Declaring that "a free society cannot be a spectator society," President Lyndon B. Johnson established the White House Fellowships in October, 1964. Three years later, he and Lady Bird Johnson posed with the current class of White House Fellows, which included Doris Kearns Goodwin (now a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian) and Tim Wirth (who became a U.S. Senator and then an Under Secretary of State).
The purpose of the White House Fellows program is to provide gifted and highly motivated young Americans with some first-hand experience in the process of governing the Nation and a sense of personal involvement in the leadership of society.
It is essential to the healthy functioning of our system that we have in the non-governmental sector a generous supply of leaders who have an understanding -- gained at first hand -- of the problems of national government. In a day when the individual feels increasingly remote from the centers of power and decision, such leaders can help their fellow citizens comprehend the process by which the Nation is governed.
In this country today, we produce great numbers of skilled professionals. But too few of this intellectual elite provide the society with statesmanlike leadership and guidance in public affairs. If the sparsely settled American colonies of the late 18th century could produce Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, and others of superlative talent, breadth and statesmanship, should we not be able to produce in this generation ten times that number? We are not doing so.
Surely the raw material is still there. And just as surely more must be done in the development of our ablest young people to inspire and facilitate the emergence of such leaders and statesmen. Their horizons and experience must be broadened to give them a sense of personal involvement in the leadership of society, a vision of greatness for the society, and a sense of responsibility for bringing that greatness to reality.
The White House Fellows program is designed to give superbly qualified young Americans precisely those experiences.
Adapted by the President's Commission on White House Fellowships, 1965