Lucinda “Miss Lou” Rayburn, Washington, D. C., social hostess for her younger brother Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, was born on January 14, 1875, in Clinch Valley in Roane County, Tennessee. Lucinda Rayburn was the fourth of eleven children to farmer and Confederate veteran William Marion Rayburn and Martha “Matt” Clementine (Waller) Rayburn. In 1887 the Rayburns moved to Flag Springs, Fannin County, Texas. According to Rayburn biographer Alfred Steinberg, Rayburn grew up in a strict Baptist household where her parents showed little outward affection toward their children. Her parents, particularly her mother, however, encouraged the children to obtain an education. In 1915 Rayburn, her parents, and her brothers Tom and Sam moved into a house they built on a 120-acre property approximately two miles from Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. She lived in this house, now the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, for the rest of her life.
Lucinda Rayburn spent much of her time during the 1920s and 1930s maintaining the Rayburn household and caring for her parents until their deaths. She then assumed the role of family matriarch. In 1938 she received the deed to the land from Sam Rayburn. Observers often spoke of Rayburn in terms of her physical appearance. She was described as “tall, stately . . . regal and aloof, but her warm humanity and her abundant common sense were widely acknowledged,” and she had “flaming red hair.” She welcomed and entertained guests visiting the home and ran the household. Rayburn set the rules for members of the household to follow, including a ban on alcohol in the home. She tended to the garden, helped can produce, and raised chickens and turkeys, but her cook and housekeeper Bobbie Erskin Phillips completed most of the household duties.
After her brother became Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives in 1940, Lucinda Rayburn accompanied her brother to Washington, D.C. Since her brother was a bachelor, she served as his social hostess, which interested her more than politics, in contrast to her sisters. On her brother’s behalf, she organized and hosted social events and receptions for prominent officials and the wives of Texas congressmen, including Lucile Sanderson Sheppard Connally, often in the Speaker’s dining room of the Capitol building. Likewise, she was the guest at society lunches given in her honor by prominent women such as Lady Bird Johnson and Hope Ridings Miller. On January 6, 1941, she sat in the Speaker’s box, directly across from Eleanor Roosevelt in the president’s box, in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and listened to Franklin D. Roosevelt give his “Four Freedoms” State of the Union speech. Once when she visited Washington, she witnessed Charles A. Lindbergh testify before the Foreign Affairs Committee. When not in the city herself, she stayed informed about people and events in the nation’s capital through her brother. She created and filled a scrapbook with newspaper clippings and invitations to White House events, such as the seating diagram for President Harry Truman’s inauguration in 1949. In 1949 she also served on the Patrons and Patronesses Committee for the President Harry Truman and Vice President Alben W. Barkley inaugural ball. Rayburn stated that her favorite part of visiting the city was having a chauffeured car.
Lucinda Rayburn made frequent trips back to the family homestead in Bonham, Texas. There she was a member of the First Baptist Church, the Bonham Garden Club and the Current Literature Club. In November 1949 Rayburn was named a member of the Sam Rayburn Foundation board of trustees which oversaw the building of the Sam Rayburn Library (see SAM RAYBURN LIBRARY AND MUSEUM). In September 1950 she was appointed honorary sponsor for the four chapters of the Horizon Clubs in Bonham, a high school program for the Camp Fire Girls organization (now Camp Fire USA).
Around September 1955 Rayburn displayed signs of generalized carcinomatosis. The cancer continued into the next year, and Rayburn had an operation on February 27, 1956. She remained at her home during recovery, but her condition worsened in May. On May 26, 1956, Lucinda Rayburn passed away at her home. Two days later, after her funeral at Wise Funeral Home, Rayburn was buried in Willow Wild Cemetery in Bonham. The U.S. House of Representatives announced her death in session on May 28, 1956, and several congressmen honored her. Morgan Beatty, NBC Radio’s News of the World commentator, stated in a 1961 birthday message broadcast to Sam Rayburn that the congressman “in his every official act thought first of his sister, Miss Lou Rayburn, and whether she would think it right and fitting and proper for our country. Her ideals for the United States were as high as anybody’s and I do not except George Washington.” After her death, Sam Rayburn had her locket attached to his pocket watch. The grounds of the Sam Rayburn Library featured the Lucinda Rayburn Memorial Gardens. The Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site annually highlights Lucinda Rayburn’s life through themed tours and artifact displays.