MOÏSE, PENINA (1797–1880), U.S. poet, hymnist, and teacher; daughter of Abraham *Moïse. Penina Moïse left school at the age of 12 – when her father died – to help support her large family, which had been left without means, by doing needlework. On her own, she continued to study and read avidly, showing a literary talent at an early age and becoming a prolific writer of verse. She frequently contributed poems to the Charleston Courier which were on a variety of subjects, many on current events. She also wrote for the leading papers and periodicals of her day. In 1833 she published a small volume of her poems, Fancy's Sketch Book. She was admired by Charleston's antebellum writers. A devout Jew, she was superintendent of Beth Elohim Congregation's Sunday school and was the author of the first American Jewish hymnal. When the congregation installed the first American synagogue organ in 1841, she composed hymns for the organ service. A book of her hymns was published by Beth Elohim; later editions were used by other Reform temples. Many are still found in the Union Hymnal of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. They are notable for a spirit of submission to the will of God. In her sixties Penina Moïse gradually became blind, but, with rare courage, she continued to write, using her niece as an amanuensis. She was widely known as Charleston's "blind poetess." Reduced to poverty after the Civil War, she, her sister, and niece eked out a modest living with a small private girls' school, in which she gave oral instruction by drawing on her remarkable memory. Her warmth and sympathy made her a favorite confidante of youth. Her hymns and poetry were published, as Secular and Religious Works (1911). She never married.
B.A. Elzas, Jews of South Carolina (1905), 181–4; S.A. Dinkins, in: American Jews' Annual, 5646 (1885/86), ch. 5.
[Thomas J. Tobias]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.