The only first lady from outside the United States, Louisa Catherine Adams did not come to this country until four years after she had married John Quincy Adams. Political enemies sometimes called her English. She was born in London in 1775 to an English mother, but her father was American who had served as United States consul.
John Quincy Adams developed an interest in charming 19-year-old Louisa when they met in London in 1794. Three years later they married, and in course of duty went to Berlin. At the Prussian court she displayed the style and grace of a diplomat's lady. The ways of a Yankee farm community seemed strange indeed when, in 1801, she first came to the United States.
In 1809 she left her two older sons in Massachusetts for education and took two-year-old Charles Francis to Russia, where Adams served as minister. Despite the glamour of the tsar's court, Louisa struggled with cold winters, strange customs, limited funds and poor health; an infant daughter born in 1811 died the next year. In 1814, she and little Charles had to make a 40-day journey across war-ravaged Europe. Happily, the next two years gave her an interlude of family life in the country of her birth.
The appointment of John Quincy as Monroe's secretary of state brought the Adamses to Washington in 1817, and Louisa's drawing room became a center for the diplomatic corps and other notables. Good music enhanced her Tuesday evenings at home, and theater parties contributed to her reputation as an outstanding hostess.
But the pleasure of moving to the White House in 1825 was dimmed by the bitter politics of the election and by her own poor health. She suffered from deep depression. Though she continued her weekly "drawing rooms," she preferred quiet evenings - reading, composing music and verse, playing her harp. The necessary entertainments were always elegant, however; and her cordial hospitality made the last official reception a gracious occasion although her husband had lost his bid for re-election.
Louisa thought they were retiring permanently, but in 1831 her husband began 17 years of notable service in the House of Representatives. In 1848, one year after their fiftieth wedding anniversary, John Quincy was fatally stricken at the Capitol. Louisa died in Washington in 1852, and today lies buried at his side in the family church at Quincy, Massachusetts.