Press Release

The National WWII Museum Dedicates the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy

Philanthropist and business pioneer Jenny Craig pledges $5 million to advance WWII education and preserve the legacies and lessons of the global conflict

NEW ORLEANS (March 23, 2022) – Innovator and business leader Jenny Craig has pledged $5 million to underwrite and support the efforts of The National WWII Museum’s Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. The permanent naming of the Craig Institute will be formally celebrated during Women’s History Month in conjunction with the “Memory Wars: World War II at 75 and Beyond” virtual conference from March 24–26, 2022. Craig’s significant gift—made with her daughter, Denise Merlone, and her son-in-law and Museum Trustee, Peter Merlone—will support the development of new educational initiatives and help advance programs, content, and outreach.

Best known as the renowned fitness and nutrition expert who founded the Jenny Craig organization, the Craig Institute’s namesake is committed to educating Americans about the history of World War II. She is also a firm believer in the Institute’s mission to promote the history of World War II, the relationship between the war and America’s democratic system, and its continued relevance for the world. Having grown up in New Orleans during World War II with two brothers serving, Craig is a fierce advocate for those who served and remains passionate about preserving the stories and legacies of the WWII generation.

“It’s so important to me to contribute to something that will educate young people about the consequences of war,” said Craig. “I think education is important for education’s sake, but I especially think it’s important for our country because if we don’t learn from the past—the atrocities and consequences of war—then it’s bound to repeat itself. I just can’t say enough about what the Museum means to me and what messages it delivers. I have my name on several things; however, there is none than I am prouder of than The National WWII Museum. It really touches my heart.”

The Institute for the Study of War and Democracy was established in 2016 as a community of scholars with a vision to become the preferred resource for audiences seeking information on the American experience in World War II. The Craig Institute’s key initiatives include hosting the International Conference on World War II as well as other conferences and symposia, developing and teaching online coursework through the Museum’s online master’s degree program in World War II studies with Arizona State University, partnering with the Department of Defense POW and MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in efforts to document WWII missing-in-action cases and repatriate remains of missing service members, researching the service history of WWII veterans for their loved ones, and producing original digital content and public programs on a wide variety of WWII topics. The Craig Institute moved into its new home in the Hall of Democracy in 2019.

“We are honored to name the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy for Jenny Craig, a trailblazer for women worldwide and a generous supporter of the military and WWII education,” said Stephen J. Watson, President & CEO of The National WWII Museum. “We are so grateful to her and the Merlone family for their generosity and commitment to educating future generations about the importance of this monumental, global conflict. Her meaningful gift will ensure the Museum’s future growth—even after our physical campus is complete—by enabling us to provide our visitors and the public with the best resources on World War II.”

This summer, the Craig Institute will begin a new partnership with the Society for Military History to co-host “The Summer Seminar in Military History” from June 12–July 2, with the aim of growing and strengthening the study of military history. The following month, it will host a daylong symposium on August 13 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the airing of “Band of Brothers.” The symposium will pay tribute to Dr. Stephen Ambrose, Museum Founder and author of the book that served as the basis for the miniseries, and reunite members from the cast and crew to reflect on their experiences, share unique insights, and provide behind-the-scenes commentary.

“This gift will have a significant impact as we strive to inspire people of all ages to learn about the history of World War II and embrace its many lessons,” said Michael S. Bell, PhD, Executive Director of the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. “Thanks to the generosity shown by Jenny and the Merlones, we are primed to broaden the Museum’s reach to larger national and international audiences as we continue to make research, publications, public programs, digital content and partnerships more widely accessible.”

The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, the institution celebrates the American spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. For more information on TripAdvisor’s #1 New Orleans attraction, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit