The show focuses on the life of the Duggar family, who are devout Baptists, and frequently discusses values of purity, modesty, and faith in God. The Duggars avoid birth control saying they have decided to allow God to determine the number of children they have. All of the children are homeschooled, and access to entertainment such as movies and television is limited. They practice chaperoned courtship, in which a couple acquaints itself only in a group setting. The values presented on the show have been associated with the Quiverfull movement, which has been described as promoting strict family conformity, male hierarchies, and subservient roles for women. The Duggars have stated they are not associated with the Quiverfull movement.
The series began on September 29, 2008 and concluded on May 19, 2015. The show was TLC's most popular, averaging 2.3 million viewers per new episode in Season 10, and scoring in the Nielsen "Cable Top 25".
On May 22, 2015, TLC suspended the series when the Duggars' eldest son Josh publicly apologized for having "acted inexcusably" following reports that he molested five girls, including some of his sisters, by fondling them. These events occurred in 2002 and 2003, when he was 14 to 15 years of age, and prior to the beginning of the show. On July 16, 2015, TLC (The Learning Channel) announced that the show was officially canceled and would not resume production. A spin-off show, Counting On, aired in December 2015 and the fourth season premiered June 12, 2017.
The Duggars live in Tontitown, Arkansas, near Springdale, and originally appeared in several TLC and Discovery Health one-hour specials, mostly focused on four of Michelle's last five deliveries. Jim Bob Duggar has an older sister, Deanna, who occasionally appears on the show. Michelle Duggar (née Ruark) has six older siblings (Pamela Ethel, Kathie Ann, Evelyn Alice, Carolyn Jeannite, Freda Louise and Garrett Floyd Jr.). The couple met in the early 1980s when Duggar and a fellow church member were sent for a follow-up visit after Michelle experienced a religious conversion. The Duggars were married on July 21, 1984, just after Michelle's high school graduation. When they married, she was 17 and he was 19; neither attended college. Together, they first launched a used-car business, then towing and real estate businesses, and both are licensed real estate agents.
The Duggars chose to wait before having children and used birth control pills in the early years of their marriage. Their eldest child, Joshua, was born in 1988. They resumed using oral contraceptives after his birth but conceived again despite this precaution. Michelle miscarried. She has mentioned that they named that child Caleb, despite not knowing the baby's gender. The Duggars believed the miscarriage was due to their use of contraceptives, and decided to stop using birth control and allow God to determine the number of children they would have. Michelle soon became pregnant again, this time with her first set of twins, Jana and John-David. Michelle gave birth 17 times (twice with twins) over a period of 21 and a half years, approximately one birth every 15 months on average.
The Duggars are devout independent Baptists. They only watch programs they consider to be wholesome family television and various historical events. Their Internet service is filtered. They adhere to certain standards of modesty in clothing in accordance with their religious beliefs. Shorts and tank tops are prohibited, and the women do not wear skirts that go above the knee. According to Michelle Duggar, such standards are mandated by scripture. They believe that baring the thigh is "nakedness and shame", and runs the risk of "defrauding" others—or stirring up and arousing "desires in someone else that cannot be righteously fulfilled." They avoid beaches and public swimming areas "because it's just too hard for the guys to try to keep their eyes averted in those situations." Female family members keep their hair long, and males are clean-shaven and short-haired. They practice chaperoned courtship, where the couple gets to know each other in a group setting. The Duggars describe this as "dating with a purpose" and the Daily Mail describes it as a "G-rated alternative to dating."
The children are home-schooled using materials from a number of sources, including "Switched On Schoolhouse", Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), and Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). Several of the older children use the CollegePlus! program for post-secondary studies.
The Duggars use a buddy system to raise their children, in which an older child is assigned to a younger sibling and assists in the latter's primary care. According to Michelle, "They help with their little phonics lessons and games during the day and help them practice their music lessons. They will play with them or help them pick out the color of their outfit that day, and just all of those types of things."
Michelle Duggar won the 2004 "Young Mother of the Year Award" in Arkansas, which is sponsored by American Mothers Incorporated.
Jim Bob Duggar served as a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 to 2002. He was defeated for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate by incumbent Tim Hutchinson in 2002 by a vote of 71,576 to 20,546. He later became a real estate agent and investor. The Duggars' income is derived from rental proceeds of commercial properties they own. They live debt-free.
Construction of their 7,000 square-foot (650 square-meter) house began in 2000 when they bought the lot and ordered two steel frames. One of the frames was not drilled correctly, so the Duggars received a third frame which was used to make the girls' room and the industrial kitchen. Discovery Networks completed it, finding local Arkansas construction workers to donate their skills and time. The home was completed on January 20, 2006. Some of the painting, decorating, furnishings, appliances, and other finishing touches—such as a stocked pantry—were provided by Discovery Networks and corporate sponsors as part of the one-hour television special entitled 16 Children and Moving In.
Michelle Duggar gave birth via emergency Caesarean section to Josie Brooklyn Duggar on December 10, 2009, six months into her pregnancy. When she was rushed to the hospital for gallstones, doctors discovered that she was pre-eclamptic and performed an emergency delivery. Josie Duggar was premature at only 1 pound 6 ounces (0.62 kg) at birth. Nearly four months later, on April 6, 2010, the Duggars were able to take the infant to their temporary rental home in Little Rock while they awaited medical approval to take her home to Tontitown.
The Duggars took Josie home to Tontitown for good on June 23, 2010. By that December she weighed 15 pounds 12 ounces (7.1 kg).
The couple had discussed the possibility of having more children, with Michelle Duggar saying:
We would love more! I'm 43, almost 44 this September. I know that my mommy years are probably numbered, and I don't know how many more children God will see fit to give me. ... [I]t is something we've been praying about because we do love children. Each child really is a gift and that doesn't mean just our children. We asked the Lord to give us a love of children the way He loves children. That is something that we've prayed about, and we'll just see what the Lord has in store for our family in the future.
On December 2, 2008, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's book The Duggars: 20 and Counting! was released. Their second book, A Love That Multiplies, was released on June 7, 2011. The eldest four girls—Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger—authored Growing Up Duggar: It's All About Relationships, which was released March 4, 2014.
On November 8, 2011, Michelle Duggar and family appeared on NBC's Today Show to announce she was expecting their 20th child. On December 8, 2011, the Duggars announced she had miscarried. Six days later, they held a memorial service for the stillborn baby girl that they named Jubilee Shalom (which means celebration and peace).
A few months after the birth of their daughter Mackynzie, Josh and Anna Duggar learned that she was pregnant with their second child, but the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. On their daughter's first birthday, Josh and Anna Duggar announced they were expecting again. The couple welcomed their second child, Michael James, on June 15, 2011. They learned that they were expecting again in September 2012.
Josh Duggar was offered a job at the Family Research Council during his wife's pregnancy with their third child. Marcus Anthony was delivered by a midwife on June 2, 2013. Duggar announced he was hired to be the executive director of the Family Research Council's political action committee, FRC Action, on June 18, 2013, and the family would move to Washington, D.C.
On December 2, 2014, Josh and Anna Duggar announced they were expecting their fourth child. The couple welcomed their fourth child, Meredith Grace, on July 16, 2015. They announced her birth on July 19, 2015 through the Duggar family website.
The Duggars issued an announcement that Jessa Duggar was in a courtship with Ben Seewald on September 18, 2013. The couple met through their church. On August 15, 2014, after eleven months of courtship, the couple announced their engagement and were married on November 1, 2014.
Jill Duggar's courtship with Derick Dillard was announced on March 31, 2014. They were introduced by Jim Bob Duggar and became further acquainted via supervised Skype and text conversations while Dillard was serving as a missionary in Nepal. Jill Duggar and her father traveled to Nepal to meet Dillard in person and began a formal courtship in November 2013. The couple announced their engagement on April 9, 2014, and were married on June 21, 2014.
The Dillards announced their first pregnancy on August 20, 2014. Their son, Israel David Dillard, was born on April 6, 2015.
The Seewalds announced their first pregnancy on April 21, 2015, waiting until the second trimester.
On July 16, 2015, TLC announced that the series was officially canceled.
Arnold Hamilton of The Dallas Morning News described 19 Kids and Counting as "part Little House on the Prairie, part Yours, Mine & Ours–except the only blending in this real-life family occurs with restaurant like precision at mealtimes." He described the Duggars as acting "against the trend", considering the 2002 US Census found that only 0.3 percent of women ages 15 to 44 have given birth to seven or more children and that this number has declined steadily since 1976.
In an op-ed for The New York Observer, Nina Burleigh described the Duggars as "Good TV. Good, sugarcoated rat poison, politically speaking", referring to the Duggars political activity such as their opposition to abortion and their lobbying efforts against legislation which would allow transgender people use of public restrooms matching their gender identity.
In an article published in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Christy Mesaros-Winckles described the Duggars as "unofficial spokespeople for the Quiverfull movement". Referring to the first season of the show, Mesaros-Winckles said the Duggars introduced themselves and their religious beliefs with the "subtle and disturbing" message of conformity and "rigid male hierarchy" associated with the Quiverfull movement. Mesaros-Winckles asserts that the show provides a platform for the legitimization of this movement, while downplaying "patriarchal gender roles and strict family conformity." Mesaros-Winckles also said the Duggars "try to convince the audience that their way of life is best for raising healthy, godly children" and that a large family is a "biblical mandate." She concluded that despite the small size of the Quiverfull movement, with perhaps only several thousand followers, the show 19 Kids and Counting has brought the movement to the forefront of American culture.
Feminist Amanda Marcotte referred to the Duggars as part of the "Christian patriarchy movement", which she described as interchangeable with the Quiverfull movement, saying the Duggars promote sexist values which run counter to mainstream American culture. The Duggars have said they are not part of the Quiverfull movement, stating: "we are simply Bible-believing Christians who desire to follow God's Word and apply it to our lives".
The Duggar family has received criticism due to their stance on LGBT issues. In August 2014, Michelle Duggar recorded a political robocall regarding legislation affecting transgender individuals, which The Huffington Post described as "transphobic" and The Washington Post described as "anti-anti-discrimination." The robocall includes Michelle saying: "The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men – yes I said men – to use women's and girls restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. 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." In response to this robocall, a petition was started on Change.org calling for TLC to cancel the show 19 Kids and Counting, which received over 100,000 signatures. In response to the first petition, a second petition was started asking TLC to keep the show on the air, and it also received over 100,000 signatures.
In November 2014, the Duggars asked married couples to take a picture while kissing and share it on their Facebook page. Several users noted that pictures of same-sex couples were deleted from the Duggar's Facebook page. While working for the Family Research Council, the Duggar's eldest son, Josh Duggar, said "I truly believe every child deserves a mother and a father"; the Family Research Council has been labeled as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, with SPLC saying they were designated as such due to their publication of "anti-gay propaganda." Josh Duggar has been described as an "anti-gay activist" by GLAAD.
On May 21, 2015, a police report from 2006 was revealed to the public by In Touch Weekly magazine, stating sexual molestation allegations against the Duggars' eldest son, Josh Duggar. The report states that in 2002–2003, Josh – then 14 to 15 years old – fondled five girls, including four of his sisters, by touching their breasts and genital regions on multiple occasions while they were asleep and in a few cases while awake. These events occurred prior to the beginning of the reality series. The case was never fully investigated, and the statute of limitations has expired. On May 22, 2015, TLC removed all reruns of the show that were previously set to air from its current airing schedule, with the statement, "we are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time."
In the wake of the controversy, more than 20 advertisers, including General Mills, Walgreens, Payless ShoeSource, Choice Hotels, Pizza Hut, Sweet Leaf Tea, and Crayola announced that they were pulling their ads from the show; Hulu also removed the show's entire back catalog of episodes from the streaming service. Public reaction to the revelation led to several petitions calling for TLC to cancel the series on Change.org, citing conflict between the reported events and the show's promotion of family values.
Josh, along with his wife and his parents, responded to the revelations. Josh apologized, stating he had "acted inexcusably", and resigned from his position at the Family Research Council. Anna stated she knew about Josh's actions two years before she married him, and believed that the counseling he received after the incidents "changed his life." The Duggars described this time as a dark period in their lives and said it caused their family "to seek God like never before." They were featured in an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News Channel's The Kelly File on June 3, 2015, where they answered questions regarding the scandal.
On July 16, 2015, Discovery Communications, parent company of TLC, confirmed to CNN that the show was officially canceled and that all further production would be ceased. In the wake of the allegations, the network announced that it would produce a one-hour, commercial-free documentary special on child abuse, that will include Jill and Jessa.
TLC paid the Duggar family an estimate of US$25,000 to US$45,000 per episode. Due to the show cancellation, the loss of endorsements, speaking engagements and book deals based on the show, would result in a loss of an estimate of US$25 million a year.
A 3-part spin-off series, Jill and Jessa: Counting On, focusing on newlyweds Jill and Derick Dillard, Jessa and Ben Seewald, Anna Duggar and several of the other adult Duggar children (sans Josh) aired in December 2015. Its first episode attracted more than 2.2 million viewers, according to a report by The Nielsen Company. The third episode garnered the highest ratings and viewership, at 2.5 million viewers, and ranked in the Top 5 cable shows for the night. In March 2016, it was announced Counting On had been picked up for a full season, that premiered March 15, 2016.James Robert "Jim Bob" Duggar – born (1965-07-18) July 18, 1965
Michelle Annette Duggar (née Ruark) – born (1966-09-13) September 13, 1966
They wed on July 21, 1984 and have 19 children together.
In November 2016, Jim Bob and Michelle were granted permanent custody of Michelle's 8-year-old great-nephew Tyler Wayne Hutchins.
Josh married Anna Renée Keller - born (1988-06-23) June 23, 1988 - on September 26, 2008.
Jill married Derick Michael Dillard - born (1989-03-09) March 9, 1989 - on June 21, 2014.
Jessa married Benjamin Michael "Ben" Seewald - born (1995-05-19) May 19, 1995 - on November 1, 2014.
Jinger married Jeremy Joseph Vuolo - born (1987-09-05) September 5, 1987 - on November 5, 2016.
Joy-Anna married Austin Martyn Forsyth - born (1993-12-11) December 11, 1993 - on May 26, 2017.
Joseph married Kendra Renée Caldwell - born August 11, 1998 (age 19) - on September 8, 2017.
The most often recurring guests (other than relatives) have been the Bates family from Rocky Top, Tennessee. Because they are so similar to the Duggars (having 19 kids of their own), they have become close friends. In 2012, there was a spin-off series featuring the Bates family on TLC, called United Bates of America, which lasted for eight episodes. On January 1, 2015, the family returned with a new TV series titled Bringing Up Bates on Up TV.Kirk Cameron – two episodes (in seasons 2 and 6)
Bethany Hamilton (professional surfer) – season 5, episode 6
Dan Harris of Good Morning America – season 7, episode 12
Dolly Parton – two episodes in season 3
Charles Stanley (minister) – season 6, episode 3
Meredith Vieira of The Today Show
Steve Conley (former NFL player) – Jim and Josh's personal trainer in four episodes in season 7, plus a surprise visit in season 9, episode 5
Walker Hayes – singer-songwriter of the song for Jill and Derick's proposal in season 8, episode 12
Erica Hill – NBC News anchor appears in season 10, episode 22
Episodes of the series are available for download from the iTunes Store, Amazon Video, and Microsoft's Zune Marketplace.