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The Environmental First Lady

On December 22, 1912, conservationist Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor Johnson was born. First Lady of the United States [1963-1969], Johnson led many initiatives over her lifetime involving environmentalism, conservation, and anti-pollution. Canoeing along tree-lined lakeshores, hiking nature trails, or nurturing wildflower meadows, Johnson was committed to preserving natural environments.

Johnson advocated for nature conservancy, calling public attention to the rapid disappearance of natural areas. She was the recipient of over 50 pens given to her by her husband, President Lyndon Johnson, for each piece of environmental legislation he signed, including the Wilderness Act [1964], conservation funding, river programs, and additions to the National Park system.

Wildflowers were her passion. When close to two thousand American plant species were considered at risk of extinction, Johnson founded the National Wildflower Research Center, contributing both money and acreage near Austin, Texas. The center opened on December 22 in celebration of her seventieth birthday. She had research and education goals. She wanted to provide information about America’s native plants and wildflowers and to encourage their natural use in land planning.

With horticulturist Carlton B. Lees of the New York Botanical Garden, Johnson co-authored Wildflowers Across America. It offered her the opportunity to illustrate the ecological benefits of planting wildflowers and other native botanicals and provided her a platform for giving advice in the how and what of establishing wildflower meadows.

Johnson received many honours and awards for her various conservancy efforts. These include the Conservation Service Award from the Department of the Interior, the Chairman’s Award from the National Geographic Society, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Plant Conservation Initiative, and the National Conservation Achievement Award for Conservationist of the Year from the National Wildlife Federation.

Lady Bird Johnson Park is found on a Potomac River island, just off the southbound George Washington Memorial Parkway, D.C. The National Wildflower Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin, was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Research Center.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage