This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
As a young congressman in the 1930s, Johnson harnessed the machinery of the New Deal to bring electrification to his district in central Texas, one of the poorest, most backward regions in the state; it was LBJ’s greatest achievement as a congressman. Caro wanted to know what electricity really meant to the impoverished residents of the Hill Country—especially the beleaguered women—so he sent his wife to interview them. “The women there didn’t want to talk to Bob,” recalls Ina Caro. “He’s a New York male. They were uncomfortable with him. They were more comfortable with me.” The fruit of her labor resulted in The Path to Powers finest chapter, “The Sad Irons” In powerful detail, the chapter brought to life the crushing regimen faced by Hill Country women in the years before electrification—washing, ironing, canning, baking—a regimen that left them stooped and crippled and broken in their thirties, a regimen that called to mind the Middle Ages, or the lives of peasants in Brazil. A writer for Texas Monthly once said “The Sad Irons” may be the “most brilliant single passage of prose ever written about Texas.”
Decades of collaboration have resulted in an ironclad routine for the Caros. She rises early and works on her own books from 5:00 A.hs. to 9:00 A.M. She is the author of The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France published in 1996 and still in print and is currently working on another historical travelogue about France. Beginning at 9:00, she works a full day for her husband. Ina Caro dislikes doing interviews, but is completely enamored of libraries and archives. For Master of the Senate, she spent protracted amounts of time, by herself, in presidential libraries and archives in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Georgia. Then she typed the gargantuan first draft of Master of the Senate, since her husband refuses to write on a computer. (Ina Caro says she has always enjoyed the typing, and that running his words through her own typewriter taught her how to write books herself.)
What explains her dedication? First and foremost is her love of research, but there are other reasons, too. “What really fascinated me historically was how democracy came into being,” she says. “The fragility of democracy fascinates me. ” Her husband’s work touches directly on that theme.
“I felt that what Bob was doing was very important. He makes you understand how democracy works—really works—not how a political scientist says it’s supposed to. And she is obviously enmeshed in her husband’s idealism: “Bob became a reporter because he felt very strongly that the press was the fourth branch of government,” she says. “He felt journalism was a crusade to protect democracy. That sounds corny today, but I think it was deeply felt.”