William and Regina Steinway's divorce

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While the historical record is ultimately silent with regard to the precise reasons for the deterioration of Regina and William’s relationship that precipitated her infidelities, it does suggest some possibilities. The same sources that give only glimpses into the persona of Regina Roos Steinway reveal clearly that in the years prior to Alfred’s birth William spent more time in male social spaces, such as at the Liederkranz or at work, than at home with his wife and children.

During the second half of the 19th century, the expectations of married life were undergoing widespread transformation in the United States. The patriarchal authority of husbands was being tempered and reconfigured by a companionate ideal that posited an emotional as well as economic partnership between husbands and wives. American women seem to have embraced this change with greater rapidity than men and immigrant families often chose to hold firm to the more traditional patriarchal family structures of their homelands. Changing and clashing expectations about marriage fueled a rising divorce rate across the United States beginning in the years after the Civil War. Although New York City only issued 221 divorces in 1880, “between 1867 and 1929, the population of the U.S. increased 330 percent, the number of marriages 400 percent, and the divorce rate 2000 percent” (May, 2). Regina, born and raised in the United States, may have embraced the companionate ideal of marriage while William, heavily burdened by business responsibilities, may have been more comfortable modeling the family structure of his parents. It is possible that Regina Roos Steinway turned to other men, in part, because she had emotional and relational expectations of married life that William was unprepared and unable to meet.

14: An image
William Steinway and family, 1874
Photograph by Napoleon Sarony, New York City
Courtesy of Henry Z. Steinway Archive
William Steinway with son George, wife Regina, daughter Paula, and son Alfred


Fostle, D. W. The Steinway Saga: An American Dynasty. New York: Scribner, 1995, 191–192, 197, 203
Griswold, Family and Divorce in California, 1850–1890: Victorian Illusions and Everyday Realities. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982, 120
Maniha, Ken and Richard Riley, Descendants of Henry Englehard Steinway
May, Elaine Tyler. Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in the Post-Victorian Era. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980, 2
Steinway, William. The William Steinway Diary, 1861–1896