Lady Bird Johnson
May 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the White House Conference on Natural Beauty. The ideas championed by the conference were embodied in a term called “beautification.” According to Lady Bird Johnson, they used the term beautification because, “we could never think of a better word!” (Johnson & Lees, 1989, p.12). Despite her misgivings, perhaps the word was perfect.
In the mid-1960s, America was searching for its soul. In the midst of it all, Lady Bird Johnson tapped into the universal truth that beauty satisfies our soul (Speck, 2015). She and those closest to her decided to create a platform through which they could promote this idea.
Today, we often associate physical beauty with success and prestige. Yet, this slanted vision of beauty diminishes its potential. Lady Bird Johnson spent countless hours outside in the extraordinarily beautiful northeast Texas woods (Gould, 1988). As a child who lost her mother at age six, she knew that natural beauty had the power to restore the human spirit and the ecological environment.
What the Johnsons were aware of was that creating a more pleasing aesthetic could actually make a difference in the problems of the city and its suburbs, including its economy. Mrs. Johnson sensed that “aesthetics could promote action” and action was necessary to overcome the problems they faced (Hosey, 2012).
Research proved her correct. We know now that if an area is not well-kept, that it is likely to fall victim to crime and vandalism (Hosey, 2012). We also now know that greener environments also promote health. When people are exposed to more greenery, their psychological health improves, according to researcher Dr. Frances Kuo.
The ideas in campaign for natural beauty of the 1960s have been carried forth in an idea we now call sustainability and its triple bottom line: environmental concern, social equity, and economic consideration.
“Beautification” as a program was more than just planting flowers and its promoters knew that was the case. It was important enough to which to devote an entire White House Conference in 1965. The program brought the issue to the attention of the entire nation. Its ideas are echoed in today’s sustainable principals. These are beautiful consequences realized because of Mrs. Johnson’s acute intuition about what natural beauty can do for us This year as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of yet another of the many accomplishments of Lady Bird Johnson–the White House Conference on Natural Beauty and the programs that grew out of it–let’s remember that without Mrs. Johnson’s leadership and incredible insight driven by her love of the natural environment, a holistic view of the benefits of a better environment might be years away, or not developed at all.
Gould, L. L. (1988). Lady Bird Johnson: Our Environmental First Lady. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas.
Hosey, L. (2012). The Shape of Green: aesthetics, ecology, and design. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
Johnson, L. B., & Lees, C. B. (1989). Wildflowers Across America. New York: Abbeville Press.
Kuo, D. F. (2014). “Integrating Nature into the City.” Imagine Austin Speaker’s Series. Austin, Texas.
Speck, L. (2015, February 3). “Sensual and Visual Form.” Austin, Texas.