History

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Brilliant, Trailblazing Mother

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Trailblazing Mom
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The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, is one of the most respected political figures, thanks to his education, oratorical skills, and competency. The son of Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. is also the first Black president in controversial American history.

There have been many false claims about Barack Obama's family. But, instead of going into conspiracy theories, we all should celebrate a woman who made Obama the man who enchanted the planet - Ann Dunham.

As former POTUS said, "My mother was the single most important influence on my life." But, she was way more than a single mother who successfully raised two children and turned them into respectable adults.

So, who was Stanley Ann Dunham? What makes her a heroine in her own right, not merely a shadow of her son's fame?

Stanley Ann Dunham's Early Years

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Trailblazing Mom

Ann was born Stanely Ann Dunham on November 29, 1942, in Witchita. Stanley Ann became Stannie Ann in middle school, Stanley in high school, and, finally, she would be known as simply Ann.

Obama described his mother lovingly as a "white woman from Kansas."

The only child of Madelyn Lee Payne and Stanley Armour Dunham, Ann was a military child, so the girl spent most of her early years moving all over the country. The family settled in Seattle once Ann was 13 and ready to start high school.

In a newly opened Mercer Island High School, Ann Dunham met two teachers, Val Foubert and Jim Wichterman, who taught her the importance of challenging society's norms. Her classmates remember how this influenced the young girl, saying she did not want to marry or have children.

As some classmates said, Ann was a true feminist and always the best informed about the events in the world. She was described as mature beyond her years, progressive and her future seemed bright.

Once she finished high school in 1960, the family moved to Hawaii. After enrolling at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Ann's life will be changed for good.

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Ann Dunham's Faithful Meeting To Barack Obama Sr.

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Trailblazing Mom

Barack Obama Sr. was the first Black student at this university. He came from Kenya and was eight years older than Ann. He was also already married with two children.

Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. started dating soon after meeting during Russian language class. The two got married in Maui while already expecting their only child together - the future leader of the USA.

The couple married in February, and Barack was born in August 1961. However, the new parents already went their separate ways a month later. Ann Dunham continued her studies at the University of Washington.

Obama Senior finished his education at the University of Hawaii and earned a master's degree in economics at Harward.

There he met Ruth Beatrice Baker, who followed him to Kenya. The two got married after his divorce from Ann Dunham on March 20, 1964.

Though Obama's parents' marriage did not last long, both Barack Sr. and Ann Dunham were extremely intelligent, highly educated, and excelled at their careers.

Ann Dunham's Move To Jakarta

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Trailblazing Mom

Barack Obama's stepfather Lolo Soetoro was a Javanese student who met Ann Dunham in late 1962 while studying at the University of Hawaii.

Soetoro and Dunham married in 1965, on the same spot she married Obama's father. He returned to Indonesia in 1966, and Ann joined him after receiving a B.A. in anthropology on August 6, 1967.

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The future president's sister Maya Soetoro-Ng was born in 1970. Though the marriage fell apart, it opened the eyes of this exceptional "white woman from Kansas" to the Indonesian culture.

Ironically, Soetoro was more interested in the Western way of life. Nevertheless, Barack Obama respected his stepfather and wrote that he was well mannered, calm, and easy to talk to.

In his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, Obama wrote that Lolo followed "a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient, classical, and Dharmic philosophies such as the Hindu."

Kim Barker of the Chicago Tribune talked to Soetoro's friends, who confirmed he was "much more of a free spirit than a devout Muslim."

Ann Dunham always ensured that her children get the best possible education, so when he was 10, Obama was sent to continue his schooling in Haway with his grandparents. A year later, in August 1972, Dunham and her daughter moved back to Hawaii to be with young Barack.

Juggling motherhood with a career was challenging, but Ann Dunham was capable, resourceful, and ready to make tough decisions.

Ann Dunham's Career Highlights

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Trailblazing Mom

Though the media portrayed Obama's mother as a struggling single mother of two, the reality was that she was a pioneer in many ways.

Ann Dunham spent around 30 years in Indonesia, working for Ford Foundation, the Asian Development Bank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. She received an M.A. in anthropology in December 1974 and dedicated time working in microfinance, something that Indonesia still pioneers today.

Ann Dunham was especially interested in helping women, a passion that started when she was a girl. Apart from Indonesia, she worked in Pakistan on microcredit loans for low-income women and craftspeople. She helped Indonesian craft industries turn into sustainable, contemporary alternatives while fighting against "the gentle oppression."

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The time apart from her children was emotionally challenging, but Ann Dunham inspired both of her childrens' works As Obama said in 2009:

"My mother championed the cause of women's welfare and helped pioneer the microloans that have helped lift millions out of poverty."

While in Indonesia, she learned Bahasa Indonesia fluently and had an excellent knowledge of Urdu, Hindi, Javanese, French, and Latin.

She did not get her Ph.D. until 1992. In her work, which consisted of 1400 pages, Ann Dunham clarified rural poverty, regional trades, and finance systems, microloans, which could apply to the rural insufficient. Her research emphasizes gender-based labor inequality and the archaic custom of blacksmithing.

Ann Dunham's most significant achievement as an anthropologist was acknowledging that poverty in developing countries was related to a lack of resources, not cultural differences.

Ann Dunham's Untimely Death

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Trailblazing Mom

The former president once described his family as "a little mini-United Nations." The lifestyle Ann chose exposed her children to various cultures, languages, and traditions, giving them a platform to develop in adulthood.

As her friends recalled, she was "gregarious and loquacious," a lover of "food, words, stories, books, objects, conversation." Both in her youth and later years, Ann Dunham was an adventurist.

Ann's work inspired her children to turn to smaller communities, but she did not live long enough to see them develop their full potential. In 1995, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. It had spread to the ovaries.

At the time, she lived between New York and Indonesia but decided it was time to go back home to Hawaii.

Barack and Michelle Obama married in 1992, but Ann Dunham did not live long enough to meet her grandchildren.

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She passed away in Manoa, Hawaii, on November 7, 1995. She was 52.

During her last years, Ann experienced injustice which later inspired Obama's work on health reform.

Like many other U.S. citizens, Ann Dunham faced troubles with health insurance. They were cited calling her cancer a "pre-existing condition."

In his speech in 2007, Barack Obama described his mom's final days. The former POTUS said that his mother was in-between jobs, so she was unsure who would cover the medical expenses.

"I remember just being heartbroken, seeing her struggle through the paperwork and the medical bills and the insurance forms. So, I have seen what it's like when somebody you love is suffering because of a broken health care system. And it's wrong. It's not who we are as a people."

Dunham's Sense Of Justice And Raising The Future President

Ann Dunham: Barack Obama's Trailblazing Mom

Sadly, Barack Obama remembers seeing his father only once, when he was 10. The former president said he was shaped by his dad's absence than his presence. Barack Obama was on a path of self-discovery with the massive help of his mom and grandparents.

Ann Dunham would wake young Barack at 4:30, and the two would go through his lessons. Ambitious, knowledgable, and willing to fight, Ann's only enemy was cruelty, as her son later recalled.

Both Barack and Maya remember their mom as non-traditional, describing her impressive journey from Mid-West to Indonesia. The passion Ann Dunham's children carry is her most significant legacy, without a doubt.

Dunham was a trailblazer, a searcher, who did not complain but worked on solving the issues. Obama was raised by a single mom who managed to make a name in the world of anthropology and fight injustice with all her might. It comes as no surprise that Obama married a strong lady.