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Secret tapes show LBJ pushed to hire women

LBJ tense October 19, 1996
Web posted at: 10:35 p.m. EDT

Editor's Note - In this, the final installment of a five-part series focusing on recently released tapes from the Johnson White House, Correspondent John Holliman shows us President Lyndon B. Johnson's bid to promote 50 women to senior government positions.

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- There are hundreds of stories that paint President Lyndon Johnson as a womanizer. For that reason, many people forget what he did for women in government at a time when women's rights was becoming a hot issue.

In 1964, Johnson told his cabinet to hire or promote 50 women to high government jobs. Recently released secret recordings of Johnson capture him working the phones to help fill these positions, calling women and offering the jobs to them. In some cases he had to practically beg.


In one instance, Johnson wanted a woman to be ambassador to Finland. After being turned down by several other choices, he turned to the director of the National Institutes of Health, Mary Lasker, who had reservations about being away from home for long periods of time.

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Johnson kept pushing, but Lasker finally talked him out of the appointment. Johnson then approached a woman named Aline Saarinen about taking the job. She also tried to back out, but the president prevailed.

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The appointments somewhat contradict Johnson's womanizing reputation, a report that Lady Bird Johnson's press secretary, Liz Carpenter, said lacks substance.

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"He liked women, he respected women," Carpenter says. "He had enjoyed serving in the House of Representatives with bright women. He was married to the brightest of the bright women. And he enjoyed bringing them along."

The tapes also capture Johnson urging cabinet members to hire women. Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges was first in line.

"Now if you want to do something real good for me next week," Johnson said, "you find some vacancy you've got in top places over there and get me two or three women in them, because I'm catching hell from them and I've got to do something about it."

E. Hanford

Undersecretary of State George Ball listened to Johnson and told him the State Department was working on it.

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Johnson did not manage to hire 50 women to senior positions immediately, but he did hire numerous up-and-comers, including a White House Fellow from North Carolina named Liddy Hanford, who later married a Kansas senator. We know her today as Elizabeth Dole.


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