The Scandalous Pauline: Discovering a Fascinating Woman


Christine Israel took up the challenge of writing about one of the more interesting women in her family history, her great-grandmother Pauline (the great-great grandmother of Pamela and Stefan Israel). Take a read. We think you'll understand why we all find her a bit fascinating.​ Enjoy!

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One of the early things my father told me when I asked him about his family was that my great-grandmother, Pauline Volkmann, had left her husband in St. Louis and run off to San Francisco in 1902 to live with a chiropractor! This was interesting! Dad thought the name was Koenigsberg or Koenigsmark. I began checking with snail mail, a few phone calls, interviews with other relatives, and the local Mormon church. I got quite a bit of information, even before I had a chance to go there and to St. Louis.

Pauline Schneider was born in Germany, presumably Silesia, in September 1858. The only thing I know about her childhood is that her parents were Godfrey Schneider and Dorothy Giesel.

Pauline had her first two children out of wedlock. Anna, my grandmother, was born in July 1879. I think that Pauline became pregnant while working as a maid based on letters Anna’s father, Carl Werner wrote to her. Writing to Anna in 1903 - after knowing nothing of her for more than twenty years - he expressed his joy that “...you have preserved your purity!” He asked Anna, a live-in maid, “Has your virtue ever been threatened by the owner of the house or by his sons?” That sounds like the voice of experience! I do know that both Pauline and Carl were single when Anna was conceived so I hypothesize that Carl was such a son whose family probably wouldn’t have wanted him to marry a maid.

From Carl’s letters, it’s obvious that he felt very guilty - “How heavy is the burden which the recklessness of my youth lays upon me....Nevertheless, God has blessed me through that very thing through which I have offended him!” This was in 1903 after Anna had written to him in Breslau, presumably finally learning about her real father after Pauline had left. It was very informative to have his letters translated by a German professor!

Pauline’s second child, my great-aunt Augusta Emma, was born in Zobten, Germany, in 1881, probably fathered by August Volkmann, judging by her name. From the divorce papers August filed, we know that Pauline and August were married in 1882 in Greditz, Germany, and that the only child of that marriage was Paul, born in 1883 in Germany.

August, a fresco painter, emigrated to the U.S. and settled in St. Louis. He sent for Pauline who arrived in Baltimore (not Ellis Island) in October 1891 with Anna, Gussie and Paul, then went straight to St. Louis. It was in St. Louis that Paul, only 11, died unexpectedly of a heart problem.

One of Pauline’s granddaughters told me that August brought William Von Koenigsmark, a chiropractor, home for dinner sometime in 1901, probably because Pauline was a wonderful cook. Big mistake!

Because in August 1902, when Gussie came with her babe in arms to visit her mother, Pauline had left town. She had been corresponding with William and then ran away to be with him. The next day August filed a notarized statement about this, including mentioning that she had taken $180 of his money - and $180 in 1913 would be $4,577 in 2019!

We don’t know where Pauline and William then met, but they were in San Francisco by 1903, meaning they experienced the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire.

In June 1903 my grandmother and William’s parents, all living in St. Louis, were commanded to appear in court to testify. I don’t know if they actually did, but August got his divorce decree that same day. He later remarried (another Pauline!) and had three children. But I digress.

Years later, I was very pleased to finally have a chance to go to San Francisco! It did seem odd that William was occasionally listed as a chiropractor but usually as a musician. I was a little nervous about going to his business address listed in city directories, having been told it was a dicey neighborhood, but glad I did. It was the Musician’s Union Local 6! There was actually a card box for deceased members with a 4x6 card showing that Dr. W. Koenigsmark was a “Baritone-Trombone” player! He had joined the union on Valentine’s Day 1903 - so they were there before the divorce was final.

William was born in June 1877 in Germany. This means that when Pauline ran away to be with this baritone-trombone player, she was almost 44 and he was only 25! I’d love to have a photo of her at that age.

I did notice that in Census records, she became younger and William became older....

And that was the end of the “Scandalous Pauline.” From then on she and William lived quietly and respectably for over thirty years until her death in 1935. Were they really respectable - i.e., married? I haven’t yet found that information. They bought a house together in 1926, and certainly the few neighbors I found who had known them before her death considered them so, a quiet couple who mostly kept to themselves.

Pauline did return to visit her daughter Gussie in St. Louis in 1924, and photos show that Anna was there also. My father said Pauline was also in Chicago, but he really wasn’t that interested in her. The one time he was in San Francisco in 1928, he knew he had called her but couldn’t remember for sure whether he had bothered to go see her. He was a bit preoccupied; he was visiting a girlfriend there (at least this was before he met my mother)!

Although Anna never went to San Francisco, Gussie did at least a few times. There’s a photo of mother and daughter, along with the von Koenigsmark German shepherd, in front of their house.

In San Francisco I went to their last home, knocked on the door, and was invited in to see it. I was even allowed to take some photos! The very nice lady had only lived there a few years but gave me the names of a few long-time neighbors, so of course I went to talk with them. They knew her as Paula, and one described her as a “dainty little thing, rounded but not plump,” while he was tall and thin, both very nice, dignified. It was a good middle-class neighborhood.

One woman, who had been a teenager when her parents built a nearby house, remembered that Paula had given her mother some purple ice plant. The ice plant was still growing, and the next day she dropped some cuttings from it at our hotel! Unfortunately the cuttings didn’t survive the journey home.

I also went to the funeral home, where the director was unbelievably helpful. It’s amazing how helpful people are when they learn someone is researching family! Her 1935 death certificate lists her as Paula Ernestine Koenigsmark. Although I even have a copy of the funeral service bill from him, we don’t know what happened to her ashes.

William survived her until December 1943, living in the house they bought. We visited his grave south of San Francisco in the Golden Gate National Cemetery, there because he had been a corporal in the 8th Cavalry Band in the Spanish-American War!

And thus ends the story of my most interesting ancestor! While it would be distressing if my mother or sister had such a history, this far back, it’s just fun!

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#SanFrancisco #StLouis #Genealogy #Immigrant #Silesia #German #Breslau

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