Who is the Duggar family?

If you’ve ever seen “19 Kids and Counting”, you probably feel like you know the Duggars better than your own family. Jim Bob and Michelle, along with their ever-growing brood, shared their lives for the world to view on TLC for around seven years – or 229 episodes. In happier times, “19 Kids and Counting” was TLC’s most-watched show, and snagged a coveted spot in lists of shows on the top 25 cable channels.

However, everything changed seemingly overnight for the Duggars. Jim Bob and Michelle’s eldest son Josh became hot topic in May 2015, after admitting to having fondled and molested five girls – including his own sisters – when he was an adolescent in 2002 and 2003. Two months after the shocking news and public apology, TLC announced that “19 Kids and Counting” was cancelled, and it seemed that the Duggars would fade into obscurity… At least, until their spin-off show “Counting On” aired in December 2015.  Let’s have a look at the scandals and controversies America’s biggest family has faced over the years.

Family Background

Tontitown, Arkansas, is home to the Duggars, who made their TV debuts in Discovery Health and TLC one-hour specials, that shared details about the prolific Michelle’s pregnancies and deliveries. Family’s clearly important to the Duggar patriarchs, as Jim Bob has an older sister and Michelle is the youngest of seven siblings.

After experiencing a religion conversion in the early 1980s, Michelle was paid a visit by Jim Bob and another member of their church. The family patriarch obviously convinced her to come back into the fold, as in July 1984 they married shortly after Michelle graduated high school. Aged 17 and 19 respectively and with no intentions of going to college, it seemed that Michelle and Jim Bob’s marriage was doomed to fail (at least, economically) – but they turned things around with the launch of their used-car business, before becoming licensed real-estate agents.

Surprisingly, the Duggars used birth control pills for the first few years they were married, and didn’t welcome the birth of their now disgraced eldest son Josh until 1988. Michelle began taking contraceptives again after his birth, but still became pregnant, and miscarried a few weeks later, allegedly a side effect of the contraceptive – despite not knowing the baby’s sex, they named it Caleb.

When a doctor told the Duggars that birth control can result in miscarriages, Jim Bob and Michelle nobly decided to stop using it, and let God decide how many children they’d have. Not long after, twins Jana and John-David became the newest additions to the family – and in just over two decades, the family matriarch would give birth a staggering 17 times.

As devout followers of the independent Baptist faith, the Duggars believe in modesty – meaning that shorts, tank tops, and skirts above knee-length are a no-go. The only TV shows they watch are family-friendly or historical, and they rarely use the internet. Ironically, the intention behind the strict wardrobe rules was to avoid temptation, and to follow the scriptures of their religion.

Posted by Duggar Family Official on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The obsession with modesty and avoiding shame means that the Duggars can’t go to beaches, swimming pools, or other public areas where there’ll be a lot of bare skin on show. The Duggar boys are short-haired and clean-shaven, and it appears that the Duggar girls can’t wear their hair shorter than a certain length either. Rather than get to know people organically, the Duggar children get to know possible partners in group settings, which is known as chaperoned courtship. They’re also banned from entering a relationship without first getting the go-ahead from their parents: and if the girls want to start dating, the guy they’re interested in has to (or had to) talk to Jim Bob first.

From 1999 to 2002, Jim Bob was a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, but lost out by a landslide to Tim Hutchinson during the Republican nominations for the US Senate. His political aspirations thwarted, he became an investor and real estate agent, and began earning a living from the rental proceeds of their commercial properties. Before Josh sullied the family name, the Duggars had no debts; their current economic situation is unclear.

In 2000, the family began building a 7000 square-foot house with two steel frames on a plot of land. As one of the frames was incorrectly drilled, the Duggars were given a third frame to build their industrial kitchen and girls’ room. With help from Discovery Networks, local construction workers finished the project for free in exchange for publicity, and building finished in January 2006. Thanks to the one-hour TV special “16 Children and Moving In”, the Duggars were given appliances, furnishings, decorations and more, courtesy of Discovery Networks and its corporate sponsors.

Of course, it wasn’t long before people began wondering why the Duggars weren’t held liable to child labor laws – especially when a 2010 investigation revealed that the show’s producers didn’t have the necessary work permits to employ minors under 16, to which Jim Bob said that the family didn’t consider filming to be work, as they weren’t acting.

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Meet the Family

As mentioned, the three eldest Duggar children – Joshua James, Jana Marie and John-David, were born in March 1988 and January 1990. From 1991 to 1993, Michelle gave birth another three times to Jill Michelle, Jessa Lauren and Jinger Nicole, all girls. They were followed by brothers Joseph Garrett and Josiah Matthew in 1995 and 1996, and Joy-Anna and twins Jedidiah and Jeremiah in 1997 and 1998.

The 2000s brought plenty of new additions to the already large family: Jason Michael, James Andrew, Justin Samuel and Jackson Levi were born in 2000, 2001, ‘02 and ‘03, and Johannah Faith, Jennifer Danielle, and Jordyn-Grace Makiya in 2005, ‘07 and ‘08. Fans of the show have sometimes joked that they don’t know what’s more impressive: having all those kids back-to-back, or finding so many names that begin with J.

In December 2009, Michelle delivered her and Jim Bob’s 19th child, Josie Brooklyn, via emergency C-section, and just six months into her pregnancy. After dashing to the hospital for gallstones, doctors found that she was pre-eclamptic and an emergency delivery was performed; Josie weighed just 1lb 6oz at birth and stayed in the hospital until April 2010.

Whoever thought that Josie would be the last Duggar child were wrong – the Duggars announced on NBC’s “Today Show” in November 2011, that Michelle was expecting her 20th child. Sadly, a month later the family broke the news that Michelle had miscarried when 20 weeks pregnant; a memorial service for their stillborn daughter, Jubilee Shalom, was held six days later.

Over the years the children grew up, and their courtships were announced. As of October 2022, the Duggars have been blessed with 24 grandchildren and counting, and all their children over the age of 18 are married, except for Jason and James.

Scandals

Although the Duggars have been criticized and questioned for their beliefs and childrearing methods, it wasn’t until 2015 that their wholesome family image was ruined, thanks to Josh. The news story broke in May 2015, but the police report detailing an investigation into Josh for molesting five underage girls dated back to 2006 – and to make things worse, Jim Bob had known about the accusations since 2002.

When more accusations were made against Josh in 2003, Jim Bob told senior members of his family’s church, and it was agreed that the disturbed teenager should be sent to a Christian treatment program, which evidently didn’t help much. Jim Bob also took Joshua to see a state trooper and tell him what had happened – but horrifyingly, the state trooper preferred to lecture him instead of taking matters further.

Of course, once the cat was out of the bag, the Duggars could no longer hide what their son had done. They told Fox News that Joshua had molested a babysitter and four of his sisters, and TLC promptly cancelled their show. During his failed apology tour, Josh released a statement in which he said: “I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regretful. I hurt others, including my family and close friends.”

So, if people knew about Joshua’s evil deeds since the early 2000s, why wasn’t anything done sooner? Apparently, a friend of the Duggars had written a letter describing Joshua’s actions, placed the letter in a book, and forgotten about it. The book was loaned to someone else in 2006 – letter included – and ended up in the authorities’ hands.

Posted by Josh & Anna Duggar on Friday, October 30, 2020

Someone was clearly interested in making the news public, as in 2006 an anonymous source also emailed the Oprah show, on which the Duggars were scheduled to appear, with news of the molestation allegations. The letter was faxed to the Department of Human Services hotline and an investigation was opened; but sadly, no charges were pursued because the three-years statute of limitations had expired.

2015 could be considered Joshua’s “annus horribilis”, as it was revealed that he was a user of the infamous cheating website Ashley Madison. At the time, he was married and had four children, so had to release yet another groveling statement which said: “While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet, and this became a secret addiction, and I became unfaithful to my wife.”

Obviously, Anna didn’t leave Joshua, as they went on to have two more children, and are expecting a seventh addition. If that wasn’t bad enough, the errant firstborn was arrested in April 2021 for receiving and possessing child pornography, and pleaded not guilty. In early May of the same year, a federal agent testified that Joshua had downloaded and possessed over 60 images of child pornography – the Duggar’s spin-off show, “Counting On”, was cancelled when the news broke.

Joshua’s release from jail was ordered by a judge, but thankfully he wasn’t allowed to return home to his wife and young children; instead, he had to stay with friends while awaiting trial. He was sentenced to 12 and a half years in May 2022, which some felt was a far lighter punishment than he deserved.

Prior to Joshua’s abhorrent behavior, the Duggars were criticized for being anti-LGBT. In August 2014, Michelle recorded a robocall in which she discussed transgender legislation, and complained about transgender women using women’s restrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other female-designated areas. She also said: “I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.”

Although trans issues weren’t as controversial then as they are now, Michelle was dubbed transphobic, and a Change.org petition to cancel “19 Kids and Counting” received over 100,000 signatures. Funnily enough, or NOT funnily enough, the family’s live-in tutor later married a man with prior sexual assault convictions. This man, Timothy Robertson, was a friend of the numerous family – and the engagement party was thrown by the Duggars themselves.

Derick Dillard, Jill’s husband, is also transphobic, and was heavily criticized in 2017 for his comments about the transgender activist and fellow TLC star Jazz Jennings. Some of his comments include: “Gender is not fluid; it’s ordained by God”, and he called Jazz’s show “an oxymoron… a reality show which follows a non-reality.” TLC promptly announced that Derick would no longer be appearing on the network.

Last but not least, the Duggars often omitted important details about organized group events they attended, while filming for the show. Some episodes of “19 Kids and Counting” featured ALERT (Air Land Emergency Resource Team) Academy commencement ceremonies, but failed to mention that the Christian training service and organization program endorses the use of corporal correction on children, and denounces homosexuality.

As recently as May 2022, Jackson Duggar was pictured inside the controversial academy, which seems to be a rite of passage for males in the family. Jackson previously mentioned his wishes to join the military; ALERT, which advertises itself as a Christian boot camp, was founded by Bill Gothard – the man who created the Institute in Basic Life Principles homeschooling program, and is currently being sued for allegedly covering up decades of sexual abuse. Despite the horror stories that have come out of the ALERT Academy, including reports of its “abusive” intensive physical training, Jackson appears to be having a great time at the program.

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