Jenny Knauss was born Jennifer Lilian Margret Dobbin on February 23, 1937 in Melbourn, a village near Cambridge, UK. Her parents were Marjorie Alice Louise Dobbin (formerly Webb) and Robert Raymond Dobbin. Some of her earliest memories were of Nazi bombings during World War II, when fire aimed at the nearby military installation strayed across the road onto the family farm.
She was initially home-schooled by her mother, an infant teacher, and then a private tutor, before attending the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge from 1945-1954. She studied Modern History at Somerville College, Oxford, graduating in 1958 with second-class honors. From 1958-1960 she was a graduate student in Somerville College, preparing a Ph.D. thesis on West African History in the period before independence from British rule, and also worked at the Commonwealth Institute at Oxford.
From 1960-1961 she was a staff member at the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She lectured in the History Department at the University of Ibadan from 1961-1933 and then in the History Department at the University of Ghana in Accra from 1963-1964. She married Peter Knauss in August of 1964 in Accra.
In 1965 she entered the African Studies Program at Northwestern University and continued work on her doctorate. In 1966 and 1967 she became involved with the New Universities Conference where she met some women who were planning on forming the Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU), a feminist, equal-rights organization. Around this time her interests shifted from Africa to women in recent American history and she left Northwestern without finishing her degree to work on organizing precursors to the CWLU.
She had two children with Peter; her son, Orlando, was born on October 6, 1966, and daughter, Olivia, was born on November 5, 1969. Knauss and Peter separated soon after this.
In 1969 she was a founding member of CWLU, and remained active in the organization throughout its life (ended in 1976). Between 1968 and 1972 she supported herself and her children by teaching European and African History at Mundelein College in Chicago and history with a focus on women at Northeastern Illinois University and Roosevelt University, also in Chicago.
Knauss became co-director in 1972 of the Urban Preceptorship Program which was a healthcare advocacy project at the University of Illinois Medical School. Health workers, medical students, and nursing students would attend 8 week, full-time sessions in which they developed collaborative projects to improve healthcare access and equity in Chicago. Many women from this project joined CWLU, and some became active in related work to build women's health centers in the city.
Between 1978 and 1982 she worked at the Suburban Health Systems Agency in Oak Park, Illinois as an organizer and educator, training community agencies and schools in comprehensive health issues. During this time she developed into a nationally known and respected authority on women's health issues. In 1982 she became the founding executive director of the not-for-profit Illinois Caucus on Teenage Pregnancy, (later the Illinois Caucus on Adolescent Health or ICAH) and would lead the organization for nearly twenty years. Under her guidance the Caucus grew into an active and influential advocacy agency with a state-wide reach. Knauss wrote a history on the Chicago Women's Health Movement and collaborated with others on a history of the abortion service, JANE, entitled A View from the Loop.
Knauss met Don Moyer around Labor Day in 1982 and began living together shortly thereafter. The couple was married on July 5, 1983.
A serious brain injury suffered in Nigeria may have contributed to symptoms diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease in April of 2002. Knauss retired from the ICAH at the end of 2002 and went on to found an advocacy group with Moyer, named Alzheimer's Spoken Here in 2003. In March of 2004 Knauss and two Alzheimer's-diagnosed men were the first diagnosed persons to address a plenary session of the Alzheimer's Association Public Policy Forum. In July of 2005 Knauss addressed a plenary session of the Alzheimer's Association Dementia Care Conference.
In the fall of 2005 Knauss and Moyer organized a nationwide petition to get the Alzheimer's Association to include diagnosed persons in the planning process. The Alzheimer's Association formed an Early Stage Advisory Group which commenced activity January of 2006 and Knauss served on the first Group. There is a WGN channel 7 video clip of Knauss speaking about Alzheimer's at: http://alzsh.net/jenTV.mov
She is now a resident of a skilled-care facility in Baltimore, Maryland, close to where her daughter, Olivia, resides.