A Politician Ought To Be Born a Foundling and Remain a Bachelor

Lady Bird Johnson? Barbara Rowes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The demands placed upon politicians are intense. Minimal time can be allocated for family and friends. Lady Bird Johnson who was married to U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) once made a statement similar to the following:

A politician should be born an orphan and remain a bachelor.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1970 Lady Bird Johnson published “A White House Diary” which included an entry dated September 12, 1967. Johnson reminisced about when LBJ was a U.S. Senator and their daughters were young. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . I remembered what Lynda and Luci used to say when they were little. We would start out for dinner and they didn’t want us to go. “Why are you always going out, Mama?” And then once Lynda said, forlornly, “Mama, Washington is sure meant for the Congressmen and their wives, but it is not meant for their children.”

I remember saying once myself, when we first came to Washington, that a politician ought to be born a foundling and remain a bachelor.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In November 1973 Lady Bird delivered a version of the quotation during a television interview with the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company: 2

She herself has no political ambitions — “Politics was not my life — it was Lyndon’s life.”

She described the ideal politician as a person “who ought to be born a foundling and remain a bachelor.”

The television interview mentioned above was rebroadcast in Washington D.C. in March 1974, and an article in “The Washington Post” mentioned the remark. Oddly, the word “and” was replaced by “or”: 3

And Mrs. Johnson gives her definition of what a politician should be—“A politician ought to be born a foundling or remain a bachelor.”

In 1975 “The Wall Street Journal” reviewed a book about politicians and their families which was harshly critical. The reviewer mentioned the quotation: 4

The politicians, she concludes, are obsessed with their careers, crippled by insecurity and starved for attention. “A politician ought to be born a foundling and remain a bachelor,” Lady Bird Johnson says.

In 1978 quotation collector Barbara Rowes printed a slightly altered version containing the word “should” in “People” magazine: 5

“A politician should be born a foundling and remain a bachelor.”—Lady Bird Johnson

In 1979 another variant appeared in “The Boston Globe”. The word “orphan replaced “foundling”: 6

. . . wasn’t it Lady Bird Johnson who remarked that a politician should be born an orphan and remain a bachelor?

In conclusion, Lady Bird Johnson deserves credit for the remark she penned in a 1967 diary entry published in 1970. By 1978 a slightly different instance was circulating.

(Great thanks to researcher Barry Popik who communicated with QI about this quotation which led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Popik initially found citations beginning in 1975.)

Notes:

  1. 1970, A White House Diary: Lady Bird Johnson by Lady Bird Johnson, Section: Fall 1967, Diary entry dated: September 12, 1967, Start Page 567, Quote Page 568, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1973 November 12, Washington Post, Lady Bird’s Grief Over Watergate, Page B6, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. 1974 March 30, Washington Post, A Visit With Lady Bird Johnson by Dorothy McCardle, Quote Page D1, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  4. 1975 November 11, The Wall Street Journal, The Unenviable Lot of the Washington Wife by Karen Elliott House, Quote Page 22, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)
  5. 1978 December 25, People, Volume 10, Number 26, For the Disco Deaf, a 1978 Reprise by Barbara Rowes, Time Inc., New York. (Archive of People magazine)
  6. 1979 August 13, The Boston Globe, A vote for Mrs. President by Otile McManus, Quote Page 11, Column 5,Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)