The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.
In May of 1930, a plane touched down in Austin, and on it sat Lady Bird Taylor, a young woman fresh from high school and toying with the idea of attending University of Texas. As she stepped out of the plane, she found herself surrounded by field upon field of bluebonnets, and instantly knew Austin would be a central part of her life for many years to come.
You see, to Lady Bird, flowers meant a whole lot more than beauty. Lady was the child of a mother who collapsed, falling down the stairs and passing away when Lady was only six. The flowers that arrived after that did not take on a meaning of sympathy or sorrow, but of hope that we can reap happiness once more, if only we take the time to plant it.
Lady Bird watched the wildflower blooms every spring at her childhood home in East Texas, not knowing that, once in Austin, she was the one about to bloom.
An active participant in student government, Taylor would, toward the end of her life, recall peering between the fence posts at the White House while visiting DC with a friend and imagining how far they might one day go. Twenty-eight years later, that’s precisely where she went.
But first, in 1943, Lady spent $17,500 of her own money to purchase Austin radio station KTBC. She stayed involved in running the station and later purchased a TV station as well. The stations grew and grew, making Lady a millionaire. Lady held onto her stations until 2003 when she sold them for $150 million.
While attending UT-Austin, she met LBJ, married him, and worked as his closest ally and confidant.
When LBJ volunteered for service during WW2, Lady Bird ran his congressional office in his absence.
After 6 terms, LBJ ran for vice president to John F. Kennedy. But JFK's wife was pregnant, and unable to make public appearances. Lady Bird went in her stead, campaigning tirelessly. She's credit with helping to carry Texas for the ticket.
Preceded by the traumatized Jackie Kennedy and later succeeded by Pat Nixon, Lady Bird expanded the role of First Lady from 1963-1969. She was the first to speak directly to Congress, to have her own press secretary, and to go on her own solo electioneering tour.
She worked both during and after her tenure as first lady to actively promote that all women attend higher education, to expand programs that aided in the war on poverty, and to confront local governing bodies whenever their local populations accused them of negligence.
She co-founded the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Center, which works with the US Botanical Garden and Society of Landscape Architects to set the standard for sustainable land design.
In 2007, Lady Bird Johnson passed away. In 2013, she was awarded the prestigious Rachel Carson award, which honors distinguished female leaders impacting the environmental world. Her daughter, Lynda, accepted the award on her behalf.
Today, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts fields of bluebonnets, just like the ones that surrounded Lady Bird when she first arrived here. The center is filled with beautiful coiled stone paths and wild animal statues, as well as educational displays to teach you all about the flowers you see around Austin every day.
Cover photo credit: United States Postal Service and Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center via Wikimedia Commons