Clarissa Steinway Oaks

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Clarissa Steinway Oaks (b March 26, 1864 in New York City, d March 11, 1955 in Richfield Springs, New York) was the youngest daughter of William Steinway's brother Henry Engelhard Jr., who died in March of 1865, and his wife Ernestine Miller. She and her sisters Lillian von Blumenthal and Anna von und zu Bodman were moved to Germany by their mother after she married her second husband Charles J. Oaks in October 1865. Clarissa returned to America with her mother in 1888. William remained in contact and visited them. She was in touch with William's son Theodore E. during WWII and at that time signed her name Clarissa S. Oaks.

William noted Clarissa's birth in the diary. (Diary, 1864-03-26) Sadly, about one year later, her father, William's brother, was dead. Henry Steinway's will had stipulated William as guardian of his children, but a bitter custody battle between Ernestine and William ensued. In November of 1865 Ernestine left New York with the three girls for Braunschweig, Germany. (Diary, 1865-11-04) In a letter William writes to Ernestine on November 28, 1865 (1, p. 130) that he demands she put her three daughters in the charge of Carl Koch, State Attorney General, long-time friend and Steinway family estate administrator in Braunschweig. Koch and his wife Johanne had agreed to have the three sisters live with them. (2, 1865-10-14) William and attorney Koch administered the inheritance of the three girls. (1, p. 128) William would send attorney Koch money from the estate for the children's support and receive detailed accounting in return. (2, 1867-10-10; 1869-08-21) This arrangement lasted for almost 3 years. Their mother and grandmother Mrs. Miller were not allowed to live in Braunschweig but could visit the girls. (2, 1866-03-18) Attorney Koch took great pain to write to William frequently on the well-being and education of the "three little girls who are gaining weight." (2, 1866-03-04) Koch wanted them to receive a German education. (2, 1866-03-08) By April 1867 the Koch family and the girls moved to a larger house for the girls to have their own rooms. He then hired a new nanny to teach the sisters piano and French (2, 1867-04-04) and requested a pianino for the girls. Koch diligently informed William about the girls' well-being and how much he personally enjoyed their presence in his life. Their health and happiness and a fine education along with a structured home life were of utmost importance to him and his wife. (2, 1869-10-15)

In 1868 Ernestine Oaks traveled to New York and successfully regained custody of the girls through court action.(Diary, 1868-11-28) Ernestine returned to Germany and settled with Lillian, Anna and Clarissa in Baden-Baden. The girls would adopt Oaks as their last name, (1, p. 139) although in 1885 Clarissa sent a telegram to William still signing her name as Clarissa Steinway. (Diary, 1885-03-16) By 1888 Clarissa and her mother had returned to America and lived in Albany, New York, where William visited them. (Diary, 1888-02-29; 1891-04-09)

After World War II Clarissa lived in Ashbury Park, New Jersey, from where she wrote to William's son Theodore E. Steinway on June 13, 1943, inquiring about her sister Lillian's daughter, Clarissa. "Clarissa von Blumenthal will probably be almost destitute after the war and after her father's death as his pension of course dies with him. I have almost nothing to leave. I am living on what little capital I have been able to salvage from the wreck of the depression. It depends on how long I live whether there will be anything to leave. But in case there were I should have liked to remember Clarissa in my will."(4) By September 1945, Clarissa lives at 'Sunnyside' in Richfield Springs. From there she again inquired of Theodore E. about Clarissa von Blumenthal (4) from whom she had not heard since 1941, but Theodore was unable to help her. Clarissa S. Oaks died in 1955 at Richfield Springs.(3)



1.  Fostle, D.W. The Steinway Saga: An American Dynasty. New York: Scribner, 1995.
2.  Koch, Carl, Letters to William Steinway, 1865-1869, Steinway & Sons Collection, LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, Fiorello H. LaGuadia Community College/CUNY, Long Island City, Queens.
3.  “Miss Clarissa S. Oakes,” The New York Times, March 13, 1955, p. 87.
4.  Oaks, Clarissa, Letter to Theodor E. Steinway, June 17, 1943, September 20, 1945; Steinway & Sons Collection, LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, Fiorello H. La Guardia Community College/CUNY, Long Island City, Queens.