Two Oral Histories of the Two First Ladies: Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson

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Abstract

Two successful women, Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson, influenced and were in turn influenced by the political careers of their husbands. An analysis of their oral histories, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (released in 2011) and Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History (2012), demonstrates that John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson became the first men of the American nation not only through their personal virtues, but also through the influence of their wives and who had a significant impact on their careers. Granted, both Jackie and Lady Bird extolled their husbands’ merits, stressing that they were “only” their wives; however, both First Ladies played an essential diplomatic and political role, ensuring their husbands’ physical and emotional well-being in private and public life. The article demonstrates how Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson promoted the positive images of their husbands’ terms in office via their oral histories and continued to do so after their deaths. Moreover, the article considers some important differences between the two histories. Jacqueline did not edit her previously authorized interviews, whereas Lady Bird made important changes to hers; furthermore, in direct contrast to Lady Bird, Jacqueline never wrote a memoir or autobiography, which makes her oral history the most valuable source on her views about her life and her husband’s career.

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