Man-Cub Mamas in History: Rebekah Baines Johnson

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This post series is inspired by the book, First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents by Bonnie Angelo. The book is about 11 mothers of presidents, all of whom lived in the 20th century. While Angelo presents a much more rounded version of the President’s mothers, my goal in these posts is to share only the positive things each mother did. So without further ado, here are some anecdotes about Rebekah Baines Johnson.

  • Rebekah went to college, majoring in English literature. She also took classes on elocution. While her family was able to help with some of her college expenses, she also worked at the college bookstore to help pay her way. It should be noted that the majority of first mothers got a college education in a time where most women were not expected to obtain a higher education.
  • She gave “expression” lessons to children of local families to earn extra money for their family. She also used her education to coach the high school debating team, direct plays, and organize poetry readings and declamation competitions.
  • For months after Lyndon was born, he was simply known as “The Baby.” His parents could not decide on a name. Finally one morning Rebekah refused to get out of bed to make breakfast until they decided. They ended up choosing the name Lyndon Baines Johnson.
  • Rebekah had four other children after Lyndon, three daughters and another son.
  • She arranged to have Lyndon take violin lessons and later dancing lessons to try to turn him into a “gentleman.” He dropped out of violin and was kicked out of dance class.
  • Rebekah’s husband bought her a printing press, and she used it to be the editor of the City’s weekly paper. She then branched out and sent articles to bigger papers like the Dallas News, Austin American, and San Antonio Express. She signed her articles with the name “R.B.J.”
  • Lyndon refused to go to college after high school. He worked on the roads for a few years before realizing that if he didn’t get a college degree, he wasn’t going to get anywhere. Rebekah leaped at the opportunity to help her son, and immediately arranged for him to study at Southwest Texas State Teachers College. She also lines up a campus job for him. To make sure he passed his entrance exams, she stayed up late to help Lyndon study.
  • When Lyndon eloped, instead of holding a grudge that she was not invited to her firstborn’s wedding, she wrote “the newlyweds a three-page letter of such generous, loving spirit that it should be required reading for all new mothers-in-law.” Because of this, she and Lyndon’s wife, “Lady Bird,” became good friends.
  • Rebekah’s influence on the Johnson presidency included a commitment to education that led to the Education Act of 1965.

If you want to learn more about the first mothers, read the whole book!