From Brooklyn Girl to British Aristocracy
Jennie Jerome was born on Jan. 9, 1854, in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. Jennie’s father was a wealthy financier who also fancied race horses, so much so that he built Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx, where the Belmont Stakes was originally held. It is believed that the Jeromes were parishioners of the historic Christ Church at the corner of Clinton and Kane streets.
Around 1860 the Jeromes moved to an attractive mansion in Manhattan at 41 Madison Ave., southeast corner of 26th Street. (In later years, this mansion became the Manhattan Club where it is said the Manhattan cocktail was invented.) Unfortunately, this historic mansion was demolished just before passage of the Landmarks Preservation Law.
In her teens, Jennie was taken to Paris for the “finishing” every wealthy girl was supposed to receive before entering polite society. She married Lord Randolph Churchill, the younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, after a three-day courtship during Regatta Week at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.
As Lady Churchill she gave birth on Nov. 30, 1874, prematurely, to the greatest British political leader of the 20th century, Winston Churchill. Jennie did everything she could to further Winston’s career and had full confidence that one day he would become Great Britain’s Prime Minister. (Not only that, he became the first man to be made an honorary citizen of the U.S. by act of Congress in 1963).
When her son Winston grew to manhood, she found him “interesting,” as she put it, but she didn’t like children. Instead, she enjoyed parties, social intrigue and romantic adventures. It is said that her lovers included the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
Beginning when he was 7, Winston wrote his mother often, sometimes daily. Most of his letters, begging for attention, went unanswered. Other boys’ parents visited them on special days; his own were absent. He wasn’t permitted to come home for Christmas because the house was full of guests. When vacation time arrived, his mother sent him to France, promising him a week at home when he returned and then breaking the promise.
But once Winston was grown, she dedicated herself to furthering his career as a writer and politician. In his memoir My Early Life, Winston wrote, “My mother was always on hand to help and advise … She soon became my ardent ally, furthering my plans and guarding my interests with all her influence and boundless energy…We worked together on even terms, more like brother and sister than mother and son. At least so it seemed to me. And so it continued to the end.”
Jennie became a widow in 1895 when Lord Randolph Churchill died at age 45 of complications from syphilis. She remarried twice, to men who were her son’s age.
Jennie launched an ambitious, conservative literary journal, the Anglo-Saxon Review, though it was short-lived. She also organized and managed a hospital ship during the Boer War, where both her sons had been in combat.
In June of 1921 she slipped and fell down the stairs, breaking her ankle. Blood poisoning set in and her leg had to be amputated. After a hemorrhage, she died on June 29, 1921.