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MU Spotlight: Benigna

Benigna statue and portrait photos

MU Spotlight 20/20

Henrietta Benigna Justine Zinzendorf von Watteville (1725-1789)

What is your role at the University and what is something many may not know about the work you do?

After coming to America in December of 1741, and at the the behest of my dad, Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, I founded a girl’s school in Germantown, PA on May 4, 1742 which moved to Bethlehem seven weeks later (in 1745, to nearby Nazareth, then returning permanently to Bethlehem in 1749). There were 25 pupils at the school and we taught reading, writing, religion and household arts. Ours was the first boarding school for girls in the 13 British American colonies. My school became what today is Moravian University, pretty cool, huh?

What is something you would like to share that no one knows about you?

I was a pretty good singer in my day. When I was twelve, I was made the Eldress to advise, counsel and help the members of the Children’s Choir, a class of children from age four to about 12, and when I was 14, I was appointed Eldress of the Older Girl’s Choir; a choir of girls to about age 19. I wish I would have had the opportunity to perform with Paula Zerkle and the Moravian Choir today. What a thrill that would have been!

Tell us about your family….

My marriage was arranged by my dad to the adopted son of one of his close friends, the Baron Friedrich von Watteville. There were no online dating sites back then. Johannes Langguth was my dad’s long time secretary, and I was impressed with Johannes’ beliefs and devotion, so the arrangement seemed right, so I consented, as did my mom. Two years later, I married Johannes, who was now the Baron von Watteville in a ceremony conducted by my father during a Synod meeting.

Another fun fact - my great, great, great, great, great, great (yes, that is 6 times great) granddaughter, M.Blair Gericke graduated with a B.S. in Nursing in May of 2011, 269 years after I founded the first school for women. Blair’s mom, the Rt. Rev. M. Blair Couch ‘78, an ordained pastor and bishop in the Moravian Church is my great, great, great, great, great (that is 5 times great) granddaughter. Here is hoping for 7 times great!

I can never resist a good ____.

Song! Love to pick up my Cittern (a baroque type of guitar) and belt out a few licks…

What’s your favorite Moravian tradition?

Why Christmas Vespers, of course! It is like stepping back 200 years when you enter the sanctuary of Central Moravian Church. I can listen to Christmas favorites and Moravian traditional hymns, and revisit the traditions of Moravian Christmas and music. And the singing….did I tell you that I loved to sing….