LANDSDALE, Pa. — Florence Knapp's earliest memory is of traveling with her parents to an exhibition in Philadelphia when she was 3 years old.
Nothing unusual about that, except that the year was 1876 and the event was the American Centennial.
The Civil War had ended just 11 years earlier. The President was Ulysses S. Grant. And the nation was still reeling from news of a massacre of U.S. troops at a place called Little Bighorn.
To Knapp, who at 113 is listed by Guinness Superlatives Ltd. as the oldest person in America and the second oldest person in the world, it doesn't seem so long ago.
Little Has Changed
"Things haven't changed. I don't think the world has changed much at all," the tiny, wispy-haired woman said recently from her recliner at the Dock Terrace Nursing Home in Towamencin Township, Pa.
The fact that Knapp is a living emissary from the Grant era makes her something of a historical figure in her own right. And although her hearing and eyesight have grown dim, her mind and her memory still sparkle.
"Oh, yes. I remember marching down Broad Street in Philadelphia for women's suffrage" in 1919, said the former grammar school teacher who has been a lifelong advocate of women's rights.
"Everybody had to wear a white dress and white shoes and stockings. I was to carry a banner. It said, 'Votes for Women,' " she recalled, speaking in a slow, clear voice and fingering a corsage on her white cardigan.
Suffrage Came Slowly
"I remember a big wind came up and blew the banner right up in the air," she said. "I was off my feet, about four feet in the air, hanging onto the banner."
Knapp said she and her comrades achieved their goal only to find that, as with most revolutions, real change was slow in coming.
"After women got the vote, everything was going to be hunky-dory. Everything would be wonderful," she said. "But after we got the vote, the bad things went on and the good things went on. And sometimes the bad things were badder."
As for the Centennial, Knapp remembers it mainly as a "big fair" with "lots of people," but she was too young at the time to retain much else about it. Her parents bought her a walking stick and a medicine bottle as souvenirs from the Centennial--mementos she has saved to this day.
Florence's perspective on the world has always been from the corner of southeastern Pennsylvania where she grew up. Until she moved to the nursing home a few years ago, she lived all her life in the stone farmhouse in Montgomery Square where she was born on Oct. 10, 1873.
The date is recorded in an affidavit signed by a relative who assisted in the delivery.
After graduating from West Chester Normal School in 1894, she taught 5- and 6-year-olds in West Philadelphia and in rural Delaware County for more than 41 years and "loved every minute of it," she said. She retired in 1935 at age 62.
At 113, Knapp is remarkably healthy, despite having suffered a broken hip and three bouts of pneumonia since her 100th birthday.
'I'm Only Old'
"I feel fine," she is fond of telling visitors. "I'm not sick. I'm only old."
Florence's recipe for longevity is strictly pragmatic.
"Live as well as you can every day and follow the rules of health," she advises. "I think a great many people eat too much. I'm not a big eater. But if there's something I like, why, I might have more than a taste. And I like almost everything."
Her one regret is that she never married--although she suspects that might be one of the reasons she lived so long.