Sarah Knauss, 119; World’s Oldest Person

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

“So what,” said Sarah Knauss nearly two years ago when she was told that she was the world’s oldest living person.

Knauss relinquished the title Thursday when she died at the age of 119.

She died in the Allentown, Pa., nursing home where she had lived for the past nine years.

Knauss inherited the “oldest” crown, validated by the Guinness Book of Records, with the death of Marie-Louise Febronie Meilleur of Corbeil, Canada, on April 16, 1998. Meilleur had been Knauss’ senior by 26 days.

Neither Knauss nor Meilleur set a longevity record. According to Guinness, France’s Jeanne Calment, Meilleur’s immediate predecessor in the title role, was 122 when she died Aug. 4, 1997.


Born Sept. 24, 1880, in the small coal mining town of Hollywood, Pa., Knauss married Abraham Lincoln Knauss in 1901. He became a well-known Republican leader in Lehigh County, Pa.

Knauss was a homemaker and insurance office manager. Her daughter, Kathryn Sullivan, who is 96, once explained Knauss’ three-digit age by saying: “She’s a very tranquil person and nothing fazes her. That’s why she’s living this long.”

In 1995, when asked if she enjoyed her long life, Knauss said matter-of-factly: “I enjoy it because I have my health and I can do things.”

Her passions were said to be watching golf on television, doing needlepoint, and nibbling on milk chocolate turtles, cashews and potato chips.

“Sarah was an elegant lady and worthy of all the honor and adulation she has received,” said Joseph Hess, an administrator of the Phoebe-Devitt Homes Foundation facility where Knauss died quietly in her room. Officials said she had not been ill.

Knauss lived through seven U.S. wars, the sinking of the Titanic and Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic. She was older than the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, and was already 88 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969.


In addition to her daughter, Knauss is survived by several grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Other people have tried to claim the oldest-person title, but have been unable to verify their birth dates to Guinness’ satisfaction.