Princeton Philanthropist William H. Scheide Dies at 100

Judith and William Scheide. Photo: Kevin Birch.
Judith and William Scheide. Photo: Kevin Birch.

William H. Scheide, the Princeton philanthropist and Bach enthusiast who made significant contributions to scholarship in various fields of study and curated one of the largest rare book and manuscript collections in the world, died early this morning, a source close to the family confirmed. He was 100.

Born in Philadelphia on January 6, 1914, Bill was the only child of John Hinsdale Scheide and Harriet Hurd. His parents were passionate about music, culture, rare books and human rights. His father played the piano, and his mother, a social worker, sang. At age 6, Scheide began piano lessons. He later learned to play the organ and the oboe.

A 1936 graduate of Princeton University, Scheide majored in history because there was no music department at the school at the time. He wrote music criticism for The Daily Princetonian, and enjoyed attending concerts in Philadelphia and New York. His senior thesis, “Adaptations of Christianity to Chinese Culture,” explored the pervasive Christian influences Jesuit missionaries brought into Chinese culture centuries earlier.

Scheide earned his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1940. His graduate thesis explored what happened to Bach’s music in the first century after his death. 

Known as one of the most famous Bach enthusiasts in the music world, he was the first American published in the Bach-Jahrbuch, one of the world’s most respected Bach literary periodicals.

He taught at Cornell University for two years and played the oboe with a group of amateur musicians who performed an all-Bach repertory. He founded the Bach Aria Group in 1946 and served as its director until 1980. For more than three decades, the group enjoyed international acclaim for its concerts, broadcasts, and recordings. Scheide also helped fund the reconstruction of the Woolworth Music Center at Princeton University and endowed a professorship of music history at the school.

Scheide also expanded the rare book and manuscript collection begun by his grandfather and enlarged by his father. The Scheide Library is housed within Firestone Library at Princeton University. Scheide completed their collection of the first four printed editions of the Bible in 2002. Other items in the collection included musical manuscripts by Bach and other famous composers, a 14th-century Magna Carta, a first edition of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” and letters by Christopher Columbus. On his 90th birthday, Scheide announced that he would bequeath his rare book collection to Princeton University upon his death. He donated rare books to several other academic institutions, including Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Choir College.

Throughout his life, Scheide, who was Presbyterian, used his inherited fortune to support a variety of philanthropic causes, including civil rights issues. He was the chief funder of the landmark 1954 lawsuit Brown v. Board of Education that ended public school segregation. For more than five decades, he played a crucial and invaluable part in advancing the goals of The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was a member of the NAACP’s national committee and was a principal funder of the organization. He donated around $200,000 to hire poll-watchers on the lookout for race discrimination at the Florida polls in 2008. He was also a major supporter of Centurion Ministries, the Princeton-based nonprofit that works to free the innocent from prison.

Scheide met his first wife, Lorna Riggs Scheide, at the International House of New York and married her shortly after in 1940. He separated from his first wife in 1966 and married Gertrude Corbin in 1971. She died in 2002. He married Judith Scheide in 2003. Scheide has three children.

For the last seven years, Scheide and his wife hosted an annual concert that showcased famous orchestras performing rare works. The money raised through the sold-out performances benefited area organizations including Westminster Choir College, the Princeton Recreation Department, the Princeton Public Library, Centurion Ministries, and Isles.

Details about funeral arrangements will be posted after they are finalized.


  1. He was a giant of philanthropy, especially to the musical arts. Made a tremendous difference to our community with his patient, well-thought-out generosity.

  2. This is a terrible lost. Mr Scheide was a giant in understanding the disparity of equality in the African American community. Many people would talk the talk, but Mr. Scheide walk the walk. My hat is off to a very loving and caring person. May his wife Judith and family rest in knowing that Mr. Scheide has left his mark on this society. What a blessing.
    Thanks, Lance

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