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PICKING OUT CHINA
One of the first lady's traditional responsibilities is picking out the state china – and it's a serious one. Hillary Clinton spent two years fine-tuning her design (bottom right). But a note to Michelle Obama: Don't go overboard. Nancy Reagan was blasted in the press for spending almost $1 million on the project. Mary Todd Lincoln was also excessive when she picked out two sets of china (top right) during a trip to New York. "Mary was a bit of a shop-oholic," says Robert P. Watson, author of The Presidents' Wives. "Lincoln had to cut her off and say, 'No more.'"
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A HOME IN THE WHITE HOUSE
The first lady always adds a personal touch to the living quarters. Jacqueline Kennedy (left, with daughter Caroline), converted the White House solarium – previously used for recreation – into a classroom to better suit her young children. "The solarium makes a great family room with windows three-quarters of the way around," Clinton White House social secretary Capricia Marshall told PEOPLE. "You can look out into the world and no one can see you. It's a wonderful place to have breakfast, or sit and gab with guests."
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Like Laura Bush before her, Obama will be able to hire an army of chefs who will make anything the family desires, whether it's honey-baked ham and cheese grits (for the Bushes' Easter brunch) or ginger-scented farm lamb and roasted baby beets (for a state dinner for the president of Ghana). "Every first lady will be demanding when they come to the White House," pastry chef Roland Mesnier (far left) said in 2007. "They want things done their own way. It is not always easy. You have to be man enough to take it on the chin."
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SETTING A TONE
As first lady, Obama will have the opportunity to champion the causes of her choice. Lady Bird Johnson (left) channeled her love of flowers into a national campaign for beautification, Nancy Reagan told kids to "Just Say No" to drugs, and Laura Bush, a former librarian, devoted her time to children's literacy. What cause will Obama take on? She offered a preview to U.S. News and World Report after spending time on the road meeting military wives: "I would work daily on the issues closest to my heart: helping working women and families, particularly military families."
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A PRESIDENTIAL YACHT
For decades, presidents and their wives have enjoyed access to the Sequoia, a 104-ft., 150-ton yacht built in 1925. John F. Kennedy celebrated his final birthday onboard and Richard Nixon famously played "God Bless America" on the ship's piano after deciding to resign. FDR had an elevator built in the presidential stateroom (inset), but Lyndon Johnson had it removed to make room for a bar. While Jimmy Carter had the boat sold in a public auction, the yacht is still available for use by the White House.
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A VACATION HOME
Unlike most White House families, the Obamas don't yet have a private vacation retreat. But the job does come with one – the secluded Camp David, where families from the Roosevelts to the Clintons (here, enjoying a ski trip) have relaxed and hosted foreign dignitaries. "It's out of the glaring eye," says Marshall. "You can go bowling in Shangri-la. Movie night. There’s a game room with pinball machines. There are scootering paths. And when they arrive, they'll find specially fitted bikes and helmets just waiting for them."