But what about early Grinnell? If most men and women could expect modestly long lives, were there centenarians in town in the early twentieth century? And, if there were, did the locals remark upon the long-lived, and perhaps celebrate their longevity? The answer to both questions appears to be "yes." Although I found no systematic effort to identify and publicize the long-lived, early Grinnell definitely had centenarians whose great age attracted public attention, perhaps especially because in their time they stood out even more than today's long-lived Iowans. Today's post will examine a few of these early centenarians and how Grinnell marked their long lives.
|Undated photo of Mumpford Holland (1825?-1916)|
|Headline from page 1 obituary of Mumpford Holland, Grinnell Herald August 1, 1916|
|Record for Mumpford Holland from 1915 Iowa Census|
|Mumpford Holland (ca. 1890) (Digital Grinnell)|
|Cumberwell parish register of baptisms, 1829|
(Susannah Law's christening is no. 15, 2nd from bottom)
|William H. Kingdon (1834-1894), husband of Susannah Law Kingdon|
|Photo of Susannah Law Kingdon (ca. 1923)|
Grinnell Herald July 2, 1929
When she died in February, 1930, at the age of 100 years, seven months and 19 days (as the obituary pointed out), she died in hospital, having suffered serious illness for most of the last two months of life. She was famous for her embroidery which she continued to produce until her final days, bestowing pieces of her handiwork upon all her numerous surviving descendants—only one son outlived her, but eight grandchildren, twenty-two great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren remained to carry the memory of their remarkable ancestor.
Born in Wayne County, Kentucky, Rachel (sometimes "Rachael") Williams was one of seven daughters to whom her mother gave birth. In 1853 Rachel married another Kentuckian, Benjamin Adkins, and to this couple were born nine children (four of whom died before she did). The Adkins family came to Iowa "a few years after their marriage," and as pioneers settled in the eastern portion of Jasper County, near Kellogg, where her husband farmed until his 1887 death. Rachel later lived in Grinnell with her daughter, Mrs. George Cooper, then with her son, Morris Adkins (1854-1922). She died in Grinnell March 31, 1924, her obituary announcing, "Mrs. Rachel Adkins Closes Long Life."
|Gravestone for Rachel Williams Adkins, Antle Cemetery, Kellogg, Iowa|
|Undated photo of Rachel Williams Adkins (1824?-1924)|
A reliable birth or christening record could clear up this confusion, but I was unable to locate any documentation that reliably recorded her exact birth date, so the question of whether Rachel Adkins was in fact a centenarian remains open. All the same, it's clear that she was very old at the time of her March, 1924 death. Like Holland and Kingdon, Adkins had weathered some difficult moments. Her mother had died when Rachel was very young, and all her six siblings had preceded her in death. Of her own nine children, four died before their mother, including one who died in infancy. And when her husband succumbed in 1887, she began a widowhood that lasted 37 years. All these events played out against the inevitably difficult circumstances that attached to pioneering in central Iowa.
Like Susannah Kingdon, Rachel Adkins was religious, having been an active member of the Baptist church for almost 70 years, so perhaps her faith helped her deal with adversity. Nevertheless, her final years were apparently difficult; according to her obituary, when "her usual vigor" failed and "when the infirmities of old age caused her life to be a burden to herself," she "longed for her last rest," which came with pneumonia.
###So far as I could learn, Rachel Adkins did not receive the sort of adulatory celebration that had attached to Susannah Kingdon's 100th birthday. But there can be little doubt that she, like Mumpford Holland, had enjoyed the attention implicit in very old age. Some other Grinnellians seem to have lived lives almost as long, but apparently none lived any longer than these folk. When Daniel Hays, age 95, attended the centenary celebrations of Susannah Kingdon, the newspaper described him as "the oldest person to call upon her" and "probably the oldest man in Grinnell." Hays's November, 1930 obituary categorically labeled the dead man, by then 96 years old, "Grinnell's oldest citizen." And when George Washington Cooper (d. 1941) passed away, the newspaper headline reported that "One of Grinnell's Oldest Men" had died; he was 92.
|Grinnell Herald April 17, 1941|
Their advanced age understandably attracted the attention of townsfolk, most of whom could not expect to enjoy lives anywhere near as long. Having survived slavery, like Holland, or having ventured to sail across the Atlantic several times, like Kingdon, or having put down pioneer roots in Iowa's prairie, like Adkins, this trio had seen plenty of hardship. Yet they had lived long. If no office of state government sought to identify and celebrate them as today's Iowa centenarians can expect, fellow townsfolk nevertheless adorned their lives with respect and marked their passing with regret.