Mendelssohn, Henriette (1768–1831)

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Mendelssohn, Henriette (1768–1831)

German-Jewish-born governess, teacher and Berlin society leader. Name variations: Henrietta Mendelssohn; Marie Mendelssohn. Born Yente Mendelssohn in Berlin in 1768; died in 1831; daughter of Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786, a Jewish philosopher) and Fromet Gugenheim Mendelssohn; sister of Dorothea Mendelssohn (1764–1839); Rebekah Mendelssohn (born Reikel, later called Recha), Sara Mendelssohn, Sisa Mendelssohn, Abraham Mendelssohn, Hayyim Mendelssohn, Joseph Mendelssohn, Mendel Abraham Mendelssohn, and Nathan Mendelssohn; never married.

Henriette Mendelssohn was born Yente Mendelssohn in Berlin in 1768, the youngest daughter of Moses and Fromet Gugenheim Mendelssohn . She changed her name to Henriette in adulthood. Henriette inherited her father's intellectual brilliance and moral sensitivity, as well as his physical deformity (spinal curvature). Determined to play an active role in society, and aware of the unlikelihood of marriage, Henriette Mendelssohn chose to become a teacher, moving first to Paris, where she served as a governess and teacher, and then to Vienna, where she was the director of a boarding school.

While in Paris, Mendelssohn established a salon that attracted most of that city's intellectual luminaries, including Madame de Staël , Benjamin Constant, Spontini, and her sister Dorothea Mendelssohn and Dorothea's lover—and later, husband—Friedrich von Schlegel. Henriette moved in the highest social circles, becoming tutor to the daughter of General Sebastiani. Although she had previously rebuked her sister Dorothea for abandoning Judaism for Roman Catholcism, in 1812, after the death of their mother Fromet, Henriette was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, taking the name Marie. She died in 1831.


Altmann, Alexander. Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study. London and Portland, OR: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1998.

Baron, Salo Wittmayer. Die Judenfrage auf dem Wiener Kongress, auf Grund von zum Teil ungedruckten Quellen dargestellt. Vienna: Löwit Verlag, 1920.

Hensel, Sebastian. The Mendelssohn Family (1729–1847) from Letters and Journals. Translated by Carl Klingemann. 2nd revised ed. 2 vols. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Varnhagen von Ense, Karl August. Galerie von Bildnissen aus Rahel's Umgang und Briefwechsel. 2 vols. Leipzig: Gebrüder Reichenbach, 1836.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Mendelssohn, Henriette (1768–1831)

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