The most recent scandal roiling the Secret Service is once again shining a harsh light on the Homeland Security agency responsible not only for protecting the president and his family (as well the vice-president, presidential candidates and others) but also investigating major financial crimes, including forgery and fraud. Whatever the outcome of the investigations now underway about the recent, egregious security breaches at the White House and elsewhere, it’s clear that the Secret Service will be in the news—for all the wrong reasons—for a long time to come.
Here, LIFE looks back 50 years, to another era—another world—when agents watched over the president and his family in ways at-once similar to and yet vastly different from the way the agency works today. In the picture above, 17-year-old Luci Baines Johnson, accompanied by an unnamed agent, cruises around Washington in the new 1965 Corvette Stingray convertible (top speed: 160 mph) that her parents, President and Lady Bird Johnson, gave her as a birthday-and-high school graduation present.
In the 1964 picture below, Luci rushes to make an 8:30 class at National Cathedral School in Washington, accompanied (again) by one agent.
Calling those pictures evidence of a more “innocent” time would, of course, be ridiculous. The assassination of President Kennedy still cast a pall over the national mood, while the escalating crisis in Vietnam was already beginning to fray the Johnson presidency. Nevertheless, there is something about these photos that suggests that, 50 long years ago, most people still believed, despite everything, that the mere presence of a Secret Service agent was enough to safeguard the youngest daughter of the most visible family in the land.
For better or worse, none of us today has the luxury of that certainty.