Discover the Only President Ever Born in Hawaii (and Where He Was Raised)

Written by Clemence-Maureen Feniou
Updated: October 10, 2023
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Born in Hawaii in 1961, Barack Obama is the first and only U.S. President born in the Aloha State. Obama served as the 44th President of the United States for two presidential terms and was in office from January 20, 2009, to January 20, 2017. Obama was also the first African American to become President of the United States.

Significant legislative achievements marked his time in office. These include the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010 and the normalization of relations with Cuba in 2014. Obama’s leadership style and speeches made him a symbol of progress and inclusivity in American politics. Today, his legacy still influences the nation’s political discourse in the United States and worldwide.

Where Was Barack Obama Born?

Cityscape of Honolulu city and  Waikiki beach with blue ocean and light reflection from sunset sky to buildings from Ualaka’a lookout on Tantalus mountain  in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii USA

Honolulu is Hawaii’s state capital and largest city.

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Obama was born on August 4, 1961, at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii. He is the only president born outside of the contiguous 48 states. Obama was born to an American mother, Ann Dunham, and a Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr. His parents met in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and got married in Wailuku, Hawaii, six months before he was born.

Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, Obama’s birth hospital, is specifically located in Makiki’s neighborhood. The facility was established in 1890 by Queen Kapiʻolani as the Kapiʻolani Maternity Home. To fund and start the home, she held bazaars and luaus to raise the $8,000 needed. The goal was to provide a maternity home for Hawaiian women, but it only saw the birth of six babies in its first year.

Later on, it thrived with 145,000 babies born between 1929 and 1977, including former President Barack Obama. The hospital changed names multiple times, but in 1978, it merged with Kapiʻolani Hospital and became Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

This medical center is vital for the state as it is Hawaii’s only children’s hospital and the state’s only 24-hour pediatric emergency department, along with a pediatric intensive care unit and an adolescent care unit.

Honolulu in the 1960s

Before Honolulu was officially established, it was already home to a small population of early settlers, merchant traders, and Native Hawaiians. Honolulu became the official capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1850 when Kamehameha III moved the permanent capital from Lahaina, Maui, to Honolulu, Oahu.

Obama was born in the early 60s. At the time, Honolulu, Hawaii’s state capital, was undergoing significant changes in population and development 20 years after the Pearl Harbor attack. During this decade, Honolulu was a bustling city and played a pivotal role in the history and growth of Hawaii as a state.

The year Obama was born, approximately 295,000 people lived in Honolulu. The ’60s marked a population growth for the city of Honolulu as its population increased between 2 and 3% each year in that decade. With its new inhabitants, Honolulu’s cultural diversity continued to thrive in the 1960s. The city was home to a large mix of communities, and it reflected in the city’s cuisine, arts, and traditions.

This was partly due to the statehood of Hawaii, granted in 1959, making it the 50th state of the United States. The statehood brought increased attention and investment to Hawaii, leading to a rise in tourism and a subsequent influx of visitors.

With all these investments, the city saw Honolulu’s extensive development and modernization. Construction of high-rise buildings and hotels started in the city, especially in Waikiki. The city underwent infrastructure improvements, with the expansion of Honolulu International Airport facilitating more accessible access to the city for both residents and tourists. Additionally, in 1960, a year after Hawaii became a state, the federal government authorized the construction of a set of highways on the island. Today, these are known as the H-1, H-2, and H-3 and are vital for transportation around the island of O’ahu.

Where Did Barack Obama Grow Up?

Aerial view of Waikiki district tall buildings by Wai Canal at sunset. Oahu Island, Hawaii

Obama lived on O’ahu from age one to six and 10 to 18.

©Structured Vision/Shutterstock.com

Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He spent most of his childhood in O’ahu, but the Aloha State is not the only place he grew up in. Several different places and experiences also marked his childhood.

Seattle, WA

Just a few weeks after his birth, Obama and his mother moved to Seattle for only a year, where she attended the University of Washington. His father stayed in Hawaii to complete his undergraduate degree in economics in 1962.

Before Obama and his mom moved back to the islands, his father left to attend Harvard University for a degree in economics.

Honolulu, Hawaii

After a year in Seattle, Obama and his mother returned to Honolulu.

Obama’s parents divorced in 1964, and Barack Obama Sr. left for Kenya and returned to visit his son in Hawaii only once during Christmas 1971. He was later killed in a car accident in 1982 when Obama was only 21 years old.

Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, met Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian graduate student, in 1963 at the University of Hawaiʻi. The couple married a year after her divorce from Obama’s father in March 1965 on the island of Molokai.

Jakarta, Indonesia

jakarta

Barack Obama’s maternal half-sister, Maya Soetero-Ng, was born in Jakarta in 1970.

©iStock.com/CreativaImages

After extending his visa twice, Soetoro returned to Indonesia in 1966. Barack Obama and his mother followed him sixteen months later, in 1967, when Obama was six years old. At first, the family lived in the Menteng Dalam neighborhood, located in South Jakarta’s Tebet district. In 1970, they moved to Central Jakarta’s Menteng district, a wealthier area.

From age six to ten, Obama attended local Indonesian-language schools. He stayed at its first school for two years, “Sekolah Dasar Katolik Santo Fransiskus Asisi” (St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Elementary School). He then joined for one and half years, the “Sekolah Dasar Negeri Menteng 01” (State Elementary School Menteng 01). His mother also homeschooled him with English-language-based classes. After four years in Indonesian schools, Obama spoke Indonesian fluently as a kid. His stepfather, Soetero, taught him how to be resilient.

Honolulu, Hawaii

In 1971, at age 10, Obama returned to Honolulu without his mother to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham. His grandparents raised while he attended the prestigious and private Punahou school. He had the help of scholarship funds to pay for his private school education from fifth grade to high school graduation in 1979.

In 1972, his mother returned from Indonesia with Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. They lived together for three years until 1975 when their mother was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Hawaiʻi. At the end of her studies, Obama, age 14, decided to stay in Hawaii while his mother and half-sister returned to Indonesia so that she could start working in anthropology. She later died in 1992 after unsuccessful treatment for ovarian and uterine cancer.

Obama stayed with his grandparents until he graduated high school. Hawaii’s diverse and multicultural environment greatly impacted Obama’s worldview and understanding of racial and cultural diversity. Obama wrote of his years in Honolulu: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered — to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect — became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”

Obama also talked about how, during his teenage years, he used substances, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, a way for him to “push questions of who I was out of my mind.” Additionally, Obama was a member of the “choom gang.” This self-named group of friends spent a lot of time together on the island of O’ahu and occasionally smoked marijuana.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/okimo


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About the Author

Clémence-Maureen is a writer at A-Z animals primarily covering geography, locations and travel. She holds a Master of Science in Journalism from the University of Southern California, which she earned in 2023. A resident of Hawai'i, Clémence-Maureen enjoys hiking, surfind and volunteering in taro farms.

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