Madelyn Dunham

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Barack Obama's Mother Lived in Ponca City for Two Years

Dunham I found out something interesting today. There is a gentleman named Dale Smith who graduated from High School in Ponca City in the class of 1988 and writes an interesting blog called "Faith in Honest Doubt." Dale has done a number of blog posts about Ponca City including one on small town values, why he thinks young people leave Oklahoma and about the free broadband internet access story that has received some national exposure. Dale even used one of my photos from Flickr for a blog post he did on why he won't be attending his twentieth high school reunion in Ponca City and he properly credited me for the use of the photo that I had put into the Creative Commons.

The post that I found most interesting was about a mention of Ponca City in the Washington Post. The story in the Post is about Barack Obama's late mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who was born in Wichita in 1942 and who lived in Ponca City for two years while she was a child. Cross referencing the Post article that says that "she and her parents lived in Berkeley, Calif., for two years, Ponca City, Okla., for two years, and Wichita Falls, Tex., for three years before they ventured to the Seattle area" with the Wikipedia article about her that says that her "family moved to Mercer Island, Washington in 1956," it would appear that Stanley lived in Ponca City between 1950 and 1952 and would have attended third and fourth grade in Ponca City.

In Barack Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, he describes his grandparents as "stern Methodist parents who did not believe in drinking, playing cards or dancing." Obama's grandfather Stanley managed a furniture store in El Dorado Kansas and later in Seattle, Stanley worked in Standard-Grunbaum Furniture, so I am guessing that Obama's grandfather, Stanley Dunham, may have worked for Glenn Paris or another big furniture store in Ponca City during the time they lived here. I think the family probably would have attended First Methodist Church - I know St. Pauls' wasn't a separate congregation until later.

Obama's grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who died just the day before the election in Hawaii, was a powerful figure in Obama's life. Obama has frequently invoked his grandmother in his speeches and she appears prominently in his memoir. “She’s the one who taught me about hard work,” Mr. Obama said in that speech in Denver. “She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight and that tonight is her night as well.”

Obama's mother had the unusual male name of Stanley - named after her father because he had wanted a boy. Time Magazine says that Obama's mother "endured the expected teasing over this indignity, but dutifully lugged the name through high school, apologizing for it each time she introduced herself in a new town." However, the article continued, "By college, she had started introducing herself as Ann".

Dunhams I'm not in Ponca now or I would go down to the library and look in some of the old phone books and newspapers for more information about Obama's grandfather Stanley Dunham. The top photo is of Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, and was taken about 1950 at about the time she would have been living in Ponca City. The photo at the right is of the whole family and would have been taken a few years after they left Ponca City.

Isn't it amazing how much a person can discover doing a few minutes research on the internet?

Top Photo: Barack Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham taken in 1950 at about the time she and her husband Stanley Dunham were living in Ponca City. Photo: Wikipedia

Bottom Photo: The Dunham family. Photo taken in the 1950's. Daughter Stanley (left) appears about ten to twelve years old so this photo would have been taken a year or two after the family left Ponca City. Photo: Wikipedia


1. Washington Post. "Though Obama Had to Leave to Find Himself, It Is Hawaii That Made His Rise Possible" by David Marannis August 22, 2008.

2. New York Times. "Obama Takes Time for a Woman Dear to Him" by Julie Bosman

3. Faith in Honest Doubt: a personal blog by Dale Smith. "Ponca City Makes the WaPo!" August 24, 2008

4. Wikipedia. "Ann Dunham"

5. Wikipedia. "Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham"

6. Wikipedia. "Stanley Armour Dunham"