Douglas, Adele Cutts

Rose Adèle Cutts was a famous Washington beauty who became the loyal and valuable second wife of Stephen Douglas. She was born in the capital in December 1835, the daughter of James Madison Cutts, nephew of Dolley Madison, and Eleanora O’Neale, from a prominent Catholic Maryland family. Tall, with chestnut hair, and universally acclaimed beauty, “Addie” grew up under the tutelage of her great-aunt and could not help but emerge as a poised and popular figure with a keen political mind. When she was just twenty she met the widowed Stephen Douglas, and though he was more than twice her age, they courted briefly and were married in a Catholic ceremony in November 1856. She had a transforming effect on the somewhat disheartened Illinois senator and their house became a center of the Washington social scene. She was at his side during the debates in Illinois and in the presidential campaign that followed in 1860. When Douglas died in Chicago in June 1861, Adèle never entertained again and went into extended mourning. Following the Civil War she met and married a Union officer from Virginia named Robert Williams and took on the life of an army wife. She had a miscarriage and then lost a baby daughter with Douglas; with Williams she reared six children during his long career which he ended in 1893 as Adjutant General of the Army. Adèle died at her home in Washington in January 1899 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (By John Osborne)
Life Span
    Full name
    Adele Cutts Douglas
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Slave State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    James Madison Cutts (father), Eleanora Elizabeth O'Neale Cutts (mother), Stephen A. Douglas (first husband, 1856), Robert Williams (second husband, 1866)
    Other Education
    Academy of the Visitation
    Church or Religious Denomination
    Catholic (Roman or Irish)
    Political Parties
    Marital status in 1860

    Adèle Cutts Douglas (New York Times)


    Mrs. Robert Williams.

    Mrs. Robert Williams, who married Stephen A. Douglas in the zenith of his political career, and who was one of the most brilliant figures in Washing ton society life since the days of Dolly Madison, died at her residence in Washington Thursday night. She was a Miss Adele Cutts, a daughter of James Madison Cutts, once Controller of the Treasury. She married Stephen A. Douglas, and accompanied him in his famous political campaign about the country just prior to the civil war. On his death she lived the life of a recluse until she met Adjutant Gen. Williams and was married to him.

    “Mrs. Robert Williams,” New York Times, January 28, 1899, p. 7: 4.

    Adèle Cutts Douglas (American National Biography)

    In November 1856, following Buchanan's election as president, Adèle and Douglas's marriage was solemnized by a Roman Catholic priest in what was widely reported as the social event of the season in the national capital. Their wedding trip to New York (to visit Douglas's mother) and Chicago was marked by public suppers and receptions, at which every detail of Adèle's dress and appearance was recorded in the press. "It is difficult to say," wrote one observer, "whether the genius of the husband or the beauty of the wife attracts the most homage" (Harper's Weekly, 26 Dec. 1857).

    To many the couple appeared an unlikely match. A widower with two small sons, Douglas was twenty-two years older than Adèle and lacked the refinement for which she was known. Since his first wife's death in 1853, Douglas had shunned society, allowed his whiskers to grow, and assumed a decidedly shabby appearance. Marriage to Adèle worked a remarkable change. He shaved his whiskers and trimmed his hair, cut down on his drinking, and appeared in a new, neat-fitting suit. From a frequenter of "crossroads taverns and city oyster saloons" Douglas had been transformed "into quite a genial and courtly aristocrat" (New York Herald, 20 Dec. 1856).
    Robert W. Johannsen, "Douglas, Adèle Cutts," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Johannsen, Robert Walter. Stephen A. Douglas. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Douglas, Adele Cutts," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,