LADY BIRD JOHNSON
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
courtesy university of north texas library
THE FIRST LADY OF TEXAS
She’s a beloved native daughter widely admired for her philanthropy, so it’s a shame that her unusual name makes laughter the first reaction to Ima Hogg. What were her parents thinking?
The family says Ima, born in 1882, was named for the heroine of an epic Civil War poem, The Fate of Marvin, composed by her uncle, Thomas. Her parents did not provide a middle name for Ima, quite unusual for the time, so she resorted to measures such as signing her first name illegibly.
Ima’s father, “Big Jim” Hogg, was elected Texas governor when she was 8. She and her brothers enjoyed life in the mansion, sliding down the banisters until tacks were installed to stop their shenanigans.
These golden years ended when 13-year-old Ima had to care for her mother, who contracted tuberculosis and died. Ten years later she took care of her father, after a train accident that eventually proved fatal.
Big Jim left Ima a large inheritance, but another life event left her wealthy beyond imagination. Big Jim stipulated in his will that the siblings couldn’t sell the family’s West Columbia property, the Varner Plantation, for 15 years. Twelve years later, oil was discovered on the property, lots of it. Eventually, oil income amounting to $225,000 a month (equivalent to $3.3 million a month today) was shared among the four siblings.
The Hogg siblings felt the money came from the land and not their own hard work, so they gave it away, becoming some of the state’s greatest philanthropists, providing huge impacts on the arts, education and mental health, as well as conservation and historic preservation.
Ima restored the Hogg family home at the Varner Plantation. In 1958 she presented it to the state; it’s now the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historical Site. In the 1960s she restored the Winedale Inn, a 19th-century stagecoach stop at Round Top, and donated it to the University of Texas. The Winedale Historical Center is a center for the study of Texas history and hosts an annual fine arts festival.
As a member of the Houston school board in 1943, Ima worked to remove gender and race as criteria for determining pay and established art education programs for Black students. Ima never married and died in 1975 at 93.
Texas first lady Nellie Connally once declared, “The governor’s wife is usually called the first lady of the state, but Ima always has been and always will be the first lady of Texas.”
courtesy Texas A&M
A FORCE OF NATURE FOR HOUSTON
President George H.W. Bush once described Terese “Terry” Hershey as “a force of nature for nature.” It’s an apt accolade for a woman who served on countless boards, moved the highest political mountains and earned so many conservation honors, they’d fill a bayou.
Charming but persuasive Terry settled down in Houston with husband Jack in 1958. In 1966, she heard that Buffalo Bayou was being straightened and lined with concrete. Terry didn’t like the sound of it, so she gathered up her friends and went to examine it.
She and her growing circle of friends (including the two Georges: newly elected Congressman Bush and billionaire Texas oilman George P. Mitchell) continued to challenge the Corps of Engineers, the county commissioners and the Harris County Flood Control District.
Their work culminated with the passage in 1972 of the National Environmental Policy Act. Not long after that, the Buffalo Bayou project was dead.
From this now-legendary conservation victory, Terry Hershey founded numerous organizations dedicated to environmental protection, as well as the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation.
Hershey served on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, as well as many other boards, and helped found the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park was renamed Terry Hershey Park; Audubon Texas established the Terry Hershey Women in Conservation Awards.
The “environmental godmother of Houston” died in 2017 on her 94th birthday.
“That’s what Mother said I ought to do and I’m still doing it,” she said. “‘Ought’ is a big thing with some people, I think. A sense of ought.”
And what is a sense of ought?
“You ought to do things because they ought to be done. And, if possible, by you.”
Courtesy LBJ Library
Where flowers bloom, there is hope
That lovely thought is part of a longer quote by the former first lady of the country, Texas’ own Lady Bird, Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson.
“Even in the poorest neighborhoods you can find a geranium in a coffee can, a window box set against the scaling side of a tenement, a border of roses struggling to live in a tiny patch of open ground,” she said.
Many books have been written about Lady Bird’s life and work and her influence on conservation legislation during LBJ’s administration. Among the major legislative initiatives were the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program, the 1965 Highway Beautification Act and many additions to the National Park system.
For 50 of those major initiatives related to conservation and beautification, President Johnson thanked his wife in 1968 for her dedication by presenting her with 50 pens used to sign these laws and a plaque that read: “To Lady Bird, who has inspired me and millions of Americans to try to preserve our land and beautify our nation. With love from Lyndon.”
In Texas, the abundant wildflowers along our highways bloom in testament to her vision and hard work to achieve it. At Lady Bird Johnson’s urging, Enchanted Rock was purchased by The Nature Conservancy, later to become a beloved state natural area. She established the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin on her 70th birthday and was influential in the creation of Austin’s hike-and-bike trail around the lake that now bears her name.
She died in Austin in 2007, but her legacy lives on.
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