Title: Centenarian
Birthdate: August 27, 1793
Death Date: May 21, 1898
Plot Location: Section 127, Lot 29, NE quarter

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The definition of an “old maid” is a woman who never married and is no longer young. Today it’s considered an offensive term, but in 1897 Mary considered it an honor to wear the title.

The Philadelphia Times printed a feature story about her on October 13 which was picked up by dozens of newspapers across the country. When she heard that someone had their 101st birthday, Mary was “not at all backward in claiming the honor of being the ‘oldest old maid’ living.” Of all the centenarians at Mount Moriah, she didn’t live the longest but she was the oldest to have never married.

Mary’s parents and a brother, William, are the only members of her family on record but there may have been other siblings. They were staunch Presbyterians from northern Ireland and lived out their lives in Philadelphia, but whether they arrived in 1833 when Mary did is unknown. Longevity seemed to be in their genes; William lived to be 89, their mother was 85, and their father died at 92.

Where and how Mary lived for the next 40 years is a mystery, but William married an Irish girl at Ninth Presbyterian Church in 1844. They had at least eight children, naming his oldest daughter, Mary Ann, after his sister. That young lady married Thomas Austin, a police officer, on Christmas Day, 1871. 

The couple had three girls, Maggie, Mary, and Sallie before their son, Willie, arrived on October 10, 1878. Unfortunately his mother developed a postpartum infection and died nine days later. While still grieving his loss, Thomas had his son baptized at Westminster Presbyterian Church, but the baby boy only lived until the following June. 

It’s not known if Mary Crothers was living with the Austins before this, but by 1880 she was, along with a housekeeper, to help with the family. Or perhaps it was the family helping her stay useful and youthful, since she was then 87 years old. 

The Austins were living at 1719 Titan Street in the Point Breeze section of South Philly. Families affected by a death in the home often chose to find somewhere else to live, so they moved a few blocks to 1910 Latona Street. It was there the newspaper reporter interviewed Mary in 1897. She told him that, until 1888 when she was 95, she would walk with the girls every Sunday to Westminster. It was located at Broad and Fitzwater Streets, almost a mile away. 

Asking centenarians the secret of their longevity brings a variety of answers. “I must have my coffee,” she said, “and I like it good and strong.”  She also had a weakness for chocolates. Her reporter learned her daily routine was to stay up late every night and rise every morning at 10 o’clock. She used the stairs by herself, prepared meals when her grand-niece wasn’t there, and would dry the dishes after every meal.

Mary Ann Crothers died of “senile debility” in the spring of 1898. Her grave is in the same plot in Section 127 as Thomas Austin, his wife, and two of their children, including Willie. Her brother, his wife, and six of their other children are also at Mount Moriah in several different locations.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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