Mahogany Knowledge Tree

Before She Became Barack Obama’s, Mother Ann Dunham

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Posted by Tiana Sullivan

Before she became Barack Obama’s mother at the age of 18, Ann Dunham was a high school student described by her friends as “intellectually way more mature than we were and a little bit ahead of her time, in an off-center way” and “the original feminist.” Dunham was twice married by the time she was 23, but she never let her personal life get in the way of her career as an anthropologist. She moved from Honolulu to Jakarta in 1967 — bringing along a six-year-old Barack Obama — and she began what would become a lifelong study of rural blacksmithing traditions in Indonesia.

Thanks to her groundbreaking work in the developing world, she was able to show that much of the rural poverty in the region was due to a lack of resources, rather than cultural differences with the West, which was the prevailing theory at the time. At one point, she pioneered a microfinance system that focused on providing savings and a small amount of credit to rural women that eventually grew into the largest system of its kind in the world.