William Cornelius Reichel.

A history of the Moravian seminary for young ladies, at Bethlehem, Pa online

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tian composure, and with unshaken confidence in the
wisdom and mercy of Providence. To God they con-
fided their cause, and He rewarded their faith. Brought
into closer connection Avith their neighbors, with men
of influence, and with the public generally, by the
events of those boisterous times, an opportunity was
afforded their enemies of becoming better acquainted
with the Brethren and their social and religious system.
Much error and prejudice were thus dispelled. They
were visited at their homes, on their farms, and in their
churches and schools. The neatness and order preva-
lent in their unique settlements, the indication of
general thrift, the absence of squalid poverty and
extravagant wealth, bespoke a people who had been
reared to habits of industry and honest labor ; and
the simplicity and touching impressiveness of their
religious services, the care bestowed on the young, the
relief of the indigent, of the orphan and widow, — these
were peculiarities which came to be viewed as enviable
means for promoting the prosperity of a community
and leading its members in the ways of virtue and
piety. Thus the Brethren, by patience and forebear-
ance, by public services, and by steadfastness in the
paths of rectitude, made friends of their enemies, and,
from having been a despised^ and persecuted people,

^ See O'Callaghan's Documentaiy History of New York, Albany,
1850, Vol. III., p. 10, 12, et seq., for joapers relative to the suflferings
and persecutions of the Moravians in Dutchess county.


were selected as the worthy recipients of an important
charge, and intrusted with the welfare of society, in
as far as it ^vas for them to mould the character and
principles of some whose influence at a future day
would be exerted in fashioning it for good or evil.

A desire to intrust their children to the Brethren for
education had been expressed on the part of parents
of other denominations soon after the former first
settled in Pennsylvania. Their peculiar organization,
however, at that early time, prevented them from
gratif^dng this wish. Such applications recurring from
time to time, the Synod ^ of 1782 was apprized of this
call from the public, and requested to consider the ex-
pediency of opening boarding-schools in several of the
American congregations, on the plan of those which
had already been for some time in successful operation
on the continent of Europe. The project was favor-
ably entertained by the Synod, and its development
referred to Bishop John de Watteville, who had been
deputed by his colleagues of the Unity Elders' Confer-
ence^ to hold a visitation in the American congrega-

^ The General Synods of the Brethren's Church are convened by
the Unity Elders' Conference at the time appointed by the previous
Synod, or subsequently by that directing Board. They usually recui*
after an interval of ten years, and are held at Herrnhut, in Saxony,
the mother-congregation. Here the servants and deputies of the
Brethren's Unity assemble from its American, British, and German
provinces, to legislate about its general concerns and assume its
direction for the time.

^ This name is borne by the Executive and Supervisory Board of the
Church, the body empowered to inspect and govern its affairs in the
interval between two Synods. It is divided into three departments.


tions, — a measure urgently called for by the exigencies
of the times.

Watteville visited Bethlehem in June, 1784/ and
spent three years in the duties of his commission,
effecting in that interval much in the way of restoring
order and unity of action in the Brethren's affairs,
which had been so materially deranged during the
previous eight years of war.

In a conference held by the bishop with the pastors
of Bethlehem and Nazareth,^ at the latter place, on
the 2d and 3d of March, 1785, the subject of educa-
tion being under consideration, it was concluded "to
formally open a boarding-school for boys at Nazareth
Hall, and a similar institution for girls at Bethlehem,
on Michaelmas next."

— viz.: 1. The Helpers' and Education Department, whicli is ex-
pected to watch over the spiritual course of the congregation in doc-
trine and practice, and over the educational institutions. 2. The
Wardens' Department, to which the financial concerns of the Unity
are committed. 3. The Mission Department, to which the superin-
tendence and management of the missionary work are intrusted.
There are three incumbents in the first and second departments of the
Board, and four in the third, all of whom are elected by the General
Synods when in session. The old manor-house of Berth elsdorf, near
Herrnhut, is the fixed residence of the members of this Board.

^ The bishop had sailed from the Texel in the Dutch ship Neutrality,
on the 27th of September, 1783. The voyage was adverse, the vessel
having to contend with gales and head- winds for upwards of three
months, and, after seven inefiectual attempts to enter Sandy Hook,
was compelled to make for the West Indies, where she stranded on
the island of Barbuda. The Philadelphia papers of February 13,
1784, notice this marine disaster. On the 29th of May, Watteville
arrived at that jDort.

- Nazareth — a settlement of the Brethren ten miles north of Beth-
lehem — became the seat of a congregation in 1744.


As the sons and daughters of Moravian parents were
also to enter the newly-planned schools, it was found
expedient to abolish the asylums in which, up to this
time, they had not only been instructed but also sup-
plied with the necessaries of life and a home. A
school for girls was first opened in Bethlehem on the
5th of January, 1749, with sixteen scholars, in the
central building of the old row directly east of the
Moravian church.^ Here the daughters of mission-

^ Whoever has visited Bethlehem must have been struck with the
unique appearance of this venerable pile, built in a style of architec-
ture so different from what is met with in this country, even in settle-
ments which have their origin more remotely in the past than Beth-
lehem. The hip-roofs and double rows of dormer windows, the
massive masonry supported by heavy buttresses, and the curiously-
Avrought belfry capping the center, are so many features borrowed
from the manor-houses and churches of our forefathers' European
homes. This compact assemblage of buildings constituted in itself,
for a number of years, the entire settlement, for in it lived all the
divisions of the congregation. Of the log building at the west
end mention has already been made. The wing next in order was
completed in 1751,— its upper floor constituting the public place of
worship (consecrated July 10th of the same year), and the lower a
common refectory.' The center was built as early as 1743 : it con-
tained a kitchen below, and dwelling-rooms above. The portion to
the right, which forms the third side of the square, was built at dif-
ferent times, — a part in 1744, a part in 1752, The latter stands on
the corner of the square, and was originally intended for the young
men, or "single brethren." The extreme east wing dates back as
late as 1773. On the removal of the single brethren in 1748 to their
new choir-house (the present old school-building), the entire eastern
portion of the edifice Avas assigned to the young women or " single
sisters." The erection of such spacious houses in a new country
naturally led to strange and erroneous surmises on tlie part of persons
who were unacquainted with the regulations upheld by the Brethren.
The calumnious assertions that they were "Papists in disguise," were
corroborated in the minds of many who, througli ignorance, recog-


aries, of ministers of the gospel, and of Brethren of
other settlements, were received from time to time,
forming a distinct household in the community, which
was expected to defray its expenses by contributions
from the Church and individuals and by the practice
of prudent economy. Such was one of the social
regulations of that day. On the 2d of October, 1785,
this institute was closed, and arrangements made in
the house to receive pupils from abroad. The five
remaining inmates,^ and fifteen day scholars from the
village, were placed in charge of the three Sisters,
Sulamith Nyberg, Susan Langaard, and Maria Eliza-
beth Beroth.^ The room in the southwest corner of
the second floor was assigned them for a dwelling and
for recitations. The dining-room was on the first
floor, and the dormitory in the attic. Meals were
furnished the boarders from the Widows' House ^

nized in these hovises veritable representatives of monasteries and
nunneries. In our own enlightened day there are such to be found,
whose imperfect acquaintance with both the Church of the United
Brethren and that of Rome leaves them unable to discriminate be-
tween the usages, customs and spirit of the two.

^ These were the Misses Anna and Maria linger, Susan Bage,
Rosina Friedman, and Maria Heckewelder. All of these continued
at school after the reception of pupils from other places. The last-
named was the oldest survivor of the first inmates of the Bethlehem
boarding-school. Miss Heckewelder was a daughter of the celebrated
missionary among the Indians, and was the first white child born in
the State of Ohio. She died in the Sisters' House.

^ Miss Beroth entered the girls' institute in April, 1755.

^ The ' ' Widows' House, ' ' as its name imports, was built to accom-
modate the widows of the congregation. Here they fou^nd all the
comforts of a retired home, — living in apartments provided by the
Church at rates proportioned to their means, and at the same time


kitchen, and the general superintendence of the prem-
ises was given to Brother and Sister Peter, an aged
couple, retired from the missionary service among the

Brother John Andrew Hiibener, the pastor of the
congregation, was intrusted with the control and in-
spection of the school' thus newly organized. He oc-
cupied apartments under the same roof, in the west
wing of the building, where at that time the bishop
and his colleagues resided. In their quiet way the
Brethren acquainted the pubhc, through their friends,
of the arrangements just completed for the reception
of young ladies for education. Some time, however,
elapsed before it received a response. In March of
the following year, 1786, Mr. Israel Bedell, of Staten
Island, N. Y., made personal application for the ad-
mission of his daughter Ehzabeth, and on the 21st of
May she arrived, being the first pupil from abroad.
Almost another year had elapsed, when, on the 16th
of May, 1787, Miss Aureha Blakely, of Baltimore,
came, and was followed shortly afterwards by five
young ladies from the same city and three from the
West Indies. At the close of the year the number of

enjoying the conveniences usually to be had in all well-regulated
asylums of a similar character. The house was completed in 1768.
In 1794 an addition was made to the east end.

^ The educational institutions belonging to the Church are intrusted
to a board of Trustees, elected by the Synod of the Province to which
they belong. The principal, Avhom they select and appoint, is their
agent, and, as such, responsible to them.


boarders was seventeen, and it was soon found neces-
sary to engage the services of a fourth tutoress.

The disciphne usually observed in families for the
promotion of order and the mutual comfort of its in-
mates proved sufficient for the government of this little
household; but, as its numbers increased, it became
necessary to systematize it. In October, 1788, the
subjoined written statutes were accordingly adopted.
They are the earliest on record, and in a plain way
define the duties of pupils in the school-room and
when abroad, disposing of their time for labor and
recreation, and suggesting hints for correct individual
deportment. In effect, they are the same which at.
present obtain, and may be regarded as an exposition
of the principles which the Brethren have laid down
for the management of their educational institutions,
and to which they have adhered for more than three-
quarters of a century.

'' For the maintenance of order in schools conducted
similarly to ours, it is indispensable to adopt definite
rules and regulations, the observance of which con-
duces to the happiness and comfort of individuals, and
the community. If ever our school is to prove bene-
ficial to its members, and through them to society,
our daughters must endeavor to comply cheerfully and
at all times with these few and wholesome require-
ments, as such compliance will lead to habits of order
and general proper deportment.

'' When the bell rings at half-past five in the morn-


ing, all are expected to rise immediately, and in silence
await the word, from the tutoress who has them in
charge for the day, to proceed to the dwelling-rooms,
where sufficient time is allowed for making the neces-
sary toilet.

''At six o'clock the bell rings for breakfast. Quiet
and strict order should be observed in going to and
returning from the dining-hall in company with the
sister who is on duty. At table a hymn is sung, and
the text for the day then read ; and it is expected that
you all join, with cheerful hearts and voices, in thus
praising your Lord, both before and after meals.
. " As we have no servants to wait on our children,
and we deem it well for young persons to learn to wait
on themselves, one of our daughters from each room
is appointed daily to sweep the room, dust the tables,
and see to the proper disposition of the desks and
chairs. After breakfast, each pupil attends in person
to making her bed, and the different companies repair
to their respective dormitories in company with their

" At eight o'clock the bell rings for school, and it is
expected that the pupils have in readiness betimes
what they need for recitation, — that they repair quietly
to their classes, take their allotted seats, and, rather
than indulge in noise and idle talk, silently implore
God's blessing and aid, so that they may engage with
pleasure and profit in the duties before them. A
proper and erect posture, as highl}'' conducive to health.


should be carefully observed when seated at the desk
or otherwise occupied.

" When the bell summons to children's meeting, our
daughters should repair in silence to the chapel, two
and two, in their respective divisions, attended by their
tutoresses. No child is at liberty to excuse herself
from attendance on this service. It would be a sad
thing indeed if any of your number would not cheer-
fully devote a short half-hour to the praise and worship
of her Redeemer. It is almost needless to add that
boisterous deportment in returning from the house of
God is also highly improper.

'' In going to dinner, at a quarter of twelve, due
order is likewise to be observed. At table, every
thing should be done with decorum. If there is any-
thing needed, let one at a time make known her
wants ; otherwise, those of your number who serve at
table will be needlessly disturbed. It is unbecoming
in young misses at boarding-school to murmur at the
food that is set before them, and to treat the gifts
of God with disrespect. Whatever is not agreeable,
let it remain untouched, without expression of dis-
satisfaction. Avoid all improper attitudes, such as
leaning on your elbows, and the like : such deport-
ment is indecorous, and inexcusable in well-bred

" The time after dinner till one o'clock is allotted
you for amusement and recreation. Whatever is
needed for the afternoon classes should be got in readi-

f i












ness in this interval. Access is also allowed you to
your trunks in the garret.

"The hours from one to four are for recitations and
classes, which you are expected to attend punctually,
confining yourselves as much as possible to your re-
spective rooms, and avoiding needless walking and
visiting to and fro in the house. After school, your
tutoresses will always do you the pleasure of accom-
panying you to walk, on which occasion you should
leave the premises quietly, and, while in the streets,
manifest, by your whole deportment, respect for the
quiet of the place, whereby you will win the esteem
of the residents and do credit to those who are con-
cerned in 3''our training.

"And, finally, I hope all our daughters regularly
engage in evening devotions before retiring for the
day, and, after these, in composed and serious frame
of mind, commit themselves to the safe-keeping of

These rules were communicated by the Principal to
the assembled school semi-annually, and their use
and import fully explained.

A few words are proper here in reference to the
three points embraced in the mode of education, allu-
sions to which are made in the preceding transcrij^t.
The cultivation of the mental powers, the forming of
correct habits, and instruction in religion, were re-
garded as constituting the aim of true education ;
and, to attain these ends, arrangements were made,


which, in a pecuUar way, characterized this and all
other of the Brethren's schools. The Principal in-
structed the pupils in the important truths of Chris:
tianity, — one hour in the week being devoted to the
so-called " Bible Instruction," or lessons in Catechism.
In addition, the school assembled in the chapel be-
longing to the congregation, during one of the morn-
ing hours, when a short discourse was held by the
Principal or some other minister of the place, — a sim-
ple exposition of a gospel-narrative, or the recital of
incidents in the lives of worthy men and children of
God, such as are calculated to interest the youth-
ful mind and impress the heart with the excellen-
cies of virtue and piety and the certainty of their
reward. On the tutoresses mainly devolved the moral
education of their charge. They were expected to
take the parents' place, to exercise a prudent watch-
fulness, to teach by example as well as by precept,
and cheerfully to sacrifice individual comfort and in-
clination, if thereby the welfare of their pupils could
in anyway be promoted. Two of their number shared
the labor of these arduous duties in each room-com-
pany, alternately spending the day with its members,
from early morning until retiring to rest, — in the in-
terval between recitations exercising a constant sur-
veillance in the house and also when abroad. This
feature in the Brethren's schools, while it won the
confidence of parents, impressed the Brethren with a
deep sense of the responsibility which rested on them,


and with the need of self-denial and divine aid on the
part of those who were engaged in this important
calling. The duties of the latter were looked upon as
being of a strictly religious character, and the services,
thus faithfully performed, as service rendered unto
the Lord.

The tuition in the early period of these schools was
confined to the ordinary branches of an English edu-
cation, and included reading, writing, arithmetic,
grammar, geography, history, astronomy, and plain
sewing. The German was necessarily an additional
branch, as it was the native language of their tutor-
esses and spoken almost exclusively in the village.
Of this language the majority of pupils acquired a
useful knowledge during their stay at Bethlehem. In
February, 1787, lessons on the spinet^ were first given.
Miss Bedell was for some time the only scholar : gradu-
ally others followed, and soon a number turned their
attention to the acquirement of this pleasant female ac-
complishment. Tambour and fine needle work were
introduced in the fall of the same year. For these the
especial services of a Sister from the " Sisters' House"
adjoining were engaged, many of the inmates of that

^ Some of these instruments are yet in existence, and are objects
of no little interest to the curious. Contrasting, as they do, in size,
structure, and tone, with the modern pianoforte, they furnish a not-
able Instance of the progress of a mechanical art which, by its in-
genuity, has contributed so largely to enjoyment of a most refined
pleasure. The first spinet used in Bethlehem arrived from London
in January, 1744.

D'Z bethlehe:\i souvexir.

House being expert with the needle in the various
modes of curious embroidery. ^

^ Xot only were the ornamental branches of female industry fol-
lowed by the Sisters in their house, but also the more useful ones,
such as spinning, knitting, and weaving. Historical reminiscences
cling to the unassuming labors at which they wrought for an honest
and independent livelihood. Washington, we are told, supplied
himself with domestic goods fi-om ' • the first domestic manufactories
of the land." as he M'as wont to style the weaving-department con-
ducted in the Sisters' House. Here he made a selection of ' " blue
stripes" for his lady and stout woollen hose for himself. It was in
the spring of 1778. when detachments of the American army fi'e-
quently passed through Bethlehem, and some of the choir-houses
were converted into barracks, hospitals, and places of safe-keeping
for English prisoners, that Count Casimir Pulaski was complimented
for his gallantry by the presentation of a banner, embroidered by
the single Sisters, as a token of their gratitude for the protection he
had afforded them, surrounded as they were by a rough and uncouth
soldiery. A special guard was kept around the precincts of this
home of helpless females, and Pulaski in person shared the duties of
the sentinel. At the suggestion of Susan Yon Gersdorf, the spiritual
superintendent of the establishment, it was resolved to give the hero
this tribute of their respect. The design of the work was intrusted
to the Sisters Becky Langly and Julia Bader ; and in its execution
they were assisted by a number of their associates, more especially
by Anna Blum. Anna Hussy, and Erdmuth Langly. The banner
was received by Pulaski w-ith grateful acknowledgments, and borne
in his regiment through the campaign, until he fell in the attack on
Savannah, in the autumn of 1779.

Lossing, in his "Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution,'" has the
following relative to this matter : — "Pulaski visited La Fayette while
that wounded ofQ.cer was a recipient of the pious care and hospitality
of the Moravians at Bethlehem. When it was known that the brave
Pole was organizing a corps of cavahy in Baltimore, the single
women of Bethlehem prepared a banner of crimson silk, with designs
beautifully wrought with the needle hy their own hands, and sent it
to Pulaski with their blessing. This banner was used in the proces-
sion that welcomed Lafayette to Baltimore in 1824, and was then
deposited in Peale's Museum. He Whose blessing raises
All that gives us clothes and food.
Who of you could ever have expected '
What on this spinning-day has been effected ;
Oh, the pleasure is most sweet
Eight to use our hands and feet.'

" Hereupon the following couplets were recited by
the girls, the youngest taking the lead, and the others
following in due order of age : —

• ' C. Reichelt. I've caused no disturbance, dear misses ; so pray

Excuse Carolina's not spinning to-day.
" jE". Beaumont. I've spun seven cuts, dear companions, allow
That I am yet little, and know not right how.
'' P. Heckwelder. Eleven I've done ; and I've been very busy ;
Believe, I have sat at my distaff quite easy.
" A. Wilsom. Nine cuts are my day's work ; I've been pretty
still ;
Excuse my not spinning more, — next time I will.
" E. Palmer. The sum of my cuts does to eleven amount.

To hear I've been busy, how pleasant the sound !

" Peggy Vriehuis Six cuts, notwithstanding I busj^ have been.

Is all on the slate under my name to be seen.

" ikf. Beaumont. I've done, like Miss Palmer, eleven : pray

In strength and in stature I think we agree.
" ^. Wernicke. The number of m}^ cuts surpasses not nine.

Though none of the best yarn I dare to call
^^ C. L. G-reene. Nine is also my sum ; not more I have done.
Though busy as silk worm I've faithfully
" P. Stone. Though my finger was hurt, I've spun eight-and-
ten :
Believe, dear companions, I've tried all I can.


"A. HicUeij. Thirteen I've finish.'d, and, with real delight,

Online LibraryWilliam Cornelius ReichelA history of the Moravian seminary for young ladies, at Bethlehem, Pa → online text (page 3 of 46)