Five Unordinary Facts About President Obama's Mother

Ann Dunham was an unorthodox mother, to say the least.

ByABC News
May 11, 2012, 5:37 PM

May 12, 2012 -- intro: This Mother's Day, as Sasha and Malia Obama present their mom with handmade gifts at the White House, the stark contrasts between President Obama's family now and his family as a child growing up in Hawaii could not be more apparent.

Whereas the president and the first lady have been married for 20 years, his mother and father were married for four. Throughout the first decade of his daughters' lives the family has lived in two cities, Chicago and Washington, D.C. By the time he was 10, Obama had lived in two countries.

While Obama has put down the strongest of roots, his mother opted for wings, never staying in one place, let alone one country, for long.

"I never imagined that an American president would have a mother who had done the things that she did," Janny Scott, who wrote a biography of Obama's mother, told The New York Times.

And in her biography, "A Singular Woman," Scott quoted the president. His mother had given him, he said, "a sense of unconditional love that was big enough that, with all the surface disturbances of our lives, it sustained me, entirely."

Here are five facts that make President Obama's mother no ordinary mom.

quicklist:title:She lived in five states and three countriestext: Ann Dunham's family moved five times before Ann, or Stanley, as she was called in her childhood, turned 18, bouncing from Wichita, Kans., to California to Texas to Seattle and, finally, to Hawaii.

As an adult Dunham adopted her parents' knack for nomadism, splitting most of her adult life between Hawaii and Indonesia, and briefly taking up residence in Pakistan, where she helped establish a microfinance program for women.

Her son, on the other hand, took the opposite approach, putting down roots in Chicago and firmly planting himself and his family in the U.S.

"We've created stability for our kids in a way that my mom didn't do for us," Obama told Time magazine during his 2008 presidential campaign. "My choosing to put down roots in Chicago and marry a woman who is very rooted in one place probably indicates a desire for stability that maybe I was missing."

quicklist:title:Her first name is actually Stanleytext: President Obama's mother's full name is Stanley Ann Dunham. Although she used her middle name for the majority of her adult life, Dunham went by Stanley throughout grade school, the name that her father, who wanted a son, gave her.

Over the course of Dunham's short life -- she died when she was in her early 50s -- she went by four different names. Growing up it was Stanley Dunham. In college she was Ann Dunham. During her first marriage, to Barack Obama's father, she was Ann Obama. And after her second marriage she was Ann Soetoro.

quicklist:title: She was 18 when Barack Obama was borntext:President Obama's mother married his father at the ripe young age of 18, after the two met in a Russian-language class at the University of Hawaii. At the time, interracial marriage was illegal in most states.

Dunham was three months pregnant when the two tied the knot in a ceremony so discrete that her son never uncovered any records of the event, according to Scott's biography of Dunham, "A Singular Woman."

By the time Obama was a year old, his father, Barack Obama Sr., had moved from Hawaii to Massachusetts to get a masters degree from Harvard. By the time he was six, he had moved with his mother to Indonesia after she married Lolo Soetoro. The couple had a daughter, Maya Soetoro, before they divorced in 1980.

quicklist:title: She was only five years older than Hillary Clintontext: Born in 1942, as World War II was ravaging the world, Obama's mother was a mere five years older than Hillary Clinton, whom he would later defeat in a bitter Democratic primary during his race for the White House.

Dunham died a few weeks short of her 53rd birthday, of uterine and ovarian cancer, two years before her son was elected to the Illinois state senate.

quicklist:title: She had a Ph.D. in anthropologytext: It may have taken her two decades and countless trips back-and-forth between Indonesia and the University of Hawaii to complete, but in 1992 Ann Dunham was awarded her Ph.D. in anthropology.

Her 1,000-page dissertation explored the indigenous craft of blacksmithing in Indonesia, a topic she had studied for more than 20 years. She died two years after completing it.

She had instilled in her son the importance of education, making him rise before the sun came up to do his homework. She would tell people that her son was gifted, "that he can do anything he ever wants in the world, even be president of the United States."