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The Future First Lady, Finding Her Home in History

Laura Bush and Michelle Obama in the private residence of the White House. A spokeswoman said the two discussed raising daughters in the executive mansion.
Laura Bush and Michelle Obama in the private residence of the White House. A spokeswoman said the two discussed raising daughters in the executive mansion. (By Joyce N. Boghosia -- The White House)

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Sasha Obama will be the youngest White House occupant since the children of John and Jacqueline Kennedy children lived there. "The comparisons with the Obamas and Kennedys are obvious," said Kati Marton, author of "Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History." "We will have a highly energized, very outgoing couple going in there with a global reach and a world that awaits them."

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As a woman who has juggled work and family, Michelle, 44, will continue to be a "role model for so many women who are struggling in our country to make that balance work," said Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of the Obamas and co-chair of the transition team.

Another great interest of Michelle's is volunteerism, Jarrett said on Sunday to the Trotter Group, an organization of black journalists. She said Michelle -- like her husband, a Harvard-educated lawyer -- had expressed a desire to figure out more broadly "what can we do as Americans to volunteer and give back to our community."

"And then I think she'll go from there," Jarrett said. "I think it will evolve over time. She's not interested in being a co-president. She's not interested in sitting in the West Wing and making decisions with her husband as president. She's very comfortable that he will select a team that can help him do that. But I do think that she recognizes that she is a role model, and that people will look to her, and that when she shines a spotlight on an issue, its chances for being recognized and appreciated enhance greatly."

How the Obamas entertain, how they decorate, where their children will attend school -- ultimately all first family choices and activities add to an aggregate public impression. Historians now study first ladies as keenly as their husbands.

The tradition of the first lady meeting her successor began on Dec. 11, 1908, when Edith Roosevelt, Teddy's wife, invited Nellie Taft in for a tour, where she "overcompensated for her nervousness by acting high-handed," Anthony wrote in his book "Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era."

"After lunch as the two walked into the Green Room, Nellie quipped in a whisper loud enough for Edith to hear, 'I would have put that table over there.' "

So yet another evolution awaits Michelle Obama: lawyer, wife, mother, politician -- and now, first decorator.

Staff writer Kevin Merida contributed to this report.

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