1965 and several other occasions
While acting First Lady, one of Lady Bird Johnson’s personal projects was beautification, with an emphasis on Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area. She visited Mount Vernon twice in the spring of 1965, not just to tour the property but also to film a portion of a video promoting her project.
In the above photo, from her visit on May 28, 1965, Mrs. Johnson is seen with Mount Vernon’s horticulturist Robert Fisher and Resident Director Charles Wall on the far left. The first lady was visiting Mount Vernon during the filming of “A Visit to Washington with Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson on Behalf of a More Beautiful America,” which aired as a television special on ABC in 1966. Mrs. Johnson is holding magnolia leaves from Mount Vernon trees that she received as a gift, along with some strawberry seeds from the garden.
A Visit to Washington with Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson on Behalf of a More Beautiful America
(Mount Vernon appears around the 5:30 mark)
President and Mrs. Johnson’s interest in beautification and the environment turned out to be very beneficial for the Ladies’ Association who, at the time, were fighting to keep George Washington’s Viewshed (or the Mount Vernon view of the Potomac and Maryland shore) free from commercial development. Mrs. Johnson would write a letter to a Vice Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association voicing her support of this effort.
As First Lady, Mrs. Johnson kept a revealing audio diary, detailing her life inside the White House. Below, listen to Mrs. Johnson’s own memories from her visit to Mount Vernon on May 28, 1965.
I left about 7:30—a jewel of a day, fresh-washed by the rain the night before, clear, bright, golden, the river sparkling, Mt. Vernon so green and orderly and impressive.
We went into the Curator's office, and there they had hot coffee and strawberries fresh from George Washington's own garden, with powdered sugar to dip them in. It was a little past 8, they didn't open to the public until 9. The cameras were on the front lawn, where all of our narration took place, and it was a wonderful two and a half hours. Miracle indeed, we finished on time, including pictures of me and all the staff…
It went fast, though we had to stop and do it over with an occasional plane flying over. The script was in tune with what I think of George Washington's relation to the capital itself and this Virginia countryside. The only trouble was, it kept the public from this view for a whole hour.
The curator told me, to my surprise, that a top crowd for them was 15,000 a day. The White House had 17,000 in two hours this summer, and on a peak Saturday, a four-hour day last year, we had over 25,000. We talked about the problems of upkeep, crowd control, all the things that happen when you are preserving a house that is really a shrine.
How interesting to think that this was still in private hands 60 years after General Washington's death, and it has only been open to the public for a little over a hundred years, and that by the devotion and persistence of a group of women, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
The curator showed me some early paintings of Mt. Vernon — "primitives," I suppose you would call them — that had recently come into their hands by will from someone who lived in Massachusetts. On the way back we filmed the drive and the river, because the rivers' relations to cities are one of the big problems and the big opportunities today in the beautification program.
- Lady Bird Johnson, May 28, 1965