The oldest person in the world, and the last American born in the 19th century, has sadly passed away at the ripe old age of 116.
Susannah Mushatt Jones was born on 6 July 1899 and held the title of the world’s oldest living person. She saw out her days in a nursing home in Brooklyn, where she had lived for 30 years.
World’s oldest person came from family of 11
Jones was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and her grandparents were slaves. In 1899 the word “automobile” appeared in text for the first time, and Jones outlasted two world wars, 20 U.S. presidents and incredible improvements in civil rights in the United States.
Jones believed that she lived such a long life because she didn’t drink, smoke or party. The fresh fruit and vegetables that she was given as a child helped to keep her strong and healthy, she said.
She grew up in a large family as one of 11 siblings, and graduated high school in 1922. Jones later worked picking crops on the same land that her grandparents worked as slaves.
Grandmother lived to 117-years-old
Longevity appears to run in the family, with U.S. census data showing that Jones’ grandmother lived until she was 117. After picking crops Jones applied and was accepted to the Tuskegee Institute’s teaching program, but her parents could not afford to pay the tuition.
In a search for opportunity she moved to New Jersey, and later New York, where she worked as a housekeeper and a nanny. Despite her lack of teaching qualifications, Jones was always passionate about education.
Later in her life she was instrumental in establishing a college scholarship fund for African American students, known as The Calhoun Club. Jones married once but had no children.
She spent time working for Paramount Pictures treasurer Walter Cokell as a housekeeper. Cokell would take Jones with him when he traveled to the glitzy Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel Air and Florida, where Jones would meet Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Ronald Reagan, among other celebrities.
Upon retiring in 1965, Jones returned to Alabama. However an increasing number of family members moved north, and she returned to New York.
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Jones maintained her independence until the age of 80, when she moved into a home for elderly people in Brooklyn. Even inside the home she insisted on cooking for herself and would take part in a local neighborhood watch program until she was 100.
Her health began to deteriorate, leaving Jones with cataracts for which she refused surgery. This left her blind and partially deaf.
In 2013 her 81-year-old niece told CBS that Jones had never had a colonoscopy or a mammogram. “She’s tough, but she knew that somehow if she exposed herself to all those medical procedures it’s going to kill her,” she said.
Jones assumed the title of the world’s oldest living person in April 2015 after 117-year-old Misao Okawa died in Tokyo, Japan. Following Jones’ death the title is held by 116-year-old Emma Morano from Italy.
Morano was born on November 28 1899 and is one of the few living links to the 19th century.
It is always fascinating to think of just how many changes these people have seen in their long lives. With the average life expectancy increasing, humans can expect to live for longer than before. However it is still remarkable for people to live for over 100 years, let alone to reach 116.