Jenny Knauss

23 Feb 1937 - 11 Jun 2012

We best honor a person's life
by the way we live our own lives.
Seek no notice about yourself;
be wholly clear in commitments,
wholly honest in all actions
for human rights, social justice;
bring about change, inspire others;
always forward, never daunted.

Jenny Oxford
Jenny in her Oxford years.

Early Memories
Oxford & Nigeria
Womens' Health
The Caucus
Alzheimer's and Alzheimer's Advocacy
Jenny's Art
Favorite Places
About this Site


Jennifer Lilian Margaret Dobbin was born 23 Feb 1937 at Moor Close, the house of the parents of her mother Marjorie Alice Louise Dobbin (formerly Webb), in Melbourn, a village near Cambridge, UK.

Her father, Robert Raymond Dobbin farmed at Lords Bridge farm, Harlton. During the war across the road there was a military establishment which drew bombs spilling over to the farm, so that the family had to sleep in a Morrison shelter.

Nastiness of war didn't stop Jenny learning from her mother, and her mother's parents, to always find something interesting to be happy about -- an attitude which sustained her. She even saw it as happy that all kinds of people on the farm worked together to make it through the war.

Jenny was schooled first by her mother, an infant teacher, and by a private tutor, then at the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge. While at the Perse she met Bolanle Fajembola a Nigerian girl her age, which started Jenny's love of Nigeria. You can see more about Bolanle in Part 2.

Jenny waltzed through Oxford majoring in History and fun. Barbara Harvey, one of Jenny's tutors there, recently wrote: "I remember her vividly and how she threw herself into Oxford life and all the opportunities it offered a young person of her abilities." Jenny threw herself so much into that life that she sacrificed a first for second class honors in Modern History with award.

Jenny was especially active with the Oxford Young Quakers which sharpened her political and social justice commitments. The Young Quakers included quite a few west Africans which strengthened Jenny's interest in Nigeria.

After the Oxford MA she began working toward a PhD on African History while working for the Commonwealth Institute. Which led to working for the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She got there the first day of 1960, the very exciting year of independence -- more fun. She switched to teaching at the university there 'till 1964 when she moved to teach at the University of Ghana in Accra.

The Oxford years and the west Africa years are well documented in Jenny's correspondence with her mother which is part of the Jenny Knauss papers held at Deering Library Northwestern University. You can see more about this in Part 8.

August 1964 she married an American Peter Knauss in Accra and came to Chicago. Son Orlando was born 6 Oct 1966 and daughter Olivia was born 5 Nov 1969.

Soon she was a single parent supporting the children, and her parents, by teaching hither and yon. Later she taught community health at the University of Illinois Medical School and later still she was a community organizer for the Suburban Health Systems Agency.

During this period Jenny's interests switched to womens issues and especially womens health. She was a major force in women's health issues with a national reach and reputation, which is also well documented in the Jenny Knauss Papers.

In 1983 Jenny accepted the challenge of turning the not-for-profit Illinois Caucus on Teenage Pregnancy (later the Illinois Caucus on Adolescent Health) into an effective state-wide advocacy agency, which she did in award-winning fashion. She traveled the state advocating at public health agencies on issues related to adolescent health. She was especially happy about empowering young persons to advocate. You can see more about this in Part 5.

Consequences of a serious brain injury acquired in Nigeria caught up with Jenny, bringing symptoms diagnosed ultimately as Alzheimer's the first of April 2002. She retired at the end of 2002, started sketching, and never looked back.

By summer 2009 her children and her physicians and I could not avoid concluding that her safety must no longer depend on a person my age with my own health issues, that she needed full time skilled care. Since care available for Jenny was far superior in Maryland than in Illinois, she entered a care facility there, near where Olivia lives, 28 September 2009. Jenny passed away there the afternoon of the 11th of June 2012. You can read comments added to an October 2009 blog post telling that Jenny entered the nursing home via this link and you can read comments on her passing via this link.

For the first few years after diagnosis she was able to be a forceful advocate for better understanding of her Alzheimer's fellow travelers and for increased funding for Alzheimer's research and programs. Recently a leader in Alzheimer's care said that she was very deeply moved by the clarity of Jenny's commitments and by the honesty of Jenny's actions. You can see more about this below.

A famous interviewer taping a TV spot on Alzheimer's for the Today Show asked her why she wasn't unhappy. She answered that nothing since has been as scary as the bombs falling around the farm when she was very young, that she's had a full life working to change the world which let those bombs fall, that she's much too busy with art and advocacy to be unhappy. The TV spot did not run.

Early Memories

A video interview with Jenny:
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Stories Jenny wrote about her early years:

Charlie Impey

Mr. Goldsmidt

To School


Bike Ride


Uncle Ralph

Farm Girl/Party Girl


My first memory is sitting on a tricycle next to Charlie Impey, my father's elderly horse keeper, on our somewhat isolated farm about 8 miles from Cambridge, in England. I was 2, and I loved Charlie. I think we really adored each other in a funny sort of way, coming from very different ages and genders. He spent his days sitting in a backward wheel barrow. We sat in the old horse yard, and he made sure I wouldn't wander beyond the low hedge between us and the road.

My father came out of the farm house and kissed me good by, because he was off to go across the Irish sea from England to County Wexford, in Ireland. His father had moved to England from Ireland many years before, and felt he was too old to travel now, wanting his son to visit his old friends and get the news from home. I was a bit frightened of him, as a 2 year old. I remember a full gray beard and loud voice. Perhaps the worst thing was that he was a tall man with a very strong Irish accent, and I was scared, mostly because he seemed to shout at me, and I had no idea what he was saying. I always hoped he wouldn't pick me up and put me on his shoulder! So I mostly had no idea what he was saying to me. The full gray beard was a bit menacing, too. I really felt much easier with Charlie.


My happy relationship with Charlie the horse keeper continued, but a year or so later the second World War began. I was 3 by that time, and beginning to take more notice about what was around me.. Everything was very difficult. It was hard to get food, but when we children complained and asked for the diet we were used too, my parents would point out how many people were much more worse off than us, because we lived on a farm and could grow things. We had refugees from London who were billeted with us because most of the bombing, at least at first, was in the London area.

My mother used to get angry because some of the refugees, used to London, did not understand rural life at all. They complained because our house was in the country, about two miles from a tiny village and another 8 miles or so from Cambridge, though some of them adjusted.

We stayed in our farm house in the early years. We all slept together under a huge table with wire netting all around and a heavy iron roof on top. My father used to go out of the kitchen door every now and again to see how much enemy activity there was. Some nights he took his turn (among other men) to climb on to the nearby church tower, or some other high tree, and report to those below about what he could see of enemy activity. I was terrified when he came home in the morning with a blackened face, talking about what he'd seen. I didn't realize that the black face was just part of hiding from being seen by some German Aeroplane.

The war had some positive side. I learned a lot, I think. I remember that at hay time on my father's pasture, all kinds of people came together. I have pictures of a group of people resting for a bite to eat at lunch time in my father's paddock. They were mostly refugees, Mr Goldsmidt, a German Jew who had escaped and come to Britain, the daughter of the local squire, wearing dungarees, which she rightly thought was really a major step for a woman at that time, and a few of my father's employees who had come to help get the harvest home. Charlie Impy, my greatest friend with the backward wheel barrow was also bringing in the hay.

Strangely enough, when I first came to Chicago I was walking down the street one day when Mr Goldsmidt, the German, recognized me one day. We were both so happy to recognize each other, he took me home and introduced all his children. He was working at Marshall Fields!


After the second world war ended, there was a heave of relief, and I was just learning to love reading. My mother was a school teacher, and had always read a lot to me and my little sister, Deborah, but she felt that I needed an outsider to make it clear to me that it was a serious affair, not just continuing to play around at home, but preparing to go to real school. So I began to go several mornings a week to Mrs Radford's house in a nearby village down the road from us. I loved it -we read together and told each other stories-I had to bring her a new story that I'd made up every time I came, and read it aloud to her.

During the next year, two things happened. My Grandfather died, just before the end of the war, so my mother, my sister Deb and I went to stay with my grandmother in Melbourn, my mother's home. Then I went to school in Cambridge [RRD]. I was about 7 then. The bigger girls on the bus picked me up and put me on their knees. The first day at school, I almost cried my eyes out.

A few bus rides later, I felt more able to deal with things. I wanted ultimately to be "one of the big girls" on the bus, the ones who saved seats for each other and giggled. For the time being that hope would be a slow one, but I was ready to move! I was still a bit worried about getting home, though. One day I horrified my mother by day dreaming, and arriving home an hour late for supper because I let the bus from Cambridge go past. Most of the other children at school knew each other, and lived in Cambridge. I was really terrified, I didn't even think about trying to phone my mother. I did get the next bus, though, and arrived home sheepishly to a very worried mother. We all learned from this, my mother taught me how to use the phone, and as I got older and more assured, things got much better. I got used to walking all the way across the huge grass area to the bus station to make sure of a seat, not just wait for a bus, and then let it pass by. By that time my little sister Deb, had joined me, and I certainly didn't want her and her friends to see me making any mistakes. I basically wanted to be a "big girl" as quickly as possible. After that things settled down a little. My mother, as ever, was as careful and helpful as she could be.


My mother's parents, Elizabeth Abbs and Walter Webb, were very forward looking for their times. They married in Cambridge in 1893, and had a baby boy called Ralph Coningsby Webb, soon to be followed by a little girl, Enid Beatrice, (known to me always as Auntie Enid). She was born in 1898. Unfortunately the family then had the sorrow of Ralph's death at the age of 6, in 1900.

In 1902 the third child arrived, my mother, Marjorie Alice Louise (or "Marjorie Alice, you're fit for a Palace" as her new beau used to hail her much later, when they were courting in Cambridge in the 1920s). My grandparents must have been still grieving Ralph, but none the less Marjorie and Enid always seemed amazingly happy throughout my childhood and beyond.

All of my memories of my maternal grandparents are of a wonderful warmth. Which reminds me of getting into bed with my grandmother on cold winter mornings, so she could "tell me a story nanny." Some of her stories were quite surprising.

A few years ago, on a little bridge over a park pond in London, a stranger said, pointing at the water, "bet you don't know this one: what made the lobster blush?" Quick as anything I said, "because it saw Queen Mary's bottom." I was so happy to have remembered this funny joke that Nanny used to enjoy when we snuggled together many years ago.

My thanks to the man on the bridge for reminding me.


When my mother, Marjorie Webb, was about 20 she met a young man at a party in her village, Melbourn, about 10 miles from Cambridge, England. His name was Raymond Dobbin, and he lived with his parents in Foxton, a smaller village, a bit closer to Cambridge.

My mother thought Raymond was shy and didn't seem to have many friends, so she wandered over to chat. They both enjoyed chatting, and agreed to meet again. A few days later, he came over with his "bicycle made for two" and they set off to pedal to another village, Haslingfield, where some of his cousins lived, so that Marjorie could be introduced to the family.

The best way to get there was to go over Barrington Hill, Marjorie sitting behind Raymond and holding on to his jacket. It was hard going up the hill for two people on one bike, so they were glad to get to the top and enjoy the view.

However, they then found themselves hurtling down the hill! There were no ways to stop. The brakes didn't work. They clung to each other, realizing that at the bottom of the hill there was a much used road with, on the other side, the big thick wall of the church-yard grave sites.

They were hurtling downwards - how to get off?? They were rescued: Close to the bottom of the hill in the ditch there was a pile of weeds and scrub, so they tumbled into this padded ditch and managed to stop the bicycle rather than shooting across the road into the church wall!

Marjorie and Raymond - my parents - didn't tell me what happened next in the ditch.


My parents were always busy, thinking of ways that my little sister Deborah and I could learn about something new. Maybe it was because during the 2nd world war we couldn't go far from home at all, unless it was a situation where we had to leave because of the dangers of war.

So after the war was over our parents were able to go on trips, leaving me and Deb at home with Maisie, the young woman who looked after us. The delights of life after the war came as a wonderful surprise for my generation, who could only remember bombs and terror, not being able to sleep at home when there might be danger, sounds of suspicious low flying planes, nasty food, worried parents, and very plain living.

What did parents do when the war finally ended? My parents went off to Madeira, an Island off the coast of Spain, where they could forget the war, enjoy the sun, and come home with pictures of themselves wearing bright evening dresses for my mother, and a black dinner jacket for my father.

While they were away I was very worried and couldn't sleep. When our parents returned I was overjoyed, but I told them how worried I'd been that the war might come back while they were away.

We did have fun when they came back, though. My parents took us to London, and though I was scared of the tall, seven story buildings and going on the underground railway, I began to relax a bit later on and began to think about going to school.

Now I live in a tall - 43 story - building, but I still don't like the underground parts of our Chicago EL.


My mother's father, Walter Webb, had 2 siblings, Eliza and William. Eliza married Alfred Coningsby. Before their marriage, their son, Ralph, was born.

Ralph was raised by his grand parents, and was known as Ralph Webb. Ralph Webb became a pillar of the community . He played the organ in the parish church and was a very good friend of my grandfather. My grandfather and Ralph Webb and friends once hung the vicar in effigy!

My grandparents had 3 children: Ralph who died at age six, Enid, and Marjorie, my mother. Enid married Benjamin Cannon. They had two daughters, Elizabeth ("bossy Cannon") and Brenda ("fussy Cannon"). After the second world war, this Cannon family left to live in Australia. We were very sad to see them go.

Elizabeth came to see us here in Chicago a couple of years ago, and we had a lovely time looking over family history documents. I just got the surprising news that Brenda - who is already a great grandmother - may visit us here in July.

Brenda and I will no doubt reconsider the old question that us cousins often tittered about: Why did our grandparents name their son Ralph Coningsby Webb, thus calling attention to the well known secret of who Uncle Ralph's actual parents were.


When I was about 14, the parents of some of the girls in our class at our girls-only school in Cambridge U.K., began to start teaching us how to behave at parties. I was terrified! I was quite happy at school and knew the other girls in my class well, but I was a country girl. (As I remember it, my friend Rosemary Peachey was the only other one who travelled 10 miles each way on a bus every day, unfortunately on a different bus). Everyone else at school lived in Cambridge.

At that time, I was very nervous about everything. My best friend from the school bus, a girl my age, had died suddenly from some illness. I asked my mother about that, but never got much of an answer. I think she thought it would worry me more to know. I later came to believe that everything should be openly discussed with children. At 14 you worry a lot any how, and your parents are often really part of the problem because they try to help but make things worse.

The first real party I went to was an important thing for everyone. The parent hosts were two very starchy ladies. My mother didn't participate, she really didn't like the uppity mothers in Cambridge much (many of them were part of the University). So I went, wearing a new dress my mother had made, and some kind of neckless, all ready for practicing how to dance. This was really a warm up for how to go dancing with boys, though we hadn't got there, yet!

All went well-my father wasn't late dropping me off (I had expected that he would let me down with that!) and my dress looked as much like the others to be OK. I was having fun,-creeping into the world of smart Cambridge events!! I was beginning to feel more like the others.

Then, I somehow walked in my lovely full dress, brushing the bright candles! Part of my dress was burned. I wasn't hurt much, just skimmed a little bit, as the arm of the dress floated away. What an awful thing - I couldn't do it right! All the other girls could!

The hostess and other mothers were very nice and showed me how the dress could probably be put together again, but I felt totally humiliated. The only country girl! The worst part was when I went downstairs where my father had come to pick me up, and I had to explain what happened to him. Yet another humiliation for me!

Fortunately that hardened me up a bit, and taught me to understand that there will be lots of events like that, they come one way or another for almost everybody, but especially when you are 14!

24 FEB 2006

Oxford & Nigeria

When jenny could remember little else she still has precious memories of her happy times in Oxford and Nigeria. Late in her adventure with Alzheimer's Jenny refered to doing her favorite things here in Chicago as "going to Oxford."

Jenny wrote about Bolanle:

This is a story of 2 childhood friends who, almost always unexpectedly, met each other several times in different parts of the world, over many years.

I was one of them. When I was about fourteen, 1 really liked school in Cambridge, England, about ten miles from the village where I grew up. It was an all girls' school, and one day a new student called Bolanle arrived in the class room. She came from Nigeria. The teacher welcomed her, and asked her to sit next to me. She did, and from that moment on Bolanle and I have been fast friends, even though we don't often see each other and often loose track for a long time. One of my favorite memories is Bolanle riding on one of my father's horses in the small village near Cambridge where we lived. The villagers were surprised to see an African girl riding on a horse down the lane, but they waved cheerfully, and Bolanle and I waved back.

Bolanle's parents had sent her to England to get ready for college, and she and I did a lot of reading together in Cambridge. I hoped we could go to college together, but for some reason she went to a University in Scotland for her degree, while I went to Oxford, and saw her on holidays, when we always had a very good time.

When I finished college, I took a job in Oxford for a year. My work involved looking into issues in helping Nigeria, which had been up till then a British colony, to begin the process of becoming an Independent country without dependence on Great Britain. By this time, I had met a number of Nigerians in Britain, including one man, Dike, who had married one of my best friends, an English woman called Judy, who was a friend of mine at Somerville College, Oxford. I was their bridesmaid. Since then we still keep in touch. One of their daughters, now a physician living in the US, came with Judy to my son's wedding in the U.S. last year.. Most of Judy's other children are in London, though, and Dike is still a lawyer in Nigeria.

My next move after college was to accept a job in Nigeria. I found I could do this, which meant arriving in a country which was about to get home rule! I was very excited to have this opportunity. Bolanle gave me her mother's address, and let her know that I was coming. I was full of excitement about this country that I had heard so much about, and which was about to get its freedom. . Bolanle's mother gave me a wonderful welcome and offered to show me around, treating me like another daughter.

For the first year in Nigeria I had a job helping the change to home rule. I made so many good friends. I also did very stupid things (I was about 22). I was given a car to use, and in the first month I decided to drive to a village that I'd been told was very interesting, about 30 or 40 miles away. I drove off happily. I had supposedly learned to drive in England, but I was a very new driver, and somehow I went off the road and later found myself awaking with a terrible headache and a whole group of very friendly locals trying to help me. They found another van, put me in it, with lots of helpful gestures, and took me home. I was O.K. Everything turned out all right, and I stayed in West Africa happily for 4 years.

I moved from Nigeria to Ghana in the last 2 years, making new friends as well as the old. In both countries I did a lot of teaching, and met a lot of people who taught me about their country and about their ambitions, which at that time were high.. I learned to dance, not, of course with all the amazing subtlety of West African dancing, but in the evening with everyone swinging in wonderful bright clothes on clear tropical nights under the stars, I found I too could take my place. Once or twice I drove Judy and Dike, my friends from College.

The next time I saw Bolanle was at the International Women's Conference in Beijing, the NGO forum, 4th World Conference for Women in 1995. It was a huge conference in Beijing that I was for some unknown reason was invited to go to, and I was not going to say no to the invitation! Women from all over the world took place. I went to the opening day and saw a familiar face in wonderful bright colors from Africa, and Bolanle and I ran to greet each other, able to exchange thoughts about our children, our lives and possibilities of getting together again.

I did indeed see Bolanle, in Chicago that time, and quite unexpected. She was working with a very well known Foundation in Chicago, helping them understand some issues related to West Africa. At first I was amazed, then overjoyed to see her. We were able to spend time together laughing about the fun we had as girls in Cambridge, our children, and the state of the Universe, as we saw it.. I was amazed, and overjoyed to have seen her again.

Bolanle wrote about Jenny:


I met Jenny in 1952 at the Perse School for Girls, Cambridge where I studied for my Advance Level Examination in preparation for admission to a British University. I was the only African girl in that school which took it as a challenge that this young African girl should feel welcome. The responsibility for that assignment fell on my classmates and of them all, Jenny was foremost in making it possible for me to settle down like any other student. Her family also extended to me the same warmth of affection. Her father was a farmer and I was always at home in their hearty, boisterous, open and unpretentious household. Indeed, I became a big sister to late Deborah, Jenny’s younger sister.

I went on to St. Andrews University, Scotland in 1954 while Jenny proceeded to Oxford University a year later in 1955. However, we met again as postgraduates of History at Somerville College, Oxford in 1958. Indeed, that meeting was a reunion with other Perse School classmates who were also starting postgraduate work at the same time. However, for me and Jenny it was more than that; it was the development and maturity of a friendship. Jenny, with her outgoing nature had got to know many African students in Oxford and I was quickly drawn into their circle. Those were halcyon days as we moved from the Rhodes House Library to different eateries, especially the Lamb and Flag for lunch and then back to Rhodes House. I must not forget the intimidating weekly History Seminars chaired by Professor V. Harlow, Professor of Modern History; they were largely attended by Commonwealth postgraduate students of History; Jenny, Isaac Tufor from Ghana and I were the only students of African History, and it was obvious that Professor Harlow felt we were embarking on a fruitless exercise trying to conduct research into African History. For many dons in Oxford then, African history as the history of Africans did not exist! However, we were not daunted; we had fierce political discussions on the liberation of Africa. At that time, only Ghana had become an independent nation and we spent hours in the house of Nana Nketia a Ghanaian Chief who came to Oxford to do postgraduate work in Social Anthropology, discussing with other African students our hopes for the future of the African continent, while helping ourselves to generous portions of Ghanaian food. Jenny and I became constant companions; she understood the angst of the Africans under colonial yoke.

It was therefore no surprise that she got a job as a research fellow in the newly established Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research in Ibadan. Of course, she wasted no time in visiting my late mother and my younger brother in their home where she became a regular visitor. In Ibadan, she built for herself a wide circle of friends both in academia and in the town.

Jenny, however, was a restless soul; she soon left Nigeria and our next encounter was many years later in China in 1995. It was a fortuitous meeting at Huairou, the venue of the Parallel NGO Forum of the Beijing International Women Conference. We met as we both trooped into the lecture hall to listen to the video-taped lecture of the Aung San Suu Kyi, the human rights fighter who at that time was kept under house arrest in her native Burma. I was on the delegation of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation whose thrust in Nigeria where I was their Country Representative was Reproductive Health and Human Rights. That had also become Jenny’s area of interest and as she was based in Chicago, we made contact during my infrequent visits to the Foundation’s headquarters in Chicago. Indeed, Jenny was my only guest apart from my daughter when that Foundation organized a send-off dinner for me on my leaving its organization.

That was my last contact with Jenny; the recent news of her death in June of this year came as a shock! As I look back, the picture that has made a lasting impression on me through our interaction of over fifty years is that of an outgoing and uninhibited friend with no hang-ups about her impressive background and achievements. We were just two human beings, friends who respected each other. It appeared to me that establishing a friendship for her was an easy thing devoid of any tinge even of subtle racism. Her friendship constituted for me one of the happiest and enjoyable chapters in my life in Britain. May her soul rest in peace. Amen.

Bolanle Awe

Jenny wrote about Judy:

One of my longest friendships is with a woman I got to know on my first arrival at Somerville college in Oxford, England, feeling jittery and wondering whether I'd even like College, after all the trouble of preparing to get accepted! If not, what would come next?

Fortunately, one of the first people I first started to chat with when I arrived was a girl called Judy. From that day on, she and and I have kept in touch. We've both moved about a lot. She was born in the US by well-to-do English father and US mother, and during our early days together she met a man called Dike Nwanodi, a Nigerian who had been sent by his family to get an Oxford degree.

At the end of our three years in college, Judy and Dike were married on the lawn at Somerville college. I was the bride's maid. I felt sorry that I probably wouldn't see them for a long time, because both Dike and Judy wanted to live in Nigeria, but I hoped that one day I would go to see them, and get to understand life in West Africa.

As a matter of fact, that wish came quite quickly. My first real job turned out to be an assistant to a woman in Oxford who had been asked to develop a plan for Nigeria and one or two other west African countries to become fully recognized as countries. So I learned a lot about the history of these countries, drawing on some of the knowledge of people like Dike, and one or two others of his friends who had come from Nigeria or Ghana to study, and were happy to help me develop my new Job and prepare to travel.

I arrived in Nigeria a few days after Christmas. I can still remember the ride from the Airport, about 40 or so miles to my new home. An Indian man called Cyrus drove with me, both of us seeing West Africa for the first time, and oohing and aahing at the iThey have a son who is a lawyer in trees we passed. He and I turned out to be good friends for a longtime.

On the days that followed, I felt overwhelmed, but quite happy.

I started to do the work I'd been assigned, which involved helping to complete Nigeria's full status as a country.

One day I stupidly bought a car with my new money (I'd never HAD money before, except what my parents dished out) and drove alone 40 miles towards a town someone had told me about. I was very stupid and didn't realize the dangers of the heat, which of course I wasn't used to after so many cold English days all my life. So I crashed-and found myself lying on the side of the road with a whole group of Nigerians worrying about how to get me to a hospital!

It wasn't really bad. The people were very nice, though we had no way of communicating except through movement and gesture. They put me into an old truck someone had, and took me home. No one spoke English, but they all smiled and tried to help. I was very impressed, and my interest in Nigeria became very positive.

Later on, I went across the country to meet my friends, Judy, and Dike, her husband.

We have kept in touch, writing at least once or twice a year. One of Judy's daughters, a physician, lives in the United States, and we see her from time to time, which is always lovely.

Judy herself came to my son's wedding last year, with the physician daughter Oroma.

Judy and Dike have a son Tony who is a lawyer in London and has visited us here in Chicago. Dike continues to be a lawyer in Nigeria. Other of their children also live in London. And, there are now grandchildren.

It's a long time since I was in Nigeria, but I'll always remember my years there. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to live in countries where I learned so much.

Here is a link to a video showing Jenny and Judy and Judy's daughter Oroma (a physician now in St. Louis) at Orlando's wedding.

Judy wrote about Jenny:

Jenny and I become close friends in 1956 at Somerville College, Oxford. After we graduated in 1958 she was the only bridesmaid when Dike and I had our marriage blessed on August 16 in the Lincoln College Chapel. She and my father were the witnesses at the Oxford Registry that morning.

Shortly after we returned to Nigeria in 1959 so that Dike could begin legal practice in Port Harcourt, Jenny began teaching history at the University of Ibadan in 1960. She also worked at NISER, the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research. In spite of living in the same country we hardly saw each other because crossing the Niger entailed using a boat ferry at Onitsha.

After a few years Jenny moved to Ghana where she continued to teach history at the University of Ghana in Legon. It was there she met another teacher, Peter Knauss, an American whom she married. They went to Chicago, which was Jenny’s home since then.

It was not until the summer of 1976, when Jenny and I saw each other again, complete with our families in Chicago. The younger ones enjoyed visiting the Field Museum while all of us relaxed in the evenings along Lake Shore Drive.

On a trip in the 1980’s when Jenny and I were shopping alone in the Loop one day she made me think more seriously about my general attitude towards what is worthwhile in life. I realized how much I had been influenced by a very materialistic viewpoint.

Judy and Jenny Aug 2004.

Womens' Health

Prior to the second half of the sixties Jenny showed no special interest in women's issues nor in health issues. At Oxford the abundant evidence (in her huge correspondence with her mother and her sister) shows that she was already fully committed to human rights and social justice issues. Her near constant discussions about political aspects of social justice and human rights.

It is likely that her special interest in women's issues was a result of the incredible contrast between how all students at Oxford were treated and the nit-picking command based structure in the History Department at Northwestern. At Somerville College, then a women's college, Jenny and the others were treated as important as anyone ever. At Northwestern her grades were sent to Peter's father.

Jenny to her mother 23 Apr 1968:
"I had my exam on Saturday [Northwestern PhD qualifying exam] but thought the questions were very silly, so after 3 hours I wrote "scratched” across it and sent it in! Not quite sure what is going to happen now; the Department was very surprised especially as "scratched" doesn't seem to be an American term!"

Jenny started teaching History full time at Mundelein College Sept 1968.

Jenny to her mother 05 Feb 1970:
"I'm teaching 2 courses next term, one on South Africa and one on Women's Liberation Movements. The women one is going to take a lot of work, I'm not sure quite how much Mundelein girls WANT to be liberated! Or how liberated the church wants them to be! Still, one can but try!"

Jenny frequently said that teaching at Mundelein was a key step toward Jenny's focus on health issues.

You can read about roots of Jenny's strong interest in health issues via this link.


Laura McAlpine Remembers Jenny Knauss

20 October 2012

Jenny Knauss was my boss for five years, and my friend for many more. We first met in the late 1980’s. She was the Executive Director of a nonprofit that pushes for the political rights of young people, and I was the Executive Director of a feminist health center that provides reproductive health care to women of all ages, regardless of ability to pay.

I was drawn to Jenny because she had:

an English accent – which always makes Americans think we are in the company of brilliance; a wicked sense of humor – which solidified the English stereotype for me, having grown up watching Monty Python and the Flying Circus;

a former role in a radical women’s political group that opposed the Vietnam war – and I was fighting for the rights of women in Central America during US intervention;

two kids with a man who later came out as bisexual - and I was planning on having two kids with my lesbian lover;

Irish ancestors in County Wexford – mine were from County Wicklow, just down the road;

And finally, she was 23 years older than me - as a young, radical, lesbian feminist in my late 20’s, I was always looking for female role models to follow.

For about 10 years, Jenny and I weaved in and out of each other’s lives. She took me on as an intern when I was in graduate school; she later gave me solid advice on how best to help my young daughter when my lover and I broke up. And then I asked her for a job at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. We started a journey that was filled with sharing stories, plotting to advance political positions, supervising staff, and always keeping the rights of young people front and center in the work.

My favorite memory is a driving trip we took to rural Henderson County, home of hog farms and no large urban center in western Illinois. Our job was to conduct a needs assessment on adolescent health. Jenny was my notetaker as I facilitated a focus group with a sixth grade class of boys about their health issues. The boys quickly figured out that they could give me answers such as, “farts are my biggest health problem,” and “our school needs to let us eat candy instead of salad,” and “girls on their periods should get the day off from school,” as the male gym teacher in the room smirked in the corner and didn’t stop them.

In frustration, I paused the questions, turned to Jenny, asked “How much time have I used up?” hoping to hear that the hour session was almost over. “15 minutes,” she answered, deadpan, no grin, no grimace, but I could see a glimmer in her eye, which gave me the courage to ask one more question and endure 5 more minutes before wrapping it up.

Leaving that room, we crossed the hall to talk with a group of sixth grade girls. I leaned over to Jenny and whispered, “I might have to completely change this approach,” but she simply whispered back, “Try again – girls are different.” And, miraculously, she was right. We had a lively, heart-wrenching exchange about the health needs of girls in the County, touching on domestic violence, teen pregnancy, unemployment, sexual abuse and anti-gay bullying.

On our drive home, I said, “How did you know?” “That the girls would be fine?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, because they pay more attention at that age,” she answered, “and usually end up knowing all the problems in the home, and in the school, and with their girlfriends.” Continuing, she said, “Out of those angelic, cherubic mouths come some awful stories, and we must help the County fix things for them. Now that we know, we can’t step away. What shall we do?”

The rest of the drive was spent detailing how to get a conservative, rural county health department to make life better for the health of their teens, laughing about the horror of asking young boys questions on reproductive health, then drifting into sharing our own life stories. We repeated this activity many times in our five years together at the Caucus – always the same – standing in front of a group asking questions – having each other’s backs when it got silly, or hostile, or tense – analyzing what we heard and hatching our next political action – and laughing together; always laughing.

Alzheimer's and Alzheimer's Advocacy

Jenny's first diagnosis was 1 April 2002. Her organization celebrated its twentyfifth anniverary in October of that year and Jenny retired a month later. Jenny joined the "Buddy Program" of theNorthwestern Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center. Early in 2003 Jenny joined an Alzheimer's support group. Later in 2003 the not-for-profit Alzheimer's Spoken Here started, as described below the interview and two videos related to the interview.

These things are described in more detain in the interview just below and in the two related videos just below the interview. Below those two videos are more advocacy entries

An interview with Jenny:

Q: You say that you're lucky that you got an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's. What do you mean by that?
A: I'm lucky because early diagnosis is rare and because treatments do work.

Q: Is this why you started advocacy through Alzheimer's Spoken Here, the web site (, and the grassroots projects?
A: Yes, I was horrified when I learned that early diagnosis is rare. I was doubly horrified when I learned that so many people who ought to be out front on health issues do not see Alzheimer's as a health issue. Apparently they still see Alzheimer's as being about hiding granny in the attic.

Q: And your position is?
A: Alzheimer's is a health issue. It is about diagnosis and treatment - just like diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and diabetes - the earlier the better. Diagnosis is not hard and treatments do work.

Q: Is the new advocacy part of your treatment - and when you say "treatments" do you mean lots of things other than medication?
A: Yes, I've spent many years as a health advocate and this new advocacy gives me continuity and purpose and keeps the Alzheimer's at bay. And, yes by "treatments" I mean lots more than medication.

Q: Let's come back to "treatments" after filling in some history. How did you discover that you had Alzheimer's?
A: Running a small, underfunded, but creative organization I became frustrated when I couldn't remember names of my staff, couldn't find the nouns I needed, and would start a sentence and then not remember what I intended to say. I was angry, hostile, and sad at work and at home. It was rough on Don.

Q: But, what got you thinking about Alzheimer's?
A: On her Christmas visit (2001) my daughter Olivia got concerned when she noticed that I asked the same question several times in a row. She called Don, and that got us started with various tests.

Q: Tests?
A: We did a basic physical exam and then an MRI. I didn't like the MRI but now I do MRIs as part of research.

Q: Lets come back to that.
A: Right, the next step was an examination by a neurologist. I didn't like the neurologist at first because he spoke to Don rather than to me. I now like him a lot.

Q: And?
A: As a result of his exam and his study of my MRI he suggested that I might have vascular dementia. It was funny. After just putting a name on the beast - even though it is an ugly name and turned out to be the wrong name - I became much more calm and the anger, sadness, and hostility left.

Q: Wow, what next?
A: Next came the full neuropsychological exam where they found more cognitive impairment than could be explained by what looked like infarcts on the MRI. To see if we could discover if it was Alzheimer's we did a lumbar puncture - aka spinal tap.

Q: Was that nasty?
A: No, we made it a bit of a picnic. The results did show that it was 95% certain that I had Alzheimer's. This was May of 2002. My children came to visit and talked us into going to England - my original home - in June. My son Orlando lived in London so we could stay in his flat.

Q: Let's get back to your main theme. You said that diagnosis was not difficult.
A: Right, there was nothing hard about any of this. The hard part was knowing to seek a diagnosis.

Q: Do people avoid diagnosis because they fear the outcome?
A: I'm sure, and I can understand why. My first reaction was that life looked bleak. I would have to leave my work. I couldn't imagine what I'd do. Now that I know that treatments work I'm busy with all kinds of things.

Q: What happened to change your outlook.
A: In October my organization had a big 25th year anniversary celebration. It was sort of a culmination of my work there, and I knew that I would retire at the end of November. My responsibilities as executive director were essentially over. Also at the end October I became a part of a buddy program.

Q: What's that?
A: It's a great program. First year medical students become buddies with people like me who are in the early stage of Alzheimer's or a similar form of dementia. We spend four hours each month through the school year doing things together. My buddy Amy and I spent our time in museums. I learned more about Alzheimer's as Amy and I talked about medical school. I began to realize that there are lots of people with early stage Alzheimer's and that there are lots of things which we can do to live active and useful lives with Alzheimer's.

Q: What was the next step?
A: After I retired Don and I spent two weeks in Key West. I forgot all about the job I'd just left. I started sketching and discovered that I was quite good at it. Not long after we returned we joined a support group.

Q: Yes, I read about these groups.
A: Well now I met a bunch of people living with Alzheimer's and began to recognize key issues. Naturally I wanted to start organizing around these issues. Meanwhile, Don in his group was having the same reaction. We had fun thrashing out these out these issues together, and soon our Alzheimer's adventure became a positive part of our lives.

Q: So you started the organization?
A: There was one more step. I was interviewed for a TV feature on the buddy program. This got my advocacy juices flowing full force. I began to see how lucky I was to get the early diagnosis. I knew by then that there were lots of things which we could do to slow the progress of the Alzheimer's and lots of ways to work around the Alzheimer's. And, I got up in arms about all the people who don't get early diagnosis and don't get the chance that I have to keep the beast at bay. It wasn't long, nor a big step, to starting our not-for-profit advocacy organization called Alzheimer's Spoken Here.

Q: OK, you said several times that treatments work. What do you mean by treatments?
A: There are the medications of course. I'll leave discussion of these to experts.

Q: But by "treatments" you mean more than medications.
A: Yes, Don sees to it that our nutrition is consistent with what the best research shows. That means lots of fish and good-for-you veggies. I love it - I'm full of energy. It's lots of work for him, but it's part of his contribution to our Alzheimer's adventure.

Q: There's more?
A: Walking. People from England like me love walking, so I get lots of exercise that way. Don loves walking too - that's one reason we decided that we could get along. The physical activity is known to be a good weapon against Alzheimer's, and walking is especially good because I'm always seeing interesting and new things and getting mental exercise as well.

Q: Mental exercise?
A: My sketching is great mental exercise because I have to see my subject, form my own ideas about it, and then get that on paper. This can take several days, with some of the work away from the subject. Also, looking deeply at things leads me to the library to read up on them. I was sketching a Tang Dynasty image and ended up spending more time reading about the Tang Dynasty than sketching. Often people approach me when I'm sketching and ask how I can do that. I've come close to saying, "well, first you have to have Alzheimer's."

Q: How can you do all of this with Alzheimer's?
A: With Alzheimer's I have lost some cognitive ability, but I have lots of ability left, and I can work around the things which I can't do. That's one of the things that activity does, one learns by doing how to work around a problem, just like learning how to avoid using a strained muscle. This is another reason why early diagnosis is so important, because it gives me the chance to do these things which keep the beast at bay.

Jenny talking about Alzheimer's in 2005:
2005 video link

A 2003 TV feature about the Buddy Program:
2003 video link

The Northwestern Medical School Alzheimer's Buddy Program

Jenny and buddy Sarah.

This program was initiated in the 90's by a patient in the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at Northwestern University Medical School. He suggested that it would be good to pair him with a medical student so that the student could learn from a real person, so that the patient would have mentally stimulating activity with the student, and so that the patient's caregiver would get some respite.

Center staff turned this into an award winning program. Each fall the staff recruits first year medical students and center patients and pairs them up. The buddy pairs then spend about four hours each month on various outings.

Jenny joined the program in the fall of 2002 and was paired with Amy Badger as shown above.

This was incredibly helpful for Jenny. Sharing activities with a much younger person is very helpful. Sessions with Amy helped Jenny to come to grips with how her life had changed, to focus on what is really important, to reconfirm her determination to be active and happy, and, as you can see in the video, to turn her advocacy juices toward Alzheimer's.

Sarah Cole – a young researcher in one of the medical school Alzheimer's research labs – suggested that people like herself also be paired with people like Jenny. It was no surprise that Sarah got paired with Jenny since Sarah was married in the UK village where Jenny was born.

Sarah continues the story (10 July 2005).

Jenny is the first person I've met who has Alzheimer's and the wonderful relationship we've established has entirely changed my misconceptions of this disease.

On learning about the buddy program I felt instantly that SO MUCH could be gained in pairing researchers with AD patients. After all, we study Alzheimer's at a cellular level every day and yet I suspect few of us really appreciate what Alzheimer's means, on a personal level – hence the many, somewhat shocking, misconceptions I had about people with early stage Alzheimer's. Indeed, I am still amazed to this day that, despite knowing about statistics and the biology of this disease, how ignorant I was about all this.

The following paragraphs are reflections of my own experiences from participating in the buddy program and meeting Jenny and Don, and of course we're all different. Indeed, there is no escape from the fact that having Alzheimer's changes life. However, through writing this I aim to highlight the very positive and life-enriching experiences that I have shared with Jenny and Don.

Before meeting Jenny I was very apprehensive – after all I thought – this is a person with early-stage Alzheimer's. Through ignorance I had sub-consciously categorized Jenny into an "Alzheimer's group" that, in my head, was separate from the rest of society. This is WRONG and NOT AT ALL HELPFUL!

For example, I wondered whether our conversations would be awkward – would we be able to build a relationship that would be maintained over the following months or would we have to start again each time we met? And what about activities? I went for the easy, safe option and favored activities that could be done at home rather than "risking" being out and about.

All of these fears we instantly dispelled when I met Jenny. We have NEVER met at home and we are ALWAYS out and about – the Art Institute, the conservatory, the lily pond, taking "lunch" (see the photo) at a selection of fine Chicago bars – we're often joined by Don and my husband, Rahul . . . . the list goes on.

Our first meeting was at the Art Institute and it was fantastic. The conversation was free-flowing and rapidly turned to gossip. Both having rather outrageous British humors added to the fun and as we pottered around the galleries we discovered that we had a huge amount in common. Our trip to the Institute yesterday, a year later, was equally, if not more fun and more fulfilling due to the strong friendship we have built together.

The fact of the matter is that yes, Jenny has Alzheimer's and yes, this is something that needs to be addressed. However, the over-riding point of all this is that Jenny is NOT, in any way, DEFINED by this disease. It doesn't matter what gallery or pub we visit – whenever and wherever we meet up we both know we're in for a real treat and that we're going to have plenty of fun together. Having Alzheimer's hasn't changed our interaction – the conversations are always non-stop, meaningful and fulfilling.

Categorizing people with early-stage Alzheimer's doesn't work and isn't necessary. This sub-conscious categorization may be human nature but through building relationships, such as the one Jenny and myself share, I think that we can really challenge misconceptions and educate people.

Over the past months I have learned of the importance of gaining early-diagnosis and living-life to the full. My relationship with Jenny has re-confirmed and focused my research and has underscored the importance of connecting researchers with the general public.

Don and Jenny are always full of excellent ideas and I find the following two particularly appealing. Firstly, wouldn't it be an excellent use of human resources if every Alzheimer's lab established a relationship with someone with Alzheimer's? - there is SO MUCH to be gained that is currently wasted.

Secondly, getting a diagnosis of any disease is a life-changing experience. However, the sting of such a diagnosis may be eased somewhat if the newly diagnosed could see how life is for Don and Jenny, three years post-diagnosis.

As an onlooker and good friend, I have learned that while life changes direction following diagnosis, for Jenny and Don it remains a very fruitful and fulfilling adventure.


A June 2005 AP photo of Jenny and Jenny's buddy Sarah Cole was all over the web for example on an NBC site. The next day their conversation before a pleneary session at the Alzheimer's Association Dementia Care Conference held the audience spellbound. The dementia care conference is now incorporated into the Alzheimer's Association International Conference.

Jenny continued to enjoy good times with Sarah, Rahul, and their lovely daughter Kalyani Eve, born 2007, until they repatriated to England late 2008.

Connecting persons living with Alzheimer's to the Alzheimer's Association:

March 2004: Jenny was part of the first group of diagnosed persons to address a plenary session of the annual Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum in DC.

Fall 2005 petitions from diagnosed persons throughout the country to move the Alzheimer's Association to form an Early Stage Advisory Group which first met January 2006.

Talking with high school students:

During the school years 2006 and 2007 Jenny talked with many high school groups as part of the Memory Bridge classroom program. Jenny is shown doing this in the Memory Bridge Documentary There is a Bridge.

Alzheimer's Spoken Here:

The not-for-profit Alzheimer's Spoken Here, Inc. was incorporated in 2003.

The goal was to foster life-enhancing connections among persons living with Alzheimer's.

Gatherings were held where persons living with Alzheimer's engaged in various art activities such as story telling, poetry reading, singing, and dancing. Research on means for cyber gatherings was done with the product design program at Columbia College. These activities could not be sustained.

Funds were raised to commission a thorough literature review about values of various art activities for persons living with Alzheimer's (see the publications entry below.) With the use of all funds for that commission Alzheimer's Spoken Here disbanded at the end of 2008.


Feb 2006 article in Dementia.

Data collected from many fellow travelers were analyzed and published in the Journal of Aging Studies.

Alzheimer's Spoken Here commissioned Renee Beard to do a thorough literature search about various art activities helpful for persons living with Alzheimer's. The results were analyzed and published in Dementia.

Jenny's Alzheimer's advocacy interviews and appearances:

2003: 6
2004: 9
2005: 8
2006: 21 including at 15 CPS high schools
2007 on: data not kept

Jenny's Art

Jenny retired at the end of November 2002. In Key West that December she bought a sketch book and began sketching. Dear friends Mardge Cohen and Gordie Schiff gave Jenny a sketching class at the Art Institute. Jenny bought a set of color pencils and did very nice work with them. Much of her early work was done at the Art Institute. Here is a link to a slide show of Jenny's Art Institute work.

Jenny also worked from nature. Here is a link to a slide show of Jenny's work from nature work.

In later work Jenny also used watercolors and acrlics. Here is a link to a slide show of Jenny's later work.

Jenny's children have the originals and have the many sketchbooks Jenny filled.


Above are Jenny sitting on the floor, Jenny's mother on our left, Jenny's sister Deborah on our right, Jenny's daughter Olivia standing.

Above is a family tree starting with Jenny's mother's parents. Jenny's cousin Elizabeth has more information about this. Jenny's children have more information about Jenny's father's ancestry.

Above are Jenny and her cousin Elizabeth visiting from Australia in 2002.

Above are Jenny and her cousin Brenda. Elizbeth and Brenda are daughters of Jenny's mother's sister Enid. They emigrated to Australia after the war. Jenny wrote about her cousins in her story collection linked to above. Jenny had not seen Brenda since 1949. Below is a link to a video of Jenny and Brenda including their visit to Chicago's Art Institute.

Jenny and Brenda video link

Above are Jenny and her son Orlando, his wife Rachael, their son Theodore and doughter Louisa.

Here is a link to a video of Orlando's graduation at Oberlin. Rachael Fruchter (Lev's mother) was a dear friend from Jenny's Oxford days. Not long after this Rachael was killed riding her bike in a New York city park by a motorist taking an illegal short cut through the park.

Above are Jenny's daughter Olivia and her husband Roger.

Above are Jenny and Olivia's son Jake and Orlagh. Orlagh is the daughter of Luke one of Jenny's sister Deborah's twin sons.

Here is a link to a video connecting generations.

Above is Jenny's father hatching some scheme.

Favorite Places

One of Jenny's favorite walks was north on Michigan Ave to the Art Institute and Millenniuum Park and then back along the lake front to the Museum Campus and home which was that large three-armed building with the great view out the windows. Here is a link to a video of that walk.

The Art Institute and the Field Museum in the museum campus were two of Jenny's favorite places. Here is a link to an Art Institute video and here is a link to a Field Museum video.

Another of Jenny's favorite walks was north to Lincoln Park Zoo and on to the Alfred Caldwell Lilly Pool and around North Pond and home. Here is a link to a video of the zoo and Lily Pool part of that walk.

This walk in 2004 starts in Oxford along the Thames, on to St. Ives Cornwall along Porthmore beach and onto the clifs, on to Cambridge along Tenis Court Road past the Perse School for Girls to the botanical garden. Here is a link to a video of walks in UK 2004.

This walk in 2006 is in and around St. Ives Cornwall starting with Barbara Hepworth's garden. Here is a link to walks in St. Ives.

Key West was our favorite extended vacation spot in this country. The simiarities between Key West and St. Ives, Cornwall extended to Key West friends who stayed in the same St. Ives room where we stayed once. Here is a link to a short Key West slide show.

To compliment the favorite places slide shows above here are lists of some places where Jenny and I explored and stayed:

In Illinois we vacationed several tines at each of Starved Rock and Pere Marquette State Parks, stayed in small towns Lincoln and Pittsfield, and explored many small towns especially river towns. Jenny also enjoyed many trips to small towns throughout Illinois as part of her work with the Caucus.

In Wisconsin we vacationed several times in Door County and explored river towns. In Michigan we stayed many times in New Buffalo and St. Joseph and enjoyed the Michigan Dunes State Park. Our first trip together was camping at Indiana Dunes State Park where heavy rain cured us of the idea of camping but did not keep us from many return trips to the Indiana dunes area. Photos from many of these trips are from the film era and will be deposited with the with the Jenny Knauss Collection in the Deering Library at Northwestern University.

Jenny traveled often to Foxton near Cambridge, UK and we made many trips together there while her parents lived there. We also stayed often in Tiverton where Jenny's sister Deborah and family lived and where Jenny's mother spent her last years. We especially enjoyed the Fisherman's Cot cabins near Tiverton. Several times along with visits to Tiverton we stayed in Sidmouth once taking Jenny's mother with us. We stayed several times in London.

The main activity at all these favorite places was walking and walking and walking with stops to sit and talk. In London we always paid a visit to Russell Square to sit while Jenny talked about important parts of her life which had a nexus close by.

About this Site

This site provides news of items relating to Jenny for deposit with the large Jenny Knauss Collection in the Deering Library at Northwestern University.

Please send comments and items you would like added to Thanks.