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Babysitting Barack Obama on Seattle's Capitol Hill
Babysitting Barack Obama on Seattle's Capitol Hill
by Charlette LeFevre and Philip Lipson - Special to the SGN

A simple act of kindness confirms President Barack Obama's residence as an infant in 1962 on Seattle's Capitol Hill.

As we were researching the residence of the Capitol Hill apartment that Ann Dunham and her son Barack Obama had lived in 1961 to 1962 - a residence that certainly wasn't Abraham Lincoln's log cabin, but nonetheless historical - we were also able to find one of the former apartment residents, Mary Toutonghi, listed in a directory. Much to our delight, it turned out Mary actually knew Ann Dunham and had babysat baby Barack for two months, giving insight on his first year and what it must have been like for Ann Dunham as a single parent.

Mary Toutonghi, who now lives in Soldatna, Alaska, recalls Barack as "a really alert baby, very happy and a good size." She does not remember him ever crying (although she adds she is sure he likely did but does not remember any undue fussing). She recalls as best she can the dates she babysat Barack as her daughter was 18 months old and was born in July of 1959 and that would have placed the months of babysitting Barack in January and February of 1962.

During our first interview, Mary referred to Stanley Ann Dunham as "Anna," not knowing that it was the same name as what was listed in the Seattle City Directory. This verified for us that indeed Mary had known Ann Dunham. Anna was obviously confident enough with Mary to have her babysit her son Barack and confide in her about her future plans.

Mary strains to remember the days back over 45 years ago and relates that she did not know why Anna was in Seattle but remembers she was "anxious to get back to her husband."

"She told me they would be going to Kenya when she finished her education which she had promised her parents when she had married, but because her husband had an obligation to his tribe she realized he would have to take another wife that was a full-blooded Kenyan." Mary commented that, "I don't think I could have been that brave."

Mary explained most of the people in the apartment house were seniors and were retired so it was most likely she was the only one in the house able to babysit Barack. Mary was a stay-at-home mother while her husband was taking classes at the nearby Seattle University. She lived directly below Anna and Barack in the level she calls the basement. She remembers the windows in their basement apartment being at chin level and she had a great view of the yard and trees. One day, she recalled with laughter, a squirrel had fallen through the one of the ground-level windows and after quickly scampering up its tree scolded the family for a good hour.

Mary goes on to relate how the apartment Anna and Barack lived in was on the first main floor and the windows looked out over the street. Anna and baby Barack's apartment in the photo from the Washington State Archives were the three paned windows on the far right corner of the building above the garage.

The main floor had been divided into four studio apartments about 500 square feet each - indeed, a tiny apartment compared to the White House.

The first house of Barack Obama no longer exists, having been torn down in 1985. An apartment complex now is on the block along with twin residential towers, "Capitol Park," owned by Seattle Housing Authority.

Mary also laughed when asked for pictures, explaining "We were in survival mode and not taking pictures."

Mary remembers Anna as a "very mature" woman "who never complained and met her obligations." Anna was taking night classes at the University of Washington and according to the University of Washington's registrar's office her major was listed as history. She was enrolled at the University of Washington in the fall of 1961, took a full course load in the spring of 1962 and had her transcript transferred to the University of Hawaii in the fall of 1962.

Along with the Seattle Polk Directory, Marc Leavipp of the University of Washington Registrar's office confirms the address Ann Dunham gave upon registering at the University.

Today, when one looks back to the small apartment in 1962 in which a kind neighbor helped care for our nation's leader and a struggling mother strived to get an education, its inspiring to know that even small gestures in the most difficult of situations can help a baby rise from humble beginnings to achieve greatness.

Ann Dunham later received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii.

Mary Toutonghi now lives in Soldatna, Alaska, and was 2001 president of the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association. And one little baby grew up to achieve the audacity of hope.

Courtesy of the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries

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