Robert Caro’s Blind SpotHistorians in the News
tags: LBJ, feminism, Robert Caro, sexism, Lyndon B Johnson
About five years ago, I placed a call to Mary Margaret Wiley, who served as President Lyndon Johnson’s personal secretary from 1954 to 1962. I was writing a chapter on LBJ for my book First Dads: Parenting and Politics From George Washington to Barack Obama, and I figured that Wiley could shed some light on Johnson’s relationships with his daughters, Lynda and Luci.
As soon as I identified myself as a biographer, Wiley shot back, “Do you want the dirt?”
“No,” I replied, “I am interested in talking to you about how LBJ interacted with his children.”
Without further ado, Wiley, who died last fall at the age of 85, hung up the phone. My interview was over before I could pose a single question. Puzzled about her remark, I turned to LBJ: Architect of American Ambition by Randall Woods. Wiley did not speak with Woods either, but he learned a lot about her by talking with her successor, Marie Fehmer, who worked for Johnson from 1962 to 1969. In her interview with Woods, Fehmer said that Wiley and Johnson had had a long affair. And Fehmer also admitted that LBJ had tried to seduce her. In November 1962, just a few months after she took over for Wiley, Johnson offered to set Fehmer up in an apartment in New York City, if she would agree to have his child—a proposal she politely declined.
So the “dirt” that Wiley was alluding to likely had something to do with the fact that our 36thpresident was a sexual predator who preyed on his secretaries. As noted by Woods and a few other Johnson chroniclers—say, biographer Robert Dallek and longtime aide George Reedy—he also repeatedly groped his female staffers. Presidential speechwriter Horace Busby reported that once, while he was seated in the back seat of a car, he saw Johnson grab a woman under her skirt with one hand while driving with the other.