Ella Frederica Steinway House Purchase

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William Steinway’s niece, Ella Frederica Steinway, exhibited independence in at least two ways. One was to purchase a house in her own name while a single woman, and the other was to consider continuing to use her birth name following marriage. Clearly, William supported her in the first of these efforts. We do not know whether he did in the second, though it is reasonably clear that she did use her husband’s surname throughout her married life. This report describes briefly the state of women’s rights by the late nineteenth century, depicts William’s relationship with Ella, presents details of the purchase of her home, and explores what Ella’s house might be worth today.

Women’s Rights in the Late 1890s

 Today, women in America are free to exercise legal control over assets both before and after marriage, and many choose to continue using their birth names for a variety of reasons. Such was not always the case. Historically, a woman’s property was generally in the control of her father or husband. In the United States, this gradually changed until, by the beginning of the twentieth century, almost all states had granted women substantial control over their property.  New York State was a leader in this regard, especially through its Married Women’s Property Act, passed in 1848. This law provided that property owned by a woman at the time of her marriage or acquired after marriage could not be disposed of by her husband without her consent and that a married woman was entitled to the same control of property in her name as if she were single. Later amendments expanded these rights. Thus by the time Ella Steinway acquired the West 69th Street property in 1893, it was clear that she was legally entitled to the control and disposal of it both before and after her marriage. (12)(17)

Had Ella Steinway continued using her birth name after her marriage to Charles F. Schmidt in January of 1894, she would have been following the lead of Lucy Stone, the first American woman to keep her own name following marriage. Stone, born in Massachusetts in 1818, became a leader in the women’s rights movement of her era, and was responsible for a striking array of firsts: first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree (from Oberlin, first American college to accept both blacks and women), first person in New England to be cremated, and first American woman to keep her own name after marriage. Her marriage in 1853 to Henry Blackwell, brother of Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first female physician, was especially notable for Henry’s renouncing of all privileges then conferred upon husbands by law. Stone did continue to use her birth name for the rest of her life, though her persistence in that regard did create difficulties for her in matters such as signing legal documents and registering at hotels. Lucy Stone died in 1893, the very year of Ella’s real estate purchase and just the year before her marriage. (Diary, 1894-01-11, 1894-02-12)(3)


William’s Relationship with Ella