Lady Bird Johnson’s Connections to Southwestern University
Both Lady Bird Johnson, who died today (July 11), and Lyndon Baines Johnson had extensive connections to Southwestern University.
These connections dated back to 1937, when Lyndon Johnson was elected to represent Texas’ 10th Congressional District, which included Georgetown. Johnson secured funds from the WPA to build the Cody Memorial Library at Southwestern, which was dedicated in 1939.
In 1943, Johnson helped secure a Navy V12 program for Southwestern. This program brought nearly 400 servicemen to the University for training, which helped compensate for the outflow of male students during the war years. Johnson came to Southwestern to inspect the unit on Aug. 27, 1943.
“LBJ wanted to make sure that this school in his district did well,” says Southwestern University Historian Bill Jones. “He always had a special place in his heart for Southwestern, as did Lady Bird.”
Lady Bird and LBJ were close friends of George and Herman Brown and their wives, Margarett and Alice, both of whom were Southwestern graduates. They were also close friends of former Southwestern Registrar Pearl Neas, who worked at Southwestern for 42 years. Neas went to work for Johnson’s campaign in 1938 and became a close advisor. The Special Collections section of Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library has numerous pieces of correspondence between the Johnsons and Neas, as well as others between LBJ and former Southwestern President Russell Score.
After the Johnsons purchased radio station KLBJ in Austin, Lady Bird produced a series of half-hour programs that gave Southwestern a chance to promote itself. The theme of the broadcasts, which aired from the auditorium of the Administration Building (now the Cullen Building), was “Southwestern Builds Americans.”
LBJ received an honorary degree from Southwestern in 1943 and Lady Bird received one in 1967. “When she came to receive her degree she was very gracious and accommodated everyone who wanted to shake her hand,” Jones recalls.