What happens to First Ladies’ projects when they’re not First Lady anymore?

    The entire country is waiting to see who is elected president in November.

    A smaller subset, aligned with Michelle Obama’s interest in fighting childhood obesity, is also interested who will be first lady come January.

    Mrs. Obama visited Philadelphia the week after she launched her signature initiative in February of 2010. The “Let’s Move”‘ campaign wants to end childhood obesity in a generation.

    “You all have done extraordinary and some would could say revolutionary work here in this city,” Mrs. Obama told a crowd “It’s really groundbreaking and hopefully will set the tone for what we can do throughout the country.”

    One of the organizations she mentioned by name on that visit was The Food Trust.

    “I sometimes joke that when Laura Bush was championing the libraries, all the librarians across the country were jumping up and down with happiness, and that’s very much how I felt,” said Food Trust executive director Yael Lehmann.

    As part of the campaign, Mrs. Obama backed the nationwide expansion of a program the Food Trust helped start in Pennsylvania — one that gives grants to stores bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to food deserts.

    “I would be devastated if the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign disappears, my hope is that she may make this her life’s work, or continue with this work regardless of how the election falls,” Lehman said.

    According to National First Ladies Library Historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony, that is generally what happens.

    “In most cases, the projects of first ladies undertaken while they are the incumbents continue with them after they leave the White House,” Sferrazza said.

    He says former first ladies may not have quite the same political power and access to donors they used to, but they retain considerable influence.

    “People still hold these women with a certain degree of respect and honor and very rarely are their requests for help denied,” Sferrazza said.

    Anthony points out that Betty Ford lent her name to an addiction recovery clinic and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis helped preserve New York’s Grand Central Station after they left each the White House. Ladybird Johnson established her namesake wildflower center on her seventieth birthday.

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