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Michele Bachmann's Childhood - Her Early Years in Waterloo, Iowa

Bachmann's Resilience as a Politician Rooted in Ups and Downs of Her Childhood

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Updated March 01, 2012
Michele Marie Amble Bachmann was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 6, 1956, the only girl among four siblings in a Norwegian family with midwestern roots dating back over a century. Her ancestors emigrated to Wisconsin in 1857 and moved west to the Dakota Territory in 1861, eventually settling in Iowa in late 1864 or early 1865.

"Blue Collar People"
Michele was raised Lutheran and Democrat. The only Republican was her paternal grandmother Anna T. Munson, a faithful reader of the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. In a June 2011 appearance on IPTV's Iowa Press, Michelle describes her background:

My grandmother worked carrying trays of sliced bacon at the meat packing plant in Waterloo.  My grandmother worked in a factory sewing in Waterloo, Iowa.  My grandpa worked down at the railroad yards.  We were blue collar people....

Up to Middle Class
Her father David Amble was the first family member to go to college. A former Air Force staff sergeant, David was attending Iowa State Teacher's College, studying to be an engineer at the time of Michele's birth. Her earliest years were spent in a three-story house at 210 East 9th Street in Waterloo owned by the Ambles. To defray expenses, they rented out the top two floors.

Years later she described her family as "probably lower middle class...and then, as families do, we moved up to middle class" after the Ambles bought a three-bedroom ranch in Cedar Falls when Michele was four. By then, David Amble's earnings as a supervisor at the Chamberlin Manufacturing Corporation, a bomb factory located in Waterloo, supported the family of six. Property records reveal the family moved to three different houses in the Cedar Falls area during Michele's elementary/middle school years.

Father Figure
In an August 15, 2011 profile of Bachmann in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza paints her father as a colorful, influential figure:

He travelled around the country and to China, made his own wine, ground his own grain, and drove a gray Volkswagen bug. He was a Democrat and a student of the Civil War. "He didn't appreciate it if any kind words were said about the South," she said in a eulogy for him, in 2003. But he was also an "authoritarian." In a Christmas letter to friends and family that year, she wrote, "He was a man of faults, and he was perhaps the most dominant human figure in my life.".

And in a February 2010 interview with Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, Michele credits him with teaching her how to handle firearms:

My dad was a big hunter—a big outdoorsman. When I was 12 . . . I had to learn how to carry, how to be safe, how to carry a weapon when you go under barbed wire.

A Bad Move
Michele was in sixth grade when David Amble took a job as an ordnance designer for Honeywell in Minnesota. Upon hearing from her mother Jean that they would be moving, Michele recalled, "[I]started crying...and I said, 'But how can we leave? We've never been to Des Moines to see the State Capitol?'"

The family bought a house in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park. The move, though a step up for David, proved disastrous for the family. David and Jean separated in 1968 and were divorced by July 1970. A month later, David permanently severed all ties by marrying a woman twelve years younger and relocating to California.

Sinking Into Poverty
Jean Amble tried to keep the family in their Brooklyn Park house. But the minimum wage she earned as a clerk in Dayton's department store wasn't enough. She landed a job as a bank teller at First National Bank earning $4800 a year but still couldn't make ends meet.

Like many women who face financial instability after a divorce, Jean quickly sunk from middle class to poverty. In the New Yorker article, Bachmann confesses, "We had to sell our home and sell most of the things that we had and move into a little apartment." The family downsized to a three-bedroom apartment in Anoka, MN, where Michele attended high school.

Determination Rewarded
Since Jean was barely able to afford food and rent, Michele knew that if she wanted any extras she'd have to save up for them.

One early example of Michele's extraordinary persistence foreshadows her political career and presidential aspirations. Kim Ode of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune describes the 6th grader's determination to buy contact lenses:

She began babysitting at 50 cents an hour, stuffing dollar bills and quarters into a small bank in her room for two years until, in the summer before ninth grade, she'd earned enough.

She proudly purchased her contacts only to have one pop out as she was bicycling one afternoon. Disconsolate, Michele told Jean what had happened:

She and her mother got down on their hands and knees, peering at every glint in the gravel, hoping that they wouldn't have to start pawing through the brush that hemmed the highway. Finally, they rose, empty-handed, to a loss that felt enormous. Somehow, Jean found the money to buy a replacement, recalling that she could hardly let her daughter's determination go unrewarded.
Next page: Teenage Years at Anoka High

Sources:
Continetti, Matthew. "Queen of the Tea Party: The presidential campaign of Michele Bachmann." The Weekly Standard, Vol. 16, No. 40, weeklystandard.org. 4-11 July 2011.
Lizza, Ryan. "Leap of Faith: The making of a Republican front-runner." The New Yorker, newyorker.com. 15 August 2011.
Marsh, Steve. "Q&A with Michele Bachmann: Is She Destiny's Child?" Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, mspmag.com. February 2010.
Nelson, Josh. "Presidential hopeful Bachmann began life as little Michele Marie Amble in Waterloo." Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, wcfcourier.com. 20 June 2011.
Ode, Kim. "Michele Bachmann: Watching Her Step." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Startribune.com. 22 March 2011.
Sivertson, Anja. "As Caucus Approaches, Michele Bachmann looks to sell Iowans on Faith, Frugality."Iowa.watch.org at IowaIndependent.com. 13 May 2011.
"U.S. Rep. Michele Bachman, Tea Party Caucus Founder and Presidential Hopeful." Transcript of June 3, 2011 episode of Iowa Press public affairs show, IPTV.com. 3 June 2011.
Voge, Adam. "WSU alumna Bachmann goes for White House." Winonadailynews.com. 28 June 2011.

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