Women of Interest—Stanley Ann Dunham

Stanley Ann Dunham was born on November 29, 1942, in Wichita, Kansas, and died November 7, 1995, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Dunham was a highly educated woman, who received a BA. MA. and PhD. She was an anthropologist, whose main interest was in women’s roles in the cottage industries in Indonesia as well as blacksmithing in the small island of Java, Indonesia.  Ann Dunham created microcredit programs in Indonesia while working for the United States Agency for International Development. Microcredit programs are loans extended to impoverished entrepreneurs who do not have collateral and are not employed. The goal is to eliminate poverty in poor countries. In 2009 up to 74 million people held microloans, and their repayment rate was 95%. Following the election of her son, Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, there was an increased interest in Dunham’s research and, in 2009, a book based on Dunham’s 1992 dissertation was published: “Surviving against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia.” 

Stanley Ann Dunham was named by her unconventional mother, who was no stranger to drama. Dunham later dropped the Stanley and reverted to simply Ann Dunham or S. Ann Dunham. The Dunham family moved to Honolulu and, at 17 years of age, Ann entered the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Within a short time, she became pregnant.  The father of her child, Barak Obama Sr., was black and from another culture yet they married soon after learning of the pregnancy.  Barack was born in 1961. The couple divorced in 1964, and in 1965 she married Lolo Soetoro, a surveyor who was studying geography at the University of Hawaii. In 1970 they welcomed the birth of a daughter, Maya Soetoro-Ng. Following Soetoro’s graduation from the University of Hawaii, the family moved to Indonesia.  In 1971 Dunham chose to send her son back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents to attend grade 5 at the Punahou School.  Soon after, Dunham and her daughter moved back to Hawaii and Ann began graduate studies in anthropology. When she completed her studies, Dunham and her daughter returned to Indonesia, but Barack chose to finish high school in Hawaii and remain with his grandparents.  In 1980 Ann and her second husband divorced.

Ann Dunham went on to have a varied and successful career in rural development in Indonesia. A few of her accomplishments include teaching English, as well as teaching a course for staff members at the University of Indonesia, in Jakarta. She was a consultant for the International Labour Organization in Jakarta and a consultant in Central Java on the Indonesian Ministry of Industry’s Provincial Development program. From 1981 to 1984 Ann Dunham worked for the Ford Foundations Southeast Asia regional office in Jakarta, as a program officer for women and employment.  In 1992 Dunham received her PhD in anthropology from the University of Hawaii.

Ann Dunham died of uterine cancer on November 22, 1995.  She was remembered in a 2007 campaign speech where Obama talked of his mother’s struggle to pay expensive medical bills during her cancer treatment and the need for a better health care system in America.

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[Like most post-secondary institutions in Canada, AU’s student body is primarily women.  So when Barb came to me with the idea of a column promoting succesful or unusual women as something AU students might like to read, I thought she might be on to something.  It turns out she wasn’t wrong, and the “Women of Interest” column has expanded from being a short “filler” type of piece to a full article every month. So it was rewarding to see that it seems students agree with the idea, as a number of the Women of Interest articles were named, but I chose this one because it also generated a few comments on social media, and has enjoyed some of the higher readership numbers of the series.]