Lyndon Baines Johnson famously asked Claudia Alta Taylor to marry him on their first date during a long ride around Austin’s hills. For 10 weeks after LBJ returned to Washington, D.C., as a congressional aide, Taylor resisted becoming Lady Bird Johnson.
Resisted, yes, but not too hard.
“All I can say, in absolute honesty, is — I love you,” she wrote LBJ in September 1934. “I don’t know how everlastingly I love you — so I can’t answer you yet.”
The letter — packed with the pair’s romantic hopes, dreams and doubts — is among the almost 100 released by the LBJ Presidential Library in time for Valentine’s Day. The courtship correspondence will be posted on the library’s website — lbjlibrary.org — at 9 a.m. Thursday.
A sampling of the letters and exchanged photographs reveals that Taylor was on the receiving end of the full LBJ “treatment.”
“Again I repeat — I love you — only you,” he writes her. “Want to always love — only you. It is an important decision. It isn’t being made in one night — it probably never will be yours — but your lack of decision hasn’t tempered either my affection, devotion or ability to know what I want. I don’t want to go on this way. Do you? Will you tell me?”
It won’t surprise those who know that the future first lady, a recent University of Texas graduate, read voluminously and that the couple shared books and big ideas on everything from President Franklin Roosevelt to the rise of Nazism.
On a more concrete level, the lovers complain that letter-writing is a poor substitute for in-person romance.
“I can talk much better than I can write,” Lady Bird says. “So many times I wish you were close enough for me to talk to you. I think of so much to say that eludes the written words.”
On Nov. 17, 1934, LBJ and Lady Bird headed to San Antonio to “commit matrimony” — her phrase. Lady Bird later said she was still making up her mind as they trundled down to San Antonio.
She gave a hint, however, of her future decision at the end of this missive: “Goodnight, dearest. I love you, very much. I wish you were here this minute because I feel silly and gay and I want to ruffle up your hair and kiss you and say silly things.”