Jennie Jerome, like her son Winston Churchill, was impetuous – Winston in his political career, she with the mores of England’s late 19th century high society. As one of the original “Dollar Princesses,” a group of wealthy American girls who crossed the Atlantic at this time in search of British men with titles, she might understandably have been viewed by other women in high society as a matrimonial mercenary. With a high degree of wit, though, she might have brushed them off with a bawdy story – in which they played the main character.
From all accounts, this young American woman, daughter of Leonard Jerome, a financier and part owner of the New York Times, was unique. Not only was she an American marrying Lord Randolph-Spencer Churchill, son of the Duke of Marlborough, she was also part Iroquois. She was of such stunning good looks that her portrait was sold in shops across London. In a most graceful way I’m sure, she told dirty stories at parties. According to Consuelo Vanderbuilt Balsan, the former Duchess of Marlborough, “Her grey eyes sparkled with the joy of living and when, as was often the case, her anecdotes were risqué it was with her eyes as well as her words that one could read the implications.” Her risqué behavior was not limited to stories either. She had numerous affairs with high ranking officials, such as the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Britain, Count Charles Andreas Kinsky.
She even made it to the most powerful bed in England; that of the Prince of Wales himself. Perhaps the Prince had a thing for ladies with tattoos; she was rumored to have a tattoo of a snake coiled around her wrist. This was a woman who took advantage of life, for as she said, “We owe something to extravagance, for thrift and adventure seldom go hand in hand.”
Her lifestyle did not make her an ideal mother. Winston, like many other young sons of Victorian aristocrats, was trucked off to boarding school. Despite many pleading letters to come and visit, neither his mother nor father paid any heed. It was not until he was embarking on his political career that she took any tangible shape in his life. Worshipped by her son, she fought by his side in the political arena.
Given her steadfastly independent and somewhat shocking nature, it is not hard to imagine her being bosom friends with the likes of Gloria Steinem. Strangely enough, though, she was a determined opponent of women’s suffrage. Her position on women’s issues, of course, did not define her as a meek doormat. She achieved. In fact, after Lord Randolph’s death, she started a magazine, The Anglo-Saxon Review, which circulated throughout London. Her sexual activities, however, might be more in line with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She bucked conventions. After Lord Randolph died, Lady Churchill, in two ensuing marriages, married men each about the age of her son.
Born in 1854 and dying in 1921, Lady Churchill lived unconventionally in a strictly conventional world. After falling down a set of stairs, her left leg had to be amputated after gangrene set in; she died soon thereafter. On her deathbed, and in extreme pain, she mused, “Is this punishment for living life the way I wanted and not the way others wanted me to?” One could argue that the wide availability of Bratz dolls is more scandalous than any of Lady Churchill’s activities, but methinks even today, she might be able to raise an eyebrow or two.
Other biographical information taken from a great blog dedicated to saucy, convention bucking ladies – Scandalous Women Blog
On May 31, HBO Films presents “Into the Storm,” a historical drama about Winston Churchill as prime minister during World War II. Click here to read exclusive interviews with the film’s star, Brendan Gleeson, and its screenwriter, Hugh Whitemore.