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Eliza Underwood

Eliza Jane Underwood (née Brown) was an American supercentenarian who may have been the oldest person ever at the time of her death. She may also have been the first person to reach the age of 114. Her age has not been validated by LongeviQuest (LQ).


Underwood was born as Eliza Jane Brown in Clinton, North Carolina on 15 March 1866 as the fifth of nine children born to Charles and Violet (née Butler) Brown, both former slaves. At the age of eight, she went to live with the Royals, a white family who lived nearby, later returning to live with her own family aged 15.

In 1890, she married preacher Isham Underwood, and their only daughter, Lenorah, was born in September that year. The family later moved to Taylor, Georgia, and lived there until they adopted a baby girl, Minnie, in 1912. They lived in Hancock and Jefferson Davis, both in Mississippi, before settling in Columbia, Mississippi, and staying there for several decades. She weaved cloth and worked in fields.

Underwood was widowed in 1953, and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1973 to live with her daughter, Lenorah Grant. Four years prior, she had flown on a plane from Columbia to San Antonio to visit her daughter, enjoying the trip immensely. In her younger years, she had also travelled to Canada and Mexico.

Underwood may have become the oldest living person in the world upon the death of Alice Coles on 5 November 1978. The following year, her daughter died, and Underwood went to live with her adopted daughter, Minnie Simmons, in Washington D.C.

Underwood claimed that the secret to her longevity was never smoking or drinking alcohol, and being active in church-related activities. As a supercentenarian, she had seven grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

In October 1979, she may have broken the record of Delina Filkins to become the oldest American – and person – ever. She died on 27 January 1981 at the likely age of 114 years, 318 days. She was succeeded as the world’s oldest person by then-112-year-old Judia Ward, and her age record was broken by Augusta Holtz in 1986.

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Starting from 1973, Underwood was reported regularly on her birthday in various San Antonio newspapers. She claimed to be a year younger at the time. She was honoured by the American Freedom Train during the U. S.’s bicentennial celebrations in 1976.