Friday 22 July 2016

For a More Beautiful America

"Where flowers bloom so does hope." (Lady Bird Johnson)

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Yellow & blue wildflowers along a highway courtesy

It was just over 50 years ago that the Lady Bird Bill was signed.  President Eisenhower had overseen the building of the Interstate Highway System.  Now, President Johnson, with his wife leading the effort, would oversee the beautification of those highways.

The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 called for the control of outdoor advertising, for the removal of junkyards along the highways and for "scenic enhancement and roadside development" (

Description: LB Johnson beautiful parks25

Daffodils along the Potomac River courtesy 

Lady Bird concentrated not only on beautifying the nation's highways, but also cities.  Focusing on the Washington DC, which in the 1960's was in a dilapidated state, she hoped to set an example for other cities in the United States.  She believed that the state of America's cities was reflected in the state of the nation's minds.  In January 1965, Lady Bird wrote in her diary:

"Getting on the subject of beautification is like picking up a tangled skein of wool. All the threads are interwoven -- recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate and rapid transit and highway beautification, and the war on poverty and parks -- national, state and local.  It is hard to stitch the conversation into one straight line, because everything leads to something else." (

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Pink & red azaleas and white tulips in front of the Capitol courtesy

The Beautification Act faced fierce opposition:  the billboard industry, which had sprung up under Eisenhower, would have no part of it.  The President and the First Lady, who made frequent road trips from their Texas ranch to Washington DC, had tired of the endless advertisements along America's highways.  

Lady Bird Johnson would not not give up the fight.  The First Lady was so involved in the beautification effort that Kansas Representative Robert Dole, who is still alive today, suggested an amendment to the bill which would replace the title "Secretary of Commerce" with Lady Bird, but lost by a voice vote.

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Cherry trees in blossom by the Jefferson Memorial courtesy

Robert Dole may have lost the battle, but Lady Bird won the war.  Her husband, who had just gotten out of the hospital for gall bladder surgery, signed the bill on October 22, 1965.  Commenting on his drive from Bethesda Naval Hospital to the White House along George Washington Memorial Parkway, he said:  

"I saw Nature at its purest.  The dogwoods had turned red.  The maple leaves were scarlet and gold.  And not one foot of it was marred by a single unsightly man-made obstruction -- no advertising signs, no junkyards.  Well, doctors could prescribe no better medicine for me."(

Description: LB Johnson beautiful streets25

Rows of crab apple trees along a suburban road courtesy

For more information, read A White House Diary by Lady Bird Johnson at

Lady Bird Johnson circq 1963 courtesy

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