Mary Electa Bidwell: Oldest Person in the USA

This article was written in the summer of 1996 for the members’ newsletter

According to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1996, Mary Electa Bidwell, at 114, was the oldest person in the United States. Born in 1881, to Charles Woodruff Bidwell and Alice Beach Nobel, Mary Bidwell’s life spanned the time from kerosene lamps to home computers, from horse and wagons to automobiles.

She recalled as a child being disciplined by her father who refused to let her smoke, drink hard liquor or bob her hair. “Well, he thought I might get into trouble as my aunt Jenny did,” she said in an interview with the Hartford Courant. She was also guided by the warning to never be afraid of anything but mad dogs and runaway horses.

A Connecticut native, Mary Bidwell lived in North Haven until she was 110. She worked as a teacher for six years. Her classroom experiences included having to light the fire in the stove to warm the room for a class that ranged from first to eighth graders. And, in 1904, her class numbered 70 children in a room that was designed for only 40!

When Mary married, in 1906, she managed to keep her maiden name.  The husband she chose was a distant cousin, Charles Hubbell Bidwell.

Mary feels that the greatest advancement for women in her lifetime was winning the right to vote, and she exercised that right for the first time at the age of 39. For whom did she vote?  Warren G. Harding.

In 1996, Mary lived at Arden House, a nursing home in Hamden, Connecticut. She greeted her many visitors sitting in her wheel chair.  It was reported that she was quite deaf but had sparkling eyes and, of course, her birthday was a cause of great celebration.

How was Mary Electa Bidwell related to Reverend Adonijah Bidwell?  Reverend Adonijah’s father, Thomas Bidwell and Mary’s Great, Great, Great Grandfather, David Bidwell, were brothers. Therefore, Reverend Adonijah’s Grandparents, John Bidwell and Sarah Wells were Mary’s Great, Great, Great, Great Grandparents. Both Reverend Adonijah and Mary are directly descended from John Bidwell, one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut.