I was daffy…I shall not ever ever forget any of it. And oh—how glad I am we didn’t leave with the dull, unhappy feeling we might have on Sunday night!
Your letter just came and I devoured it. They’d better be good ‘cause I’m likely to read them three times!
Guess what my cook said about you? Says she, “Miss Claudie, you sho’ have got you a fine looking young man.”!! (I don’t know how she got the idea I’d “got” you!—But I was tickled).
Darling, I don’t think I shall write you on this any more…there isn’t room….How I do miss you. All the time there is something I want to say to you–to talk to you about. I wish I had a tabulator so I could check how many minutes, outside those I spend in “getting the job done”, I think about you—and us!
Goodnite and love, Bird
October 24, 1934 – Lyndon to Lady Bird
[October 24, 1934]
My dearest Bird;
A long, precious letter late yesterday written Friday and your Special written Sunday this morning present some more incontrovertible evidence that you are the greatest girl in the world.
I was so happy all day yesterday—and what a perfect ending this morning about one when I turned in to get some sleep. My letter penned yesterday will tell you about everything up until late in the day. When I returned from school and dinner I went to my room to begin studying and found a large package on my bed that had been left there by a special delivery messenger from the Senate. For a minute I thought it must not have been intended for me but then I saw a little card in the corner with my name on the small envelope. On the card inside was written—“May this serve to remind you of our appreciation of your friendship. Mr. Arthur C. Perry & Mr. Robert M. Jackson.” The package contained a large—beautiful—all leather brief case with my name on it. It is one of the best, and just the thing I need every day. Bob & Perry are Texas boys I’ve known since I came here. Perry was formerly Sen. Connally’s secretary and is now an attorney for the Fed. Communications Commission. Bob received an appointment as secretary to Senator Connally only Sunday. He is now assistant Senate Librarian and hails from San Angelo where he worked as Editor of the Standard Times. He knows a boy on the paper in Marshall and insists that I take him to Texas Xmas.
Hardly had I finished giving the brief case the once over when Helen called to tell me she had tickets to the play at the National. We will go Fri or Sat. night. The play ‘Bring on the Girls’ is by Kaufman and Ryskind who wrote “Of Thee I Sing” which I so thoroughly enjoyed last year. Some say ‘Bring on the Girls’ will be temporarily withdrawn from circulation after Saturday night and rewritten from the end of the first act on. Helen tells me that it is an overstretched farce aimed at the more vulnerable aspects of the present operation of the New Deal. The producers sent the Secretary of Ag. & several others in the dept. comps. in order to indicate the lines weren’t personal etc. The New Dealers that have seen it say it out farces farce and is about the equivalent of reading a copy of Life as opposed to a Dickens novel. In short, as it is now, it must be nothing more than a few gorgeous gags. But it will be fun, and after a week in school, it will be helpful.
Honey, I think you need have little concern about my worries now. Mr. Dick is with the madam in Monterrey this week. Mr. Miller sent me a very generous letter this morning which read in part “I am most grateful for your two telegrams, one which was received Saturday and the personal one which came this morning (Sunday). Old fellow, you have certainly done everything possible. I hope to have a further conference etc…and want to again thank you for your kindness in this and other matters in which I impose on you.” Then Maury called (person to person) yesterday. After talking to him for several minutes Malcolm said Hello. Then Dan sent me an Airmail Special this morning and all in all I’m very contented just now.
I know your Dad is pleased over the pictures of your brothers. Does he expect to get one to go along beside them as a result of your Dallas trip? Lyndon is patiently and anxiously waiting.
It was so thoughtful of you to send your Sunday letter Airmail & Special. You do want to make me very happy—don’t you darling?
Bill White has just called and we’ve planned a trip down the Skyline drive Sunday. The girls will make sandwiches and we will spend the day in the country returning late Sunday refreshed with new energy and enthusiasm. I don’t think I could want you more than I have today.
No letter from Gene in several days. It couldn’t be the ball game—could it? Dotty hasn’t written. Guess I must be neglected for a while at that end.
Have been intending to tell you everyday about a little orange comb I carry in my billfold. It is the only thing I have from my little girl at Karnack and when I get lonesome and blue or happy and ambitious I always get pleasure when I look at the little comb and think…just think.
I feel that you are very happy now. Things have worked out just as you would have them and I’m sure it is the better for all of us.
Here is all my affection. I love you much–too much. No!
October 27, 1934 – Lady Bird to Lyndon
[October 27, 1934]
This morning the picture came, Lyndon!! I am so very thrilled over it, dear! Its the finest piece of photography I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad it came today too, because Trenna Mae and Leo, my cousins, and their numerous progeny are coming to dinner tomoro and I shall want to show you to them.—They’ll be very interested. I’ll display you with pride, my love!
Lyndon, that is a simply splendid-looking frame, too! I’ve never seen one I like as well. I’m so glad I chose the pose I did–but I knew the minute I saw it that it was the one. I like you like that. Dear, what happened to the proofs? Would Bachrach let you have one of them back? —If so I’d like the profile one with the cigarette. Now, you’re not to send it if its any trouble, hear?—You’ve done enough already.
I showed the picture to Dad and he was as pleased, most, as I.—I can’t wait for everybody to see it!
(Lyndon, I’ve a little silver bud vase that I keep by it, with a rose in it.)
‘Bye for a minute—here comes someone—
Few minutes later: It was Karl and Buddy, two of Gene’s brothers, going a-gigging to the lake, just dropping by to give me a drink and find out if I didn’t want to go with them. Which I didn’t—they’ll be out too late. You must meet Karl when you come back through, Lyndon. He’s very much like Gene but without Gene’s brains, I think. He’s my third favorite in the Boehringer family—Gene’s first, then Mrs. B.
Darling, I wonder when you’ll be leaving Washington and coming West? How I am looking forward to seeing you! I think about it and plan about it all the time, what I shall say and how happy I’ll feel.
Do you know, dear, how much I rejoice in the kind of letter you wrote me last–when you were so gay and lighthearted and happy?? Bless your heart. It did me good, too! I am so glad for you.
I shall enclose your letters to Welly pronto—(you are always so efficient and I am not. But I shall learn!)
Thank you so much, dearest dear for the picture…I shall always treasure it. Goodnight, until tomoro. Please tell me the nature of your employment as soon as you can and when you’ll probably be coming West. I love you, Lyndon