Biography: Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

Jim Bob Duggar was born on July 18, 1965 in Springdale, Arkansas to Jimmy Lee and Mary Duggar. He writes in his first book, “I was born on a Sunday in 1965, and the next Sunday I was in church.” By the age of seven he had decided to become a Christian after attending a revival service with his mother. As a teenager, he began to doubt his salvation, which prompted him to recommit his life to God.

He has one older sibling, a sister named Deanna. His family was relatively poor growing up, although his parents still managed to send him to a private Christian high school that was affiliated with First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas (known today as Cross Church, the name it adopted in 2010). He was part of its first graduating class.

Michelle Annette Duggar (née Ruark) was born on September 13, 1966 in Springdale, Arkansas to Garrett and Ethel Ruark. She is the youngest of seven siblings, most of whom were significantly older than her. Their names are: Pam, Evelyn, Carol, Freda, Kathie, and Garrett, Jr. By the time Michelle was in elementary school, only her sister Carol was still living at home.

As a child Michelle did not attend church, and she did attend public school. Throughout junior high and most of high school she was a cheerleader and reportedly quite popular. However, despite spending several hours a day practicing both cheerleading and gymnastics, she struggled with body-image issues, and at the age of 14 Michelle began to show signs of bulimia.

At age 15, while continuing to battle these issues, Michelle became a born-again Christian after attending a church event with a friend. Soon after, she was introduced to her future husband when he visited her home with a friend of his, although she admits to not remembering their first meeting. It took about a year for their paths to cross again, when Michelle applied for a job at a yogurt shop that was managed by Jim Bob’s mother in the spring of 1983.

Jim Bob wasted no time asking Michelle to accompany him to his junior/senior banquet, and she wasted no time falling in love with him. They spent several hours talking about scripture, and by the end of the evening she claims that she was certain that Jim Bob was “the one.”

She was 16 when they began dating, and still bulimic, but Michelle confided in Jim Bob early on, because she didn’t want to keep secrets from the man she intended to marry. He became an accountability partner of sorts for her, and helped her get through the first six months of breaking the habit.

On Christmas Eve in 1983, Jim Bob proposed to Michelle in her parents’ living room. When she accepted, he began preparing for their life together by trading in his car to put a down payment on a house, as well as obtaining his real estate license. Three months after Jim Bob’s proposal, Michelle’s parents announced that they would be moving out of state, which prompted the couple to schedule their wedding that summer. They were married on July 21, 1984, at First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. Michelle was 17, and Jim Bob had just turned 19.

After the wedding, they altered their honeymoon plans at the last minute because their first destination turned out to be a disappointment, but they still spent several nights at Mount Nebo State Park in Arkansas as planned. The honeymoon was cut short due to car troubles, so the couple returned home to the 900 square-foot fixer-upper that Jim Bob had been getting ready for Michelle, which was still a work in progress.

Michelle and Jim Bob decided not to have children right away, and Michelle began taking birth control pills. In the first year of marriage, they purposely did not have a television or any pets in their home. They both worked: Jim Bob at a grocery store where he had already been employed for several years, and Michelle as a substitute teacher. Although it is unclear exactly when, Michelle obtained her real estate license early on in their marriage, and they both obtained life insurance licenses, which they dabbled in for awhile before opening a used car lot. Jim Bob had been selling used cars that he repaired on his own, and he decided to pursue this full time in 1985. He stayed on at the grocery store for the first year, with significant help from Michelle at the car lot, and eventually they added a towing service to the business.

After several years of preventing pregnancy, Michelle stopped taking birth control pills when the couple decided that they were ready to start a family. By then they were living in a small house that was also the site of their used car business. Their first child, Joshua James, was born on March 3, 1988. After his birth, Michelle resumed taking birth control, and while she was still on the pill, she became pregnant again, but miscarried early on. Michelle and Jim Bob consulted with a Christian doctor, who told them it was the birth control that had caused them to miscarry. As a result, the couple decided not only to stop using oral birth control pills, but to eschew all forms of contraception in favor of leaving the size of their family “up to God.”

It didn’t take long for Michelle to become pregnant again, and this time with twins. Around the same time, Michelle and Jim Bob attended a religious seminar on financial freedom, which inspired them to live debt-free. At the time, they still held a mortgage on the house that Jim Bob had purchased before they got married, which they had been renting out. They decided to sell the home, and then they invested that money into the used car business. However, they still experienced financial hardship due to a failed business venture, as well as large hospital bills following the birth of Jana Marie and John-David on January 12, 1990 via emergency c-section.

Even so, Michelle and Jim Bob continued to stick to their position on family planning. Michelle became pregnant again later that year, by which time their eldest son was beginning to reach school age. They had decided to homeschool their children several years earlier, and when he was four, the Duggars attended their first Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschooling conference and began the curriculum.

Jill Michelle was born on May 17, 1991, and by the spring of 1992, Michelle and Jim Bob had saved up enough money to pay cash for a bigger house. However, because it was a repossessed home, it took about a year to make it move-in ready, during which time Michelle once again became pregnant. Jessa Lauren was born on November 4, 1992, while the Duggars were still living in their house at the car lot. They moved into the new house, located in Springdale, Arkansas, in March 1993. The house was located next door to First Baptist Church (a.k.a. Cross Church).

Despite having greater financial security as a family, Michelle cites this period as a particularly difficult time due to the challenges of raising so many young children at once. Jim Bob’s mother, Mary came by frequently to help out, but even with the extra set of hands Michelle was overwhelmed. In one of the Duggars’ books, Michelle recalls breaking down in tears during a 1:00 AM laundry session because of the exhaustion and stress. Nevertheless, Michelle’s next pregnancy was just around the corner, and this time around she opted for a home birth. Jinger Nicole arrived safely and uneventfully on December 21, 1993.

Due to the influence of the conferences that he and Michelle had been attending (held by the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a non-denominational Christian organization), Jim Bob decided to sell the towing portion of the car lot business in order to make more time for his family. Michelle was pregnant once again, and they sold the towing company for a profit in June 1994, which they used to pay cash for a commercial real estate property. Then, they rented the property out, which not only partially replaced the lost income from the sold business, but also paved the way for several other successful real estate ventures.

Because Jinger’s birth had gone so well, Michelle decided to try for a home birth again. Although there were some complications, Joseph Garrett was born at home on January 20, 1995. Michelle and Jim Bob state that after Joseph’s arrival, they decided against the home birth route, and when Josiah Matthew arrived on August 28, 1996, he was born in a hospital, as was Joy-Anna Duggar, who was born on October 28, 1997.

Meanwhile, through a series of coincidences which Jim Bob attributes to God’s will, he began to feel called to become involved in politics. He decided to run for a position in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and in November 1998 he won the election. The next month, Michelle gave birth to Jedediah Robert and Jeremiah Robert several weeks earlier than expected, on December 30, 1998. They spent 11 days at the hospital before coming home, during which time Jim Bob was officially sworn in to the Arkansas House of Representatives. He represented the sixth district and served as the vice chair of the Judiciary House Corrections and Criminal Law Subcommittee.

Because Jim Bob would have to temporarily relocate to Little Rock, Arkansas to perform his duties, he decided to sell the car lot to a friend who had helped out with the business in the past. Jim Bob traded the business for a valuable car, which he sold along with the rest of his remaining inventory to prepare for the move.

Now that many of their children had reached Sunday School age, Michelle and Jim Bob decided that they did not want all of their family members to be separated into different classes every Sunday at church. After spending awhile attending a senior citizens’ Sunday School class together as a family, the Duggars eventually joined their friends Clark and Denise Wilson at their newly planted church, which met at an office trailer. The group later began to hold services in its’ members homes, and although the Duggars would have been away in Little Rock during some of this period, in A Love That Multiplies, they state that they have been worshipping in this type of setting since 1999.

The Duggars’ next child, Jason Michael was born on April 21, 2000, and that same year Jim Bob was re-elected to another term in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Michelle gave birth to James Andrew on July 7, 2001, and one month later the Duggars sold their Springdale house to First Baptist Church (a.k.a. Cross Church). Jim Bob had experienced another feeling of divine inspiration that persuaded him to run for the United States Senate, which he announced in April 2002 after his final term in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

He did not have the support of the Republican Party because the incumbent, Tim Hutchinson, was already a Republican, but Jim Bob was convinced that he was following God’s calling, and used a significant amount of money from the sale of the home to finance his campaign. On May 21, 2002 Jim Bob Duggar was defeated in the primary by Hutchinson, who ultimately lost to the Democratic candidate, Mark Pryor.

After Jim Bob’s failed Senate bid, the Duggars continued to live in the Springdale house, which was now owned by First Baptist Church (a.k.a. Cross Church). The church planned to tear down the house and use the land for an expansion, but they allowed the Duggars to stay until it was demolished, and according to Michelle and Jim Bob, they paid the church rent while they looked for a new place to live.

After being unable to find anything big enough within their budget, they decided to build a house by themselves, and in July 2002, after being unsuccessful once again in their search for land, they decided to build on the edge of one of the commercial properties they already owned. In August, they purchased a steel home kit as the framework for the house, and Jim Bob decided that he, Joshua and John-David would lead the family in doing most of the labor themselves to avoid paying for outside help as much as possible. On November 15, 2002, their fourteenth child, Justin Samuel, was born.

Meanwhile, the Duggars were beginning to experience media interest in their family, which they credit to the above photograph from the primary. It was taken at the polling place and ran in the New York Times, which led to an interview with Ladies’ Home Journal, although the magazine ended up deciding not to publish it. However, the interview eventually ran in Parents magazine in the spring of 2003*, which caught the eye of Eileen O’Neill, president of the Discovery Health Channel.

The Duggars were asked if they would like to participate in a documentary about their large family, which they agreed to do as long as their faith would not be edited out. Their first television special, 14 Children and Pregnant Again!, featured the birth of Michelle and Jim Bob’s fifteenth child, Jackson Levi, on May 23, 2004. It aired on the Discovery Health channel on September 6, 2004, and its success paved the way for several follow-up specials.

The Duggars next appeared on Raising 16 Children, which shows their March 2005 move to a rental house, where they lived while working on the construction of their new home as funds allowed. First Baptist Church had been forced to asked them to move because they could not push the demolition date of the house back any farther, and because their new house still wasn’t ready, they had to find somewhere else to stay in the meantime. Finding a rental had its own challenges due to the size of their family, and the Duggars ended up staying in a house that was scheduled to be torn down already, which is why the owners didn’t mind renting it out to a family with 15 kids.

This special also shows the Duggars attending an Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschooling conference in Big Sandy, Texas, although the nature of the event is presented in rather vague terms, which some suspect was one of many purposeful decisions to disguise the true nature of the Duggar family’s extreme beliefs. The episode ends with the October 11, 2005 birth of Johannah Faith, and it aired several months later on March 13, 2006.

Even with the whole family pitching in under the guise of “hands-on education,” the expertise and assistance of Michelle and Jim Bob’s former pastor Clark Wilson, who moved his family from Mississippi to Arkansas for an entire year to help oversee the project, and help from various unnamed “friends and family,” construction on the Duggars’ new home was very slow going, which viewers received a peak of on their next special, 16 Children and Moving In. The project ended up going three years past its original deadline, and a professional contractor was brought in to finish it up, along with plumbers, electricians, and an interior designer who were paid by The Discovery Channel.

The Duggar’s house, located in Tontitown, Arkansas, is noteworthy for its upstairs floor plan- instead of individual bedrooms, there are two large, dormitory-style bedrooms for the children: one for the boys, and one for the girls. Michelle and Jim Bob claim that their children requested this design, which is partially true, but it was eventually revealed that the parents also had a more serious reason for wanting to keep the boys and girls apart.

With all of the professional help, the rest of the house was completed quickly, and the Duggars moved in during the first month of 2006, footage of which is included in 16 Children and Moving In. The extra space allowed them to host extended family, including Michelle’s father, who had been in an accident involving a driver high on methamphetamine shortly before the house was finished.

The Duggars were also able to host financial seminars in their new home, now teaching the same exact principles that they had learned in the early years of their marriage. The program they used was endorsed by the IBLP, and created by Jim Sammons, a real estate developer who was on Bill Gothard’s Board of Directors. In addition, the Duggars held weekly home church services with around fifty attendees, which has fueled unsubstantiated rumors that they classify their home as a church for tax purposes.

By now, the Duggars had attracted worldwide attention with their first three television specials, in addition to numerous radio interviews and media appearances. They furthered their fame with two final stand-alone specials: On the Road with 16 Children, which aired on June 11, 2006,  and Duggars’ Big Family Album, which featured the August 2, 2007 arrival of Jennifer Danielle and aired on September 22, 2007.

Almost exactly one year later, the first episode of The Learning Channel’s show 17 Kids and Counting aired on September 29, 2008, amidst criticism of Jon & Kate Plus 8, another reality show on the same network. Some viewers were concerned about the damaging effects of putting children on reality television, but TLC marketed the Duggars as a wholesome Christian family, and many bought into the charade. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar published their first book, The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America’s Largest Families- How They Do It on December 2, 2008.

The first three seasons of 17 Kids and Counting (changed to 18 Kids and Counting in the middle of the second season, which aired in the first half of 2009, to reflect the birth of Jordyn-Grace Makiya on December 18, 2008, featured snapshots of the family’s ultra-conservative lifestyle, including moments both big and small. The show did feature the Duggars’ faith, as they had requested before signing on to participate in the original special, but even though TLC filmed the Duggars attending an ATI conference in a 2009 episode and were undoubtedly aware of criticism surrounding the family’s membership in the IBLP, their beliefs were generally presented in a positive light.

On December 10, 2009, the Duggar’s 19th child, Josie Brooklyn, was born via emergency c-section at just 25 weeks gestation, after Michelle was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia and airlifted to a hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. She weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces at birth, and was in the hospital for about six months before going home. For most of that time, the entire Duggar family relocated to Little Rock and stayed in a five-bedroom rental home. Josie’s birth, hospital stay, and long-awaited arrival home are documented in the fourth season of the Duggars’ TLC show, which was now 19 Kids and Counting. The season aired over the course of 2010.

After the Duggars returned to their Tontitown home, they returned to “normal” family life, which for them included homeschoolingspeaking engagementsmedia appearances, and TLC-funded trips. Michelle and Jim Bob published a second book, A Love That Multiplies: An Up-Close View of How They Make it Work on June 7, 2011. The book covers Josie’s birth and the Duggars’ adjustment to life in the spotlight, and includes insight into their daily life as well advice on relationships. The book also includes a defense against the criticism Michelle received for protesting a nearby convenience store’s request for a beer license less than two weeks after giving birth to Josie, who was still in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the time.

On November 8, 2011, Michelle and Jim Bob, along with their children, announced on the Today Show that they were expecting their twentieth child, which received mixed reactions from the public. One month later, on December 8, 2011, a routine prenatal checkup revealed that Michelle had miscarried the baby. She had been in her second trimester and was close to halfway through the pregnancy. On December 14, 2011, the Duggars held a memorial service for their stillborn daughter, who they named Jubilee Shalom.

As the Duggars began to close in on almost a decade of being on television, they continued to make headlines for various controversies, usually related to their polarizing religious and political beliefs. In 2012, they endorsed Rick Santorum and participated in his presidential campaign; that same year, Michelle spoke at a Conservative Political Action Conference and criticized the Susan G. Komen Foundation for reversing their decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood. That March, Michelle herself was criticized for calling overpopulation a “myth.”

In 2013, Michelle was in the news once again for comparing abortion to the Holocaust, which was offensive to many and elicited a response from the Jewish Journal, a weekly newspaper that serves the Jewish community in Los Angeles, California. In the summer of 2014, Michelle recorded a robocall asking residents to vote against an anti-discrimination measure that would strengthen protections for transgender individuals, a move which prompted many to sign an online petition asking TLC to take the Duggars off the air.

In November 2014, following the marriage of their daughter Jessa to Ben Seewald, Michelle and Jim Bob issued a “kissing challenge” to their fans. Jessa and Ben famously did not kiss at the altar; however, they later posted a picture of themselves kissing on Instagram. After the picture received negative feedback, Michelle and Jim Bob followed suit with their own snapshot that was posted on Facebook, where they encouraged other married couples to post similar pictures. However, followers quickly noticed that photos of same-sex couples were being deleted, which fueled the growing movement of people asking TLC to take the Duggars off television.

However, the final straw for TLC didn’t come until May 2015, when InTouch Weekly published a police report that had been obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, detailing the Duggars’ oldest son Joshua’s molestation of five underage girls, four of whom were his younger sisters. Joshua quickly issued a public apology in a statement to People magazine, which included comments from both his wife, Anna, and his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle. But just a day later, after advertisers began pulling out of the show, TLC announced that 19 Kids and Counting had been canceled and that reruns would no longer appear on the air.

In the press and across social media, Michelle and Jim Bob were widely criticized for failing to take appropriate action when they claim to have first been made aware of Joshua’s behavior in March 2002, and for continuing to mishandle the situation after several subsequent incidents. Although Joshua’s statement mentioned counseling, further investigation revealed that his parents failed to get him proper treatment, and IBLP literature that has surfaced online suggests that any counseling his sisters received would have likely taught that sexual abuse is the victim’s fault. Michelle and Jim Bob were also criticized for over-emphasizing the concepts of modesty and purity, which some believe was a factor that contributed to Joshua’s actions.

In June, Michelle and Jim Bob agreed to an interview with Megyn Kelly, who at the time was the host of The Kelly File on Fox News. Many criticized Kelly for being overly sympathetic to the Duggars, who appeared to choose their words very carefully in what many viewed as an attempt to salvage their reputation.

In August 2015, a second scandal hit the Duggar family when the gossip blog Gawker announced that Joshua had a paid account on the adult website Ashley Madison, which had recently been hacked. This prompted him to enroll in a Christian rehab program, and although Jim Bob and Michelle took in his wife and children while he was away, Michelle wrote a blog post that October instructing wives to always be “joyfully available” for meeting their husbands’ sexual needs, which many interpreted as indirect criticism of Anna.

That same month, TLC released a trailer for a three-part television special called Jill and Jessa: Counting On, which addressed the past several months’ events and provided updates on Jill and Jessa’s lives. The series aired in December 2015, and in February 2016, TLC announced that it would be expanded into a full-fledged show, which premiered the following month and consisted of eleven episodes.

TLC dropped Jill and Jessa’s names from the show’s title ahead of its second full season, which premiered on August 23, 2016, likely because it primarily featured their sister Jinger’s courtship, engagement, and wedding. Although it was widely believed that the show would not feature Michelle and Jim Bob, they gradually began to make appearances as their daughter’s relationship progressed. Meanwhile, that September they opened up their home to Michelle’s 8-year old great-nephew, whose mother was unable to properly care for him. In November 2016, they became his legal guardians.

2017 was a busy year for Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, who saw two of their children get married within the span of four months. While Counting On’s third full season (generally referred to as Season 4) was still airing coverage of Jinger and Jeremy’s wedding preparations, daughter Joy-Anna was rapidly heading towards her own engagement and wedding planning, which provided plenty of excuses for her parents to show up on camera. After they gave away the bride, Michelle and Jim Bob continued to keep busy with a trip to Hawaii before getting back into wedding planning mode for their son Joseph’s marriage to Kendra Caldwell that September. They finished off the year with a child-free getaway to the Bahamas with their friends Gil and Kelly Jo Bates.

So far, 2018 has been business as usual for Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. In January they traveled to Australia with fourteen of their children for an IBLP speaking engagement, where Jim Bob was criticized for making an insensitive remark about his daughter, Jana. The next month the couple traveled alone to speak at a Valentine’s Day event at a church in Michigan. In March, son-in-law Derick Dillard posted claims on Twitter regarding his lack of compensation for his participation in Counting On, which sparked much speculation about how much control Jim Bob has over the Duggars’ earnings from TLC despite no longer being primarily featured on the family’s current show.

If there is any information that I haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or via e-mail, and I will update this biography accordingly. I try my best to be factual, but feel free to give me a heads up if you find a mistake and I will make the correction as soon as possible!

*I have not yet been able to find a link to or copy of an article from the spring of 2003; however I did find this article from the September 2003 issue of Parents magazine. If anyone happens to have the original article or if my timeline is incorrect, please use the e-mail button to contact me and I will gladly credit you for finding the information!

Image Sources:

  1. Current picture of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar
  2. Michelle (Ruark) Duggar as a cheerleader in high school
  3. The young couple at Jim Bob’s junior/senior banquet
  4. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s wedding invitation
  5. Michelle Duggar holding newborns Jana and John-David Duggar
  6. The Duggars as a family of six
  7. The Duggars as a family of eight
  8. The Duggars as a family of ten
  9. The Duggars get political as a family of thirteen
  10. The Duggars make a Senate bid
  11. The Duggars vote in 2002
  12. The Duggars as a family of seventeen
  13. The Duggars as a family of eighteen
  14. The Duggars as a family of nineteen
  15. The Duggars as a family of twenty
  16. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar with their daughter, Josie
  17. Members of the Duggar family with Rick Santorum
  18. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar share a kiss
  19. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar speak with Megyn Kelly
  20. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar with Gil and Kelly Jo Bates

Parallel Jill

I’m a married, stay-at-home mom of two boys. I’m in my twenties, and I even have a nose piercing- sound familiar? Unlike Jill (Duggar) Dillard, however, I’m not a fundamentalist Christian. I did grow up in a strict Christian (Baptist) home, but I left the church when I was a teenager, and my life now is probably what Jill’s would look like in a parallel universe. Follow my new blog as I discuss religious fundamentalism, the Duggar family, and the TLC show Counting On.