Paula Theoda Steinway von Bernuth

print this page

Paula Theoda Steinway (b. December 13, 1866 in New York City; d. February 5, 1931, New York City) was the second surviving child born to William Steinway and his first wife, Regina Roos. (6) On November 12, 1888, Paula married Louis Hugo Johannes von Bernuth, born in West Prussia, Germany on April 5, 1856. (5)(6) They had two children, Meta Elizabeth (1890-1980) and William Steinway (1892-1951) (6)

Paula Theoda Steinway was the second surviving child, and only daughter, of William Steinway and his first wife, Regina Roos Steinway. She was born on December 13, 1866, with William noting in his diary that she was a "fine healthy girl, who screams lustily as soon as born". (Diary 1866-12-13) From her early years, Paula was close to her father and brother, with William describing walks and playtimes together. One entry in the diary when Paula was not yet 4 years old reads: "Play with the children all day. They are in splendid health." (Diary, 1870-7-7) William continued to refer to Paula affectionately as Baby even when she was in her early teens. He often wrote about Bam, the nickname her older brother George had adopted, and Baby: "Have fireworks in afternoon and evening, at which Bam & baby are much pleased." (Diary, 1869-7-5)) Even at an early stage, William took his children on outings to concerts and plays, and as she got older, Paula often attended concerts and plays several times a month with William, her older brother George or other members of the household. (For example, Diary, 1871- 6-30; 1876-3-7; 1876-4-17; 1881-11-5, 11-11, 11-26)

Paula Steinway von Bernuth as a child, 1877

Paula Steinway von Bernuth as a child, 1877

When marital problems with Regina, and the subsequent divorce, occurred in 1876, the diary tells poignantly of William's concerns about George and Paula and shows how he consciously spent more time with them in town and on trips and visits to family. After William married Elizabeth Ranft in 1880, it appears that Elizabeth and Paula got along well together, and Paula who was 13 at the time of the marriage, adapted well to her new stepmother. They often attended concerts and operas together. When Ellie gave birth to sons William and Theodore, Paula is described by William as welcoming the new babies happily. (Diary, 1881-12-20)

Paula is also described in a yearly ritual noted in the diary: every winter, in either January or December, William made a point of measuring his own height, weight and chest dimensions, as well as those of other family members and some household employees. The diary contains Paula's records up until December 1887, a few months before she married.

Paula married Louis von Bernuth, but she may have been courted initially by his brother, Oscar. William's diary notes several occasions where Oscar was a guest in their home, and he wrote on February 9, 1886, that he refused permission for her to accompany Oscar to a ball. She and Louis were married on November 12, 1888, in what The New York Times called "a magnificent affair" and "one of the events of the present season". The couple was described as having planned a "novelty" wedding tour, telling no one where they were going, or when. (5) After their wedding, Louis and Paula lived in a house at 10 Lexington Avenue, near Gramercy Park, that William rented for them. (Diary, 1881-3-12)

After their marriage, Paula and Louis were frequent guests at William's home, and often accompanied him and other family members to concerts, the theater, Liederkranz events and other functions. (William often noted their presence as "Louis v. B and wife") William and Elizabeth often dined at what he called his daughter's "beautiful residence". (Diary, 1888-11-23; 1889-12-13; 1890-12-25) Louis became closely involved with William's outside businesses, becoming a director or president of several non-piano companies. However, though she played piano, there is no record that Paula had an active role at Steinway & Sons or any of William's other enterprises, nor did the von Bernuth children.

Paula Steinway von Bernuth as a young woman surrounded by her associates, circa 1890

Paula Steinway von Bernuth as a young woman surrounded by her associates, circa 1890 

After Elizabeth died suddenly on March 4, 1893, Paula, Louis and their children moved into William's home at 26 Gramercy Park to "assume the conducting and management of the house." (Diary, 1893-3-11) During the next three-and-a-half years, until William's death, he continued his close relationship with Paula and Louis, going with them on drives, playing skat with Louis, and joining them at theater and concerts. Paula and Louis, for their part, assumed responsibility not just for running the household but also for Paula's half-brothers, William and Theodore, and half-sister, Maud. They accompanied Paula and her family on vacations out of town, and Paula and Louis also took Willie and Theo to their respective boarding schools. (Diary, 1893-7-30, 8-5, 9-18, 9-24) When not at school, the boys and Maud often went with Paula to theaters and concerts. (For example, Diary, 1894-3-26, 11-3; 1895-4-12, 12-25) Paula and Louis continued to care for the children after William's death; after the sale of the Gramercy Park home, they all moved to a more modest apartment uptown. (4) Paula and Louis were co-executors of William's estate. For the last 21 years of her life, Paula was a widow; Louis died in Germany in 1907, on a visit to his family. (1) (3) Paula died on February 5, 1931, at the age of 64. (2)



  1. "The Day's Deaths" The New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, December 1, 1907, P. 38.
  2. "Deaths," The New York Times, February 6, 1931, p. 17.
  3. "Died," The New York Times, December 1, 1907, p. 11.
  4. Fostle, D.W. The Steinway Saga, New York: Scribner, 1995, p. 416.
  5. "Late Fall Weddings" The New York Times, November 13, 1888, p.8..
  6. Maniha, Ken and Richard Riley, Descendants of Henry Englehard Steinway