As daughter of career politician and 36th President Lyndon Johnson, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb lived most of her life in the shadow of her dedicated father. A Texan through and through, President Johnson spent most of his time in the nation’s capitol attending his many duties, first as a Representative in the House serving Texas’s tenth district, then as Senator to Texas until he was selected as John F. Kennedy’s running mate in 1960. The Johnson family grew accustomed to the patriarch’s dedication to his country, and adapted to the ever-changing, politically-charged atmosphere of Washington. Lynda Bird was the first of two daughters born to Lyndon and Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. Lynda was born on March 19, 1944 in Washington, D.C. She was named after both of her parents as she was somewhat of a miracle baby – her mother, Lady Bird, had experienced several miscarriages before Lynda’s birth and had been told by doctors that only a slim chance of carrying to term was possible for the Johnson’s. When both Lynda and Lady Bird emerged healthy after her birth, there was much jubilation for the couple.
By the time her father’s political career launched him onto the national stage, Lynda was already an adult, having graduated from the University of Texas with honors. In 1966 she became a full-time writer for the widely circulated McCall’s Magazine publication. That same year alongside Margaret McNamara (wife of United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara), the two women launched the nationwide non-profit literacy organization “Reading is Fundamental” which, since its inception, has become the largest and oldest children’s literacy campaign in the United States. Johnson and McNamara believed that reading should be a fun and everyday activity for children in the U.S., and used Reading is Fundamental to increase book accessibility for all children. Lynda’s legacy of volunteer work began with this organization, and she actually describes herself as a “professional volunteer”. She has served on a number of committees and has been a board member of several charitable foundations throughout her life. In 1966 Johnson began dating American actor George Hamilton and were one of the first couples of Presidential children to be guarded by the Secret Service following the assassination of John F. Kennedy three years earlier.
The 1960’s were a contentious time in America’s history – protests against social and racial inequality were rampant and being led by major figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, the war in Vietnam had created a powder keg of political activism especially among young people, and the very fabric of American society was undergoing a significant alteration as conservatism fell out of favor. With her father at the helm, Lynda Bird Johnson maneuvered gracefully through the tumult, constantly supporting her father. In 1967, Lynda married U.S. Marine Corps Captain Charles “Chuck” Robb in the East Room of the White House. He would return to Vietnam and serve with distinction. In his autobiography In the Arena: A Memoir of Love, War, and Politics, Robb spoke about what it was like to command a battalion of men as the son-in-law of the President of the United States. He writes:
I can’t say how many of them knew about my connection to the commander in chief on that first day, but I’m sure they all found out through word of mouth eventually. Aside from a few innocuous questions along the lines of “What is it like to visit the White House?” I don’t believe that I ever spoke about it with the troops while I was in country, because it simply wasn’t relevant.
Lynda and Chuck would have three daughters – Lucinda, Catherine, and Jennifer.
In 1969 Lynda became one of the editors of the Ladies Home Journal which she would hold until 1981. In 1978 her husband Chuck was elected the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, then Governor of Virginia in 1982, and finally US Senator from Virginia, a position he would hold from 1989 to 2001. In 1979, Lynda was appointed the chair of the President’s Advisory Committee for Women by President Jimmy Carter. Presently, she serves on the board of directors for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation as well as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center housed at the University of Texas at Austin.
Written by Katie Costanzo, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum.