Regina Roos Steinway (b. October 11, 1843, in Buffalo, New York; d. January 12, 1882, in Nancy, France) was the first wife of William Steinway.(2) The 17-year-old Regina married the 26-year-old William on April 23, 1861, at her father’s residence in Buffalo. (3) William’s diary begins three days before the event with the jubilant title, "Daily Diary of Wm. Steinway and wife!"(Diary, 1861-04-20)
Regina Roos Steinway, 1868
Over the course of their 15-year marriage, Regina weathered six pregnancies: two resulting in stillbirths; one, in a miscarriage; and the live births of George, Paula, and Alfred. (1, pp.186-191)(Diary, 1865-06-04, 1866-12-13, 1869-12-12) In 1876 the marriage ended in divorce, following about a year of turmoil after William discovered that Alfred had been fathered by another man and that Regina had engaged in adulterous affairs. After the divorce, Regina Roos moved to Nancy, France and lived there with one of her lovers for a time, and with her son, now Alfred Roos, until her death of typhoid.(1, pp. 193-207)
By many accounts, Regina possessed great beauty. She was of German descent and her father, Jacob Roos, was a wealthy man with breweries in Buffalo and Canada as well as wide real estate interests. Not surprisingly, William’s brother Charles described her as "a good catch." (4)(1, pp.86-87) The marriage also was a love match. According to William’s brother Henry, after meeting the year before, the two "fell terribly in love with each other."(4) Since Regina had married a man who kept a record not only of how much money he dispensed to her but also of her menstrual cycle and their sexual activity, William’s diary makes evident that in the early stage of their marriage they had a very active, and perhaps passionate, sex life.
Although almost everything that is known about Regina Roos Steinway comes from others—from the Diary, official documents, and letters between Steinway brothers—Regina appears to have been successful in her role as the wife of an increasingly powerful, affluent man. With William and other family members she attended the theater, opera, concerts, and balls—recreational events that also served as essential arenas for making and maintaining vital business and social connections. Regina formed close ties with other women of the Steinway family, starting with sister-in-law Sophie with whom they shared a house for about a year.. During her marriage, the Steinways tracked their upward mobility through ever grander residences. She and William began their marriage at a residence on Second Ave. and lived there briefly along with William’s brother Charles, his wife Sophie, and their three young sons.(Diary, 1861-04-28) For several years in the second half of the1860s they lived on 14th St., near the headquarters of Steinway & Sons and Steinway Hall. Shortly before the marriage began to disintegrate, they moved for a final time to 26 Gramercy Park. (Diary, 1873-11-29 and 1874-04-16) In addition, in 1870 William brought substantial property at Astoria on Long Island that included a large stone house (mansion) that the family used seasonally over the following years.(Diary, 1870-07-11) In all of these residences she managed servants, children, and the overall running of a household. William comments in the diary about Regina’s care of the children are not detailed, but he does note occasions on when she would go for rides with them to Central Park or similar places. (Diary, 1869-06-26, 1870-06-05) In 1867 a cottage was rented at Long Branch, NJ during the summer; Regina and the children would stay there while William would go back and forth to Manhattan. (Diary, 1867-06-14, 1867-07-06, 1867-07-27, 1867-08-08, 1867-08-31) For William’s 38th birthday, Regina organized a surprise party with musical entertainment of a play, Les Deux Millions, in which the children took part. The party was noted on the social pages of the periodical Watson’s Art Journal, and William wrote in the diary that the children performed "very nicely in french, we dance and are jolly until 3½ A.M. when we retire." (5) (Diary, 1873-03-05)
The reasons for Regina’s infidelities were likely complex; the divorce proceedings revealed that servants in the household were aware of some of her activities.(1, p.191, 203-204)(Diary, 1876-08-08) Although their marriage did not last, William’s diary explicitly reveals that the divorce was emotionally wrenching for both him and Regina. He wrote in several diary entries that he or both of them experienced "paroxysms of grief" after discussing or thinking about Regina’s transgressions.(Diary, 1875-10-16, 1876-01-08, and 1876-01-25) The divorce decree (August 1876) found Regina guilty of "several acts of adultery" and awarded custody of George and Paula to William.(1, p.205) After the divorce, although William continued to handle Regina’s financial affairs, the rest of the Steinway family essentially ceased all contact with Regina. She left for Europe with Alfred on May 20, 1876. In Europe she resumed contact with Louis Dachauer, one of her lovers, who died in mid-1878.(1, p. 208) In 1880, she had a brief visit from William, her son George, and Doretta Ziegler, (William’s older sister) for the first and final time since leaving New York City.(Diary, 1880-07-25) In early 1882, Regina died of typhoid at 38 years of age. Later in 1882, William again visited Europe and while there tended to details of Regina’s estate.(Diary, 1882-06-17, 1882-06-21)
"Surprising William Steinway," Watson’s Art Journal, March 22, 1873, vol. 18, no. 21, p. 250.