aka: 19 and Counting [Television Show]
aka: Counting On [Television Show]
The Duggars are an Arkansas family who became famous on the TLC network show 19 Kids and Counting. The family is known for its strict adherence to the Baptist faith and conservative values, which include restrictions against any birth control methods. However, the Duggars have been criticized by those who believe that such large families are not healthy for children and those who oppose their anti-contraceptive activism. On May 22, 2015, TLC announced that they were pulling all episodes of 19 Kids and Counting after Josh Duggar, the eldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, admitted publicly that he had engaged in acts of child molestation as a teenager; the show was officially canceled later that year. However, certain of the Duggar family members have been featured in the follow-up series Counting On.
Jim Bob Duggar was born on July 18, 1965, and Michelle Ruark was born on September 13, 1966. They married on July 21, 1984. Both of them are real estate agents, and Jim Bob Duggar served two terms as an Arkansas state legislator (from 1998 to 2003). The Duggars reside in Tontitown (Washington County) in northwestern Arkansas.
The Duggars have often explained why they chose to have a large family. Initially, Michelle used birth control pills, but between her first and second children, she became pregnant while on birth control, and the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. The couple felt that their use of birth control had caused them to lose the baby, and so they decided that they would no longer use it; in their words, they would “let God decide how many children we would have.”
There are nineteen children in the Duggar family. The oldest, Josh, was born in 1988. Twins Jana and John David were born in 1990, Jill in 1991, Jessa in 1992, Jinger in 1993, Joseph in 1995, Josiah in 1996, Joy-Anna in 1997, twins Jedidiah and Jeremiah in 1998, Jason in 2000, James in 2001, Justin in 2002, Jackson in 2004, Johannah in 2005, Jennifer in 2007, Jordyn-Grace in 2008, and Josie in 2009.
Jim Bob Duggar ran for U.S. Senate in 2002. Although he lost the race, the Duggars credit the beginning of their celebrity to this event. A picture taken of the family at the polls appeared in the New York Times, which led to interviews and articles in Ladies’ Home Journal and Parents Magazine, which in turn led to a documentary on Discovery Health Channel. The documentary was called 14 Kids and Pregnant Again! The Duggars agreed to take part in the project when they were promised that their faith would be highlighted. The first episode of what was then called 17 Kids and Counting aired on September 29, 2008, on TLC and featured the family traveling to New York to appear on a talk show and announce Michelle’s pregnancy with their eighteenth child.
The oldest child, Josh, married Anna Keller in September 2008; their children all have names that begin with the letter “M.” Although they moved to Washington DC, where Josh originally worked for the political action committee of the Family Research Council, they still appeared on 19 Kids and Counting until the show was suspended, whereupon they returned to Arkansas. Jill married Derick Dillard on June 21, 2014, and they began a family. Jessa married Ben Seewald on November 1, 2014, and they began a family. Jinger married Jeremy Vuolo, a former professional soccer player, on November 5, 2016, and the couple had their first child in 2018. Joy-Anna married Austin Forsyth on May 26, 2017, and the couple’s first child was born in 2018. Joseph married Kendra Caldwell on September 8, 2017, and the couple’s first child was born in 2018. Josiah married Lauren Swanson on June 30, 2018. John-David married Abbie Burnett on November 3, 2018, and their first child was born in January 2020. Justin married Claire Spivey on February 26, 2021. Jedidiah married Katelyn Nakatsu on April 3, 2021.
The Duggars do not watch television, and the children’s Internet usage was closely monitored by the parents. The family is also known for following the tradition of courtship instead of dating. They involve prayers and hymns as part of their daily life, and they consider themselves Independent Baptists, which means that they do not belong to any specific branch of the Baptist faith.
Family members work as spokespeople with the Financial Freedom Seminar. They credit their financial stability to their ability to budget and save money, but they also rent out commercial properties for income, and their various public appearances generate income. It is estimated that the Duggars made at least $25,000 per episode of the original show. Multiple family members have established limited liability corporations (LLCs) used for investing in real estate. Some of the family’s transactions have attracted tabloid attention. For example, Jim Bob Duggar bought a home in 2016 for $325,000, sold it to Soli Deo Gloria, Anna Duggar’s LLC, in 2019 for $257,078, and then she subsequently put it on the market for $799,000. Jim Bob Duggar and his family are also members of the controversial Institute in Basic Life Principles, founded by minister Bill Gothard.
Both the show and the family have received criticism from the public. On their blog, Josh and Anna wrote, “Being in the public eye, people often disagree with our beliefs or the way we have chosen to live our lives. Our goal in life is to share of the hope that we have in Christ and to use whatever platform He has given us to do so.” When asked if having a large family was harmful because of overpopulation, Michelle Duggar replied that she does not feel overpopulation is a problem.
Another controversy relates to the health of the children. The nineteenth child, Josie, was born prematurely and weighed only one pound and six ounces. Michelle was suffering from a rare complication of pregnancy in which her blood pressure was too high, and Josie had to be delivered via emergency C-section. In 2011, Michelle suffered a miscarriage but announced that she was still hoping to have more children. In 2014, Michelle and Jim Bob were shown on their TLC show visiting a Little Rock (Pulaski County) OB-GYN who specializes in high-risk pregnancies to investigate whether Michelle could have any more children.
Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar have released two books: The Duggars: 20 and Counting! (2008) and A Love that Multiplies (2011). Older daughters Jana, Jill, Jinger, and Jessica released their own book, Growing Up Duggar: It’s All about Relationships (2013), in which the sisters wrote about their relationship with God, family, friends, and significant others, as well as self-acceptance and the trials of adolescence.
The family also became politically active, having spoken out against pro-choice organizations such as Planned Parenthood. In the 2012 U.S. presidential race, they supported Republican candidate Rick Santorum. They filmed a short campaign video called 19 Reasons & Counting to Vote for Rick Santorum, in which they praised the candidate for his family values and conservative stance. In addition, Michelle Duggar participated in the successful campaign to repeal a Fayetteville (Washington County) city ordinance that would have protected people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation.
In May 2015, In Touch magazine reported on the existence of a police report into allegations of child molestation by Josh Duggar when he was fourteen years old. When his parents learned of his activities at the time, rather than immediately report the crime, they arranged for their son to spend three months in a Little Rock “treatment program” run not by a certified counselor but, instead, by the Institute in Basic Life Principles, an organization whose own teachings, former followers have said, include blaming victims of rape for provoking attacks. An anonymous tipster had contacted Oprah Winfrey’s production company, Harpo Studios, with information on the allegations shortly before the Duggar family was to appear on Oprah in 2006, leading to the cancellation of the episode and the initiation of a police investigation into the charges. Police later dropped the investigation as the statute of limitations for the alleged 2002 incidents, involving five girls (including four of his sisters), had passed. After the In Touch exposé, copies of the Springdale (Washington and Benton counties) police report (filed more than a year after the Duggar parents became aware of their son’s sexual assaults) began circulating widely online. On May 21, 2015, Josh Duggar admitted the validity of reports and resigned his position with the Family Research Council; he and his wife moved back to Arkansas shortly thereafter. Subsequently, TLC suspended its broadcast of 19 and Counting, officially announcing its cancellation on July 16, 2015. On August 19, 2015, Josh Duggar was revealed to have an account with Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking extramarital affairs. The next day, he released a public statement acknowledging a “double life” that included marital infidelity and the viewing of pornography. However, a number of conservative celebrities came to Josh Duggar’s defense, including Mike Huckabee, who insisted, “Good people make mistakes,” and political commentator Ben Shapiro, who tweeted, on August 26, 2015: “The left don’t target Josh Duggar because he’s a garbage fire. They target him because he advocated Christian values.” Shortly after this second public scandal, Josh Duggar checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic before returning to Arkansas in March 2016. Meanwhile, in November 2015, adult film actress and model Ashley Stamm-Northup (a.k.a. Danica Dillon) filed suit against him alleging that he assaulted her violently during a sexual encounter in Philadelphia; however, the case was later dismissed.
The following month, two of the sisters he molested appeared in the three-part TLC special Jill and Jess: Counting On, which chronicles their own lives. The second season of Counting On began airing in August 2016 and focused upon Jinger and her engagement to professional soccer player Jeremy Vuolo (the couple, in 2021, published the book The Hope We Hold: Finding Peace in the Promises of God). In May 2017, it was revealed that the four sisters molested by Josh Duggar had filed a lawsuit against the City of Springdale, Washington County, and In Touch for beach of privacy. Most of this lawsuit was dismissed in October 2017, but the remaining claims continue to be litigated. Josh Duggar himself filed a federal lawsuit claiming damages for the release of the records, but this was dismissed, and appeals went nowhere; he then filed a lawsuit claiming invasion of privacy, but a circuit court dismissed the charges, and the Arkansas Court of Appeals and the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the dismissal in 2020.
In 2017, Jill and Derick Dillard announced that they were leaving the series Counting On. Since then, they have elaborated more upon their separation from the larger Duggar family, noting that their careers had encountered roadblocks due to the dictates of the family and the television network. Derick has even suggested on social media that Jim Bob Duggar negotiated contracts with TLC without involving any of his adult children and made himself the beneficiary of their paychecks. Moreover, Jill has moved away from the practices of her parents by getting a nose ring, wearing jeans, admitting to the consumption of an occasional alcoholic beverage, and not visiting the family compound for years. So far, Counting On has aired for eleven seasons, but TLC has yet to announce whether it is being renewed for a twelfth.
Josh Duggar continued to attract legal and public scrutiny following his return to Arkansas. Homeland Security agents, in 2019, reportedly visited the car dealership where Duggar was employed in connection to an investigation, and the following year, Duggar was brought to court after illegally purchasing land owned by another man and was forced to pay attorney’s fees in the case. Finally, on April 29, 2021, Josh Duggar was arrested by federal authorities, just days after his wife announced that she was pregnant with their seventh child, on charges of receipt and possession of child sexual abuse materials (more commonly, and inaccurately, called child pornography), including images of minors ranging from eighteen months to twelve years of age. The files were allegedly downloaded in May 2019 and traced to the IP address of Duggar’s work computer at the Wholesale Motocars dealership. Duggar was released from jail pending trial on May 6, 2021, with the provision that he stay with a third-party custodian, wear an ankle monitor, not have internet access, and not have access to any children save his own, and then only in the presence of his wife.
For additional information:
“Bombshell Duggar Police Report.” In Touch, May 21, 2015. http://www.intouchweekly.com/posts/bombshell-duggar-police-report-jim-bob-duggar-didn-t-report-son-josh-s-alleged-sex-offenses-for-more-than-a-year-58906 (accessed April 6, 2021).
Cardoza, Riley. “19 Kids and Counting! A Comprehensive Guide to the Duggar Family.” Us Weekly, August 28, 2020. https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-moms/pictures/the-duggars-a-comprehensive-guide-of-the-famous-family/ (accessed April 6, 2021).
Dillard Family. https://www.dillardfamily.com/ (accessed April 2, 2021).
Duggar, Jana, Jill Duggar, Jessa Duggar, and Jinger Duggar. Growing Up Duggar: It’s All about Relationships. New York: Howard Books, 2013.
Duggar, Michelle, and Jim Bob Duggar. A Love that Multiplies: An Up-Close View of How They Make It Work. New York: Howard Books, 2011.
———. The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America’s Largest Families: How They Do It. New York: Howard Books, 2008.
The Duggar Family. http://www.duggarfamily.com/ (accessed April 6, 2021).
Hanlon, Greg, and Ally Mauch. “Homeland Security Agent Details Timeline of Josh Duggar Child Porn Case.” EW.com, May 5, 2021. https://ew.com/syndication/josh-duggar-hearing-agent-reveals-timeline-child-porn-case/ (accessed May 6, 2021).
Leon, Melissa. “Duggar Says Overpopulation Is a Lie & More Controversies.” The Daily Beast, March 30, 2012. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/03/30/duggar-says-overpopulation-is-a-lie-more-controversies-photos.html (accessed April 6, 2021).
The Original Duggar Family Blog. http://duggarsblog.blogspot.com/ (accessed April 6, 2021).
Posner, Sarah. “Inside the Duggars’ Deep Ties with a Once-Powerful, Now-Scorned Ministry.” Talking Points Memo, September 10, 2015. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/theslice/duggars-bill-gothard-iblp (accessed April 6, 2021).
Stone, Natalie. “Josh Duggar: What We Know about the Family’s Eldest Child—from 19 Kids and Counting to His Arrest.” People, April 29, 2021. https://people.com/tv/josh-duggar-what-to-know-about-former-19-kids-and-counting-star/ (accessed April 30, 2021).
Strohm, Emily. “Jill Duggar Dillard Opens up about Distancing from Her Family.” People, October 21, 2020. https://people.com/tv/why-jill-duggar-dillard-distanced-herself-from-duggar-family/ (accessed April 2, 2021).
Vuolo, Jeremy, and Jinger Vuolo. The Hope We Hold: Finding Peace in the Promises of God. New York: Worthy Books, 2021.
Williams, Mary Elizabeth. “Have the Duggars Stopped ‘Counting’?” Salon.com, May 20, 2014. http://www.salon.com/2014/05/20/have_the_duggars_stopped_counting/ (accessed April 6, 2021).
Wood, Ron. “Duggar Says Innocent of Child Porn Charges.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 1, 2021, pp. 1B, 8B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/may/01/duggar-says-innocent-of-child-porn-charges/ (accessed May 3, 2021).
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Last Updated: 05/06/2021