Peninah Benjamin Kruttschnitt died on April 18, 1903, at her son Ernest’s home, according to her obituary in the Times Picayune. Remarkably, the stately residence at 1423 First Street is still standing, and it’s in very good condition.
In fact, the eclectic house, with its Classical columns and Palladian windows, is one of the most beautiful on its block in the Garden District of New Orleans. On this particular day, tourists with guide books paused to view its splendor, as they probably headed down the street to see author Ann Rice’s house at 1239 First Street.
Peninah was the wife of Johannes Kruttschnitt and the mother of John and Ernest Kruttschnitt. She was also the youngest sister of Judah P. Benjamin, who wrote several historically important letters to her when he was living and working in England after the Civil War. She is my third great grandmother.
Peninah was born in Charleston, S.C., on October 18, 1824. She came to New Orleans in 1847 with her mother, Rebecca DeMendes, to live at Judah P. Benjamin’s Bellechasse Mansion. She met Johannes Kruttschnitt the next year and they married.
The couple probably had five children. Their first child, Nathalie Lucia Kruttschnitt, apparently died at 17 months in 1850. She is buried in the Dispersed of Judah cemetery in the same plot as Peninah’s mother, Rebecca, who died in 1847, and her uncle, Jacob Levy, who died in 1850.
Peninah’s oldest child, Ernest (1852-1906), was a prominent New Orleans lawyer who served for a long time as chariman of the Democratic State Central Committee and was president of the New Orleans public school system for 13 years. Her next son, Julius (1854-1925), famously rose to become chairman of the Southern and Pacific Railroad.
Her oldest daughter, Rebecca DeMendes Kruttschnitt (1856-1877), died in childbirth along with her baby, a year after her marriage. Rebecca attended the Sylvester Learned Institute for Young Ladies, graduating in 1873. She married Mortimer Norton Wisdom, a prominent figure in Louisiana state politics, on April 6, 1876. Eugenia Kruttschnitt was born in 1859 and died in 1936 in New York. She married Joseph P. Blair. Peninah’s youngest daughter, Alma (1863-1942), never married, though she served as queen of the Mardi Gras in 1896.
Very little has been written about Peninah. She is described in her son Ernest’s obituary as a woman of “exceptional attainment,” who schooled her children, with the help of a tutor. She is described as a “noble woman” who inspired Ernest “from his infancy with all the higher ideals and ambitions of his life and reared him in an atmosphere of refinement, culture, and all that was pure and good.”
Peninah’s mother, Rebecca DeMendes, who was also noted for her intellect, separated from her husband in 1838, when Peninah was 14.
After his mother died, Ernest started building a new home. When he tragically died a few years later, he was living in that home, at 1539 Fourth Street, close to St. Charles Street. It’s not in great shape. It looks like it may have been carved up into apartments. A Tudor-style roof looks to have been dropped on at some point.