January 2008

O-O-Oh, I Can Hear The Gossips Now

The New York Times archived newspapers came online recently and I was looking for more information about Dorothea Douglass’ family when I came across this tasty item. I had never heard this story before. It was well before my time and even before my father’s, though I doubt he would have told it to me; he never talked about such things when I was growing up. By the time I was eight or nine and prone to eavesdrop on adult conversations at the Douglass reunion, this news would have been 30 years old, so not surprising it did not come up.

New York Times, April 29, 1911, pg. 7

Man of 80, Licensed Two Weeks, Not Wed

Marriage of George H. Hughes to Kathleen Douglass Declared Off By His Attorney

Friends Have Him In Charge

Outcome of Sensation Caused When Would-be Bride and Bridegroom Appeared At The City Hall

The Marriage of George Henry Hughes, the Vice President of Standard Oilcloth Company, 320 Broadway, and Miss Kathleen Douglass, 36 years old, of Croton Falls, N.Y. who obtained a marriage license at City Hall a fortnight ago, has not yet taken place.

According to Mr. Hughes legal advisor, Theodore E. Leeds of 3 Broad Street, it will not take place at all. Miss Douglass has returned to her home, according to the attorney, and Mr. Hughes is out of the city at the home of friends who are caring for him.

Mr. Hughes and Miss Douglass created some surprise on April 15 by entering the license bureau at city hall and asking for a license. Mr. Hughes was so feeble he had to use a crutch and a cane in walking. He was supported on one side by Miss Douglass and on the other by a middle-aged woman, who was said to be one of Miss Douglass’s relatives.

When Miss Douglass and Mr. Hughes were leaving the bureau after getting the license the reporters, struck by the disparity of ages, questioned the pair. All that Miss Douglass would do was to show the marriage license. The license stated that Mr. Hughes was a widower, 80 years old, a retired manufacturer, living at the Berkeley, 20 Fifth Ave. Miss Douglass was described in the license 36 years old, of Croton Falls, NY, her father having been the late John Petit Douglass, and her mother’s maiden name having been Henrietta Hughson.

While the License Clerk was issuing the license Miss Douglass did most of the talking, the aged merchant seeming too feeble to take an active part in the proceedings. The couple left the bureau without stating when or where the marriage would take place.

The Sunday following Mr. Hughes and Miss Douglass were seen together, as they had often been seen before, in the Central Presbyterian Church. Last Sunday, however, Mr. Hughes was seen there by himself, and the report spread that his friends had suggested that the marriage better not take place.

Just why the marriage has not taken place, Mr. Leeds said yesterday that he did not care to state.

“I have been Mr. Hughes legal adviser for more than fifteen years,” said Mr. Leeds, but he has merely consulted me about his business and not about his private affairs. About two weeks ago he asked me to get some marriage license blanks. I did so and handed them to him in an envelope which had my name printed on it. That is the way my name has been brought into the case. Mr. Hughes is out of the city. He is staying with friends, and Miss Douglass is not with him. I believe she has gone back to her home. The marriage itself, I know, is permanently off.”

Mr. Hughes is a native of Nottingham, England. He was for fifty years an oilcloth manufacturer in this city. He is said to have a daughter who lives in England.

Miss Kathleen Douglass is the daughter of John Petit Douglass, a well-to-do property owner in Jefferson County. She is the sister of former State Senator, Curtiss Douglass, who married Mrs. John A. Dix’s sister. Miss Douglass is thus a connection by marriage of the Governor of the State.


I have written about Kathleen Douglass before. Most recently I have been trying to determine if and when she studied music in Stuttgart, Germany, at the Conservatory of Music. So far the language barrier has prevented success there.

We do know that she was an accomplished singer of some talent, based on the demand for her services not only at wedding ceremonies but at church conferences and other organizational gatherings.

Her residences over the years varied, so we assume that she traveled frequently. She lived in London, England at one time, but usually in Theresa, N.Y. near where she grew up. She was living in Croton Falls, NY when her mother died in 1906, so she evidently lived there for several years. Croton Falls is north of NYC about 40-50 miles, an upscale residential area and an easy train-ride into the City.

We can speculate about the circumstances of her relationship with Mr. Hughes. I am particularly interested in the “middle-aged woman” who accompanied the couple to the license bureau. I can find no one who would qualify for that role in the family. My first thought was that it must be Dorothea, who was addicted to New York society pages and would be trying to make a good match for her aunt. But Dorothea was barely 21 in 1911. The age would fit Kathleen’s sister-in-law, Curtis’ wife, Nancy, but as a Senator’s wife, and a sister of Governor Dix, Nancy would be readily recognized by the reporters.

Of course, the information that the woman was a relative of the Douglass family could be wrong, too. The age listed for Kathleen (36) was wrong on the license. She was 46 in 1911. It certainly would have been fortunate if she had married Mr. Hughes. She lived a long life and in her later years received financial support from her sister, Henrietta Shipley of South Africa. There is a good chance that friends and relatives of Mr. Hughes were unwilling to share his estate.

Kathleen was interested in family genealogy and wrote to Dr. John G. Douglass that she had done extensive research in archives in Edinborough, Scotland, but was disappointed, finding no information about the family there. At the time that she wrote to him, she gave her address as 200 W. 88th St., NYC. This was likely about the time of the above New York Times article as Dr. John died in 1913.

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