Dr. Cornelius Smith Researching Lady Bird Johnson and World War II-era ‘Rosies’ of Congress

Erika Cornelius Smith, Ph.D., Nichols College assistant professor of political science and international business and political science chair, will travel in November to Austin, Texas, to conduct research at the LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) Presidential Library and Museum for an upcoming article on women who ran congressional offices in the 1940s, prior to the professionalization of congressional staff.

  • Read the (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette‘s Oct. 4, 2018, interview with Professor Erika Cornelius Smith, Ph.D., about her research into Lady Bird Johnson and the “Rosies” of Congress.

Professor Erika Cornelius Smith, Ph.D.

“I am currently researching and writing an article directed at political historians, scholars of women in politics, and public administration specialists on women who managed their spouses’ (and sons’) political offices,” said Dr. Cornelius Smith. “This voluntary, often unpaid service, was essential to the daily operations of congressional offices before the passage of the Congressional Reorganization Act of 1946.”

As a central case study, she is examining former First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson’s work in managing the congressional offices of her husband Lyndon Johnson, both in Texas and Washington, D.C., during his leave for naval service in World War II (1941-2). Dr. Cornelius Smith plans to situate this experience in the broader literature of “Rosie the Riveter” and women who moved into a variety of occupations during the war. Like the “Rosies” of her time, Lady Bird reported that her time managing LBJ’s office helped her “acquire a new sense of self-worth and a new facet to life,” which further propelled her desire to complete business education, purchase a radio station that she later built into a profitable media conglomerate, and take an active role in public policy as First Lady of the United States, according to Dr. Cornelius Smith.

Additionally, she will discuss the professionalization of congressional office staff after 1946, and how this limited women’s opportunities for administrative and political experience until much later reforms following the feminist movements of the 1970s.

“To date, scholars in history, political science, and public administration have focused on Lady Bird’s role as First Lady of the United States and her work in the conservation movement,” said Professor Cornelius Smith, “but those experiences should be contextualized in the initial experience that prepared her and inspired her for this later work.

“My visit to the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum will allow me to look at the archival materials related to President Johnson’s work as a congressman from Texas’ 10th district, the records of Lady Bird’s work while she administered his office, and even the ‘Love Letters’ collection–all materials specific to both LBJ and Lady Bird (versus other presidents mentioned),” she added.

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