Beyond Vassar

Vassar says Goodbye to Oldest Living Alumna

By Samantha Soper '91

On October 6, Florence Welch Knox '16 died at the age of 110. She was likely Vassar's oldest living alumna (if you know otherwise, please contact Vassar).

Born on August 24, 1893, in Patterson, New Jersey, Knox was old enough to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, saw the development of the polio vaccine in 1952, experienced life in three different centuries, and lived through 20 Presidential administrations. (She could even recite, in order, every President since her birth.) She marked her most recent landmark with a family birthday celebration, complete with a traditional Philadelphia Mummer's band providing entertainment.

While only 2 of her 110 years were spent at Vassar, Knox had fond memories of the college, and "could still sing a couple of Vassar songs," said her son Richard. At Vassar, she lived in Strong Hall with friends Beatrice Coe '16, Ednah Farrier '16, Florence Clarke Cohill '16, and Helen Whipple Miner '16. Strong, built in 1893, was not her first choice: "The rooms were all the same price but very different in quality because some of the buildings were very old," Knox wrote in her 1990 autobiography The Long Run. "The choice was made by drawing numbers, and everyone hoped to get a suite in Josselyn, the newest [dorm]," built in 1912.

Tuition at the time was $500 a year. Knox also remembered all the rules and regulations of being a student in the early part of the 20th century. "Lights were out at eleven, and we were monitored by proctors in each corridor." When introduced to her future husband, Paul W. Knox, she reminisced, "After dinner that evening we danced in the music room of our dormitory. That was another no-no, but we managed it by having one girl monitoring the closed door, another playing the piano while the others danced."

At Vassar, Knox decided to pursue a teaching career in elementary education. With no pedagogy training available at Vassar at the time, she transferred to Teacher's College of Columbia University. She went on to teach in Passaic, New Jersey, for a number of years before starting a family. At the latest count, Knox had 3 children, 11 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren, but she never really left her teaching days behind. "Having been a school teacher, she was a very good speller," noted son Richard. "When I saw her on weekends, I would usually ask her to spell various words, all to the entertainment of other residents of Fort Washington Estate [Pennsylvania]."

Surprisingly, at Knox's age, she had normal blood pressure and did not take any prescribed medication except the occasional Tylenol. As for advice for longevity, Florence Knox was famous for quipping, "The first 100 years are the hardest." The Vassar community sends its sympathies to her family and friends.

Photo credit: Photos courtesy of Richard Knox