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Who is Ruth Obama?
November 13, 2008 2:24 PM   Subscribe

We all know Obama's father married his American mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. But Obama Snr also had another American wife, Ruth, with whom he had several children. What do we know about Ruth Obama?
posted by zaebiz to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Sorry, but wait . . . Obama's mom's first name was Stanley?
posted by onlyconnect at 2:33 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yup. She was named after her father. She went by Ann, though.
posted by craichead at 2:35 PM on November 13, 2008


There's little information here, but it does give a clue that you should include "Ruth Nidesand" and "Ruth Ndesandjo" among your search terms. She is apparently the headmistress at the Madari Kindergarten in Nairobi, Kenya.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2008


There's a bit about her in "Dreams of my Father", but it's mostly from the viewpoint of Obama's half-sister(Auma) from Barack Sr's 1st marriage. She tells B.O. that that when B Sr. came back to Kenya with Ruth, B Sr. wanted his oldest Son(Roy) and Auma to live with them. At first, Ruth treated them as her own children, but her attitude changed once she had children of her own. And then there was very bad blood between Ruth and Roy because her son David ran away to live with Roy when he was about 18. David was then killed in a motorcycle accident that may not have happened if Roy hadn't been drunk and in Jail and given David the keys to bail him out.

B.O. met her on his first visit to Kenya, but the visit seems stiff and uncomfortable.
posted by saffry at 4:13 PM on November 13, 2008


Thanks for the name tip for searching DA - got a lot of results. Found a small interview with and picture of Ruth in this Kenyan newspaper.
posted by zaebiz at 5:41 PM on November 13, 2008


Of his big extended family tree, Obama is closest to the children of his father's first wife, and to his father's step-parents and siblings and half-siblings. (Obama's grandfather Onyongo Obama [died 1979] was a polygamous Muslim, so they has a lot of extended family.) But generally speaking, it seems to me that Obama doesn't seem to have much of a relationship with his dad's two wives that came after his mom, nor with their kids, nor does he have a relationship with his step-dad's wife and kids who came after his mom.

Obama and Ruth's other son Mark -- who lives in China and has some sort of advanced math degree from Stanford, if I'm remembering my New York Times opinion page columns correctly -- have somewhat strained relations, primarily because Obama basically sees Mark as a sell-out for not really caring about the African half of his heritage or making it a big part of his identity.

And Obama and his dad's fourth wife, and their son George (who was born circa 1982, about half Obama's age), don't seem to have a relationship either. George was found by a British newspaper earlier this year to be living in a dirt-poor violent shantytown in Kenya, ashamed of how poor he was, given his famous half-brother.

Also, Obama's step-father Lolo Soetoro remarried and had two more kids after he and Ann were divorced, but I don't know if Obama has even met them. They're not his blood relations, but Lolo did legally adopt Obama -- who was actually "Barry Soetoro" for part of his childhood -- so they're his legal half-siblings. Again, he does not seem to have a relationship with them.

None of this family drama is terribly surprising given that he's a cross-cultural child of two multi-national divorces. From a "public figure genealogy" point of view, it's nice to be able to trace something other than the incestuous affairs of European royalty, for a change.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:42 PM on November 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Oh, and this is somewhat incomplete, but it's probably the best central place to read more: Wikipedia on Obama's ginormous family tree.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:43 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also? In your question, you used the phrase "We all know Obama's father married his American mother, Stanley Ann Dunham."

Actually, technically, we don't know that. There is no record of a marriage certificate for them, a fact that Obama himself makes reference to in his book, saying that he was afraid to go digging for one, since he was afraid there may not have been one. And in any case, Obama Snr. was still married at the time to his first wife Kezia back in Kenya, who was also pregnant with his child. Now, this polygamous/bigamous union would not have been illegal under Kenyan laws of the day, but it would not be (legally) recognized in the United States, then or now.

I'm not supporting the idea that a state's blessing is the single thing that "makes" a marriage -- for example, I support same-sex unions as wholly valid marriages, even if most states in my country do not legally recognize them (yet). But I'm also concerned that this is yet another example of some facts of Obama's past being blithely glossed over by the press, who are happy to talk about the legal issues of a 1960's interracial couple in the context of American civil rights laws, and yet wholly ignore the other issues of an inter-faith/cultural/national couple. People are too happy to remember his folks as some Hawaiian version of Loving v. Virginia, and ignore, say, what it means about his father's attitudes towards women to be a serial seduce-young-women-and-dump-em type (Obama's mom was 17 when she got pregnant, third wife Ruth was quite young too) -- or what it says about the culture he came from.

This kind of skimming-the-truth then plays right into the hands of those nutty fringe folks who try to make big deals about whether or not Obama was actually born in Hawaii or Kenya (!), for example -- the latter of which would make him ineligible to become president, of course.

/genealogy geek
posted by Asparagirl at 6:39 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


People are too happy to remember his folks as some Hawaiian version of Loving v. Virginia, and ignore, say, what it means about his father's attitudes towards women to be a serial seduce-young-women-and-dump-em type (Obama's mom was 17 when she got pregnant, third wife Ruth was quite young too) -- or what it says about the culture he came from.

According to the (well-cited) Wikipedia article, Obama, Sr. was 25 when he married Ann Dunham, and they were both undergrads at the university. They were peers, and it's hard to make the case that this is a violation of western norms. Ruth was working as a teacher when Obama, Sr. met her, so presumably she had a bachelor's degree, putting her in the 21+ range. Obama Sr. was between 26 and 28. Again, nothing shady there.
posted by ignignokt at 10:23 PM on November 13, 2008


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