|Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill with her sons John (left) and Winston|
Part 1 appeared on this blog, September 7, 2014
Editor’s Note: This excerpt on Jennie Jerome (1854-1900, who became Lady Randolph Churchill, is from the the book “Famous American Belles of the 19th Century” by Virginia Tatnall Peacock. Thanks to Project Gutenburg (www.gutenberg.org) for bringing this work forth from the public domain. The excerpt’s voice is that of 1900. Because of its length it has been split into two parts.
To catch up or to read a modern, journalistic biography click: http://nowweknowem.com/2013/01/the-mother-of-winston-churchill-was-born-january-9-1854-in-brooklyn-new-york-now-we-know-em/
(LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL)
Lady Randolph Churchill easily overcame the prejudices which existed in the minds of some English women against all American women. Young as she was, there was a commanding quality in her very presence which vanquished that narrowness that harbors petty dislike on a basis of nationality.
Both of her sisters married in England, one to Moreton Frewen and the other to the only son of Sir John Leslie, Bart., of Glaslough Monaghan.
Jennie’s two sons were born, the first, Winston Spencer Churchill, on the 30th of November, 1874, and the younger, John Winston Churchill, in February, 1880.
Between the duties of her home and those of a social nature, which her position in the world entailed upon her, the first period of her life in England passed. From 1880, however, dated the dramatic period of Lord Randolph Churchill's career, in which his wife bore so conspicuous a part. He rose to the leadership of that small section of the House known as the "Fourth Party," which, coming forward as an evidence of the vigor yet possessed by the Conservatives, succeeded in June, 1885, in overthrowing the Gladstonian ministry. He was frequently compared to Disraeli, and many people prophesied for him a similar career.
In 1883, in connection with Sir H. Drummond Wolf, Lord Randolph Churchill founded, in the interests of the Conservative party, that powerful organization, the Primrose League. In a membership today [year 1900] of over 1.5 million, with Knights, Dames, and Associates, Lady Randolph Churchill stands number 12 upon its rolls. The kingdom and empire of Great Britain are dotted with its Habitations.
With its development there began a new phase of Lady Churchill's life. She became from that moment thoroughly an Englishwoman, identifying herself closely with her husband's public life and interests, aiding him not only with the popularity she had already attained, but with the remarkable sagacity she displayed in reference to all political questions. With the qualities that rendered her more charming as a woman she combined those most valuable in a man.
Ambitious, intrepid, discreet, she was yet graceful, tactful, wise, and witty. She became at once a force among the members of the League, and, besides being much in demand at the social events at its various Habitations, she endeavored continually to impress upon its members the influence each might exercise in behalf of "that party which is pledged to support all that is dear to England, Religion, Law, Order, and Unity of the Empire."
In her character of Dame of the Primrose League she has participated in so many electioneering contests that she is almost as well known in England as any man in public life. When her husband, in 1885, attacked the seat held by Mr. John Bright for Birmingham, seconded by the Duchess of Marlborough, she canvassed the constituency for him. Never before had women gone thus among the workingmen of Birmingham, entering the factories as well as their homes, and addressing them both collectively and individually. Though they made much havoc in the ranks of Radicalism and greatly diminished his votes, they did not succeed in defeating "the tribune of the people."
Lady Churchill is [note present tense as this was written while she was alive] a rousing speaker, and, with her great beauty and magnetism, evoked immense enthusiasm, her carriage being frequently surrounded and followed for some distance by cheering crowds. In South Paddington her efforts told with better effect, Lord Churchill securing the election in that district.
With the accession to office of Lord Salisbury's government, Lord Churchill went into the Cabinet as Secretary of State for India,—the real head of affairs of the far-away empire where the power is represented by a governor-general. During his brief tenure of that office his wife was decorated with the imperial order of the Crown of India, which has so recently been bestowed upon another American woman in the person of the present governor-general's wife.
Lord Churchill stood at this time at the very head of his party, and when a few months after resigning the office as Secretary of State for India he again went into the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons, being at the time but 37 years of age, there seemed opening to him a future of almost unprecedented brilliancy. More than ever was it said that he was treading in the footsteps of Lord Beaconsfield, to whom he had been so often compared, and the Prime Ministership seemed almost within his reach. His name was on every tongue, and when he appeared in public places accompanied by his wife, whose tall, slender figure and clear-eyed, interested face were as well known as his own, he was frequently greeted with outbursts of applause. When she drove in Hyde Park her carriage was frequently followed, and she was pointed out with the most enthusiastic admiration.
Not only in England, but accompanying her husband to Russia and Germany, she excited in both of those countries a similar sentiment, there being among the people an eager desire to see the beautiful American who was so much admired by the court circles.
Attractive as she was under all circumstances, she never more admirably reflected the fine qualities of her character than on that day when her husband rose amidst the absolute silence of the House of Commons to give his reasons for withdrawing from the Cabinet.
Absorbed in him, she followed intently his every word and gesture, though aware beforehand of every syllable he would utter. With perfect self-control she revealed nothing either of regret, disappointment, or any sentiment upon which a guess at his plans for the future might be hazarded.
Socially her life ran in much the same channel. So great was her beauty and so many were her talents that, though her husband gradually withdrew from public life, she was continually in the public eye, being constantly in demand to open fairs, distribute prizes, and take part in concerts.
In March, 1888, she went to Clydebank to christen the "City of New York," at that time one of the most remarkable vessels that had been built. During the following summer she opened an electrical exhibit at Birmingham, and a few days later conferred the annual awards at Malvern College, her husband accompanying her and making addresses upon both occasions.
About this time also she made her first appearance as a literata in an article on the social life of Russia, based on the observations she had made while in St. Petersburg with her husband. Well informed, keenly observant, clever, and witty, she entered the lists without handicap, and her position to-day in the world of letters is at least unique. The most costly quarterly in existence, now entering upon its second year, is owned and edited by her.
In 1891, when he was but 42 years old, Lord Randolph Churchill came suddenly face to face with the beginning of the end of his remarkable and crowded life. The utter physical collapse that followed, terminating in death in January, 1895, threw light upon much that had seemed inexplicable in the latter days of his public career.
Accompanied by his wife, he journeyed around the world in quest of the health which he was destined never to find. They passed through New York, Lady Churchill's first home, but made no stay, hastening across the continent to San Francisco.
In Egypt, realizing how futile had been the long days and nights of travel and exile, he begged to be taken home to pass there the last few hours that yet remained to him.
From all who saw them they evoked pity and admiration,—pity for the man, stricken and doomed, in the very prime of his days and with the highest place among the statesmen of his time almost within his grasp, and admiration for the wife who, aglow with beauty, spirit, and ambition, manifested for him during those months of tragic gloom, in which his life closed, all the devotion and admiration which the most successful moments of his life, when he stood on the very pinnacle of fame, had called forth from her gratified heart.
The untimely disappearance from the world of a man whose magnetic nature had made him a leader of men and an idol of all classes of society appealed powerfully to public feeling. The tolling of the funeral bell from St. George's, in Hanover Square, a little after noon on the 24th of January, 1895, announced his death.
Though she took no part in the doings of the world for some time after her husband's death, Lady Randolph Churchill did not drop from its memory, nor is she in any degree less interesting today than she was as the wife of an eminent statesman. Her musical gifts and tastes gradually drew her from the seclusion of her early widowhood, and she reappeared in public first at concerts and at the opera, still dressing in black.
Her social graces and talents make her the genius of many house-parties, where individual gifts and accomplishments show to best advantage and are most in demand.
In the tableaux and burlesque given at Blenheim Palace in January, 1898, to raise money for the Restoration Fund of St. Mary Magdalene's church at Woodstock, she appeared as a lady journalist, portraying the character with a realism that manifested an accurate knowledge of the original. She was also a guest at Chatsworth House during a recent visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales, taking part there in the private theatricals which were part of the entertainment offered to their Royal Highnesses.
To her sons she is a congenial spirit, being interested in the things that interest them, particularly in yachting, horses, and the various racing events of each year. It is owing largely, no doubt, to her love of an active out-of-door life that her figure yet retains much of the slenderness and suppleness of young womanhood. She stands and walks with all the grace of a girl, and is one of the most noted skaters in England.
Not only into their recreations, but into the serious side of her sons' lives, she enters with that earnestness which made her so inseparable a part of her husband's life.
In the summer of 1899 the elder of her sons, Mr. Winston Churchill, made his first effort for a seat in Parliament. Oldham, in Lancashire, the scene of his endeavors, has two Parliamentary seats, which both became vacant at the same time. Though they had been filled by Conservatives, the result of the balloting in 1899 showed that the cotton-spinners, who form a large class of the voters of the borough, were tired of Conservative rule, for both Liberal candidates came in with heavy majorities.
Towards the end of the campaign Lady Randolph Churchill went vigorously and enthusiastically to her son's assistance. "The Liberal candidates being married," she said, "have an advantage." Though she won him many votes and greatly reduced the opposition, as she had done in the days of the Birmingham contest, when her husband attacked Bright's seat, the result was inevitable, and both mother and son accepted it with the grace and spirit of thoroughbred woman- and manhood.
There is an anecdote frequently related of Lady Churchill's ready wit, called forth by a situation which arose during the electioneering campaign, in which she was taking an active interest, of Mr. Burdett-Coutts, husband of the old Baroness Burdett-Coutts, who was at the time over eighty years of age. An old voter upon whom Lady Churchill called, and who seemed ready enough to cast his vote for Mr. Burdett-Coutts, took occasion, however, to relate to her, with much relish, the price which the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire had paid a butcher for his vote in the days of the famous Pitt and Fox contest, permitting him to kiss her lovely cheek. He concluded his narration with a direct intimation that he would consider a similar reward as fair payment for his own vote.
"Very well," replied Lady Churchill, smiling a gracious compliance, "I will book your vote on those terms, but you must remember that I am working for Mr. Burdett-Coutts, and I must, therefore, refer you for payment to the Baroness."
In June, 1899, the first number of Lady Churchill's quarterly, the Anglo-Saxon Review, which had been for several months the subject of much conjecture and speculation, appeared:
"Have you heard of the wonderful new magazine
Lady Randolph's to edit with help from the Queen?
It's a guinea a number—too little by half,
For the crowned heads of Europe are all on the staff,"
ran the opening lines of perhaps the cleverest of the many verses and paragraphs her new venture called forth.
Its contributions included papers from Lord Rosebery and Whitelaw Reid, a poem from Swinburne, with stories from Henry James, Gilbert Parker, and Sir Frank Sweetenham, and a drama from John Oliver Hobbes. Among the illustrations were a picture of the Queen, as frontispiece, and a reproduction of Gilbert Stewart's portrait of Washington.
The binding was in keeping with the contents, and was of dark-blue morocco, richly tooled in gold, with the royal coat of arms in the centre, surmounted by the crown of England, with supporters, a reproduction of a cover designed in the seventeenth century by the court binder, Abraham Bateman. It sold, as have the subsequent editions, for a guinea a number, and was, as the enterprising editress said in her preface, a volume "worthy to be taken up into that Valhalla of printed things, the library."
At the outbreak of the war in the Transvaal in 1899 Lady Randolph Churchill gave another evidence of her public spirit and enterprise which identified her once again with her native country. As chairman of the committee of the American hospital ship "Maine," she took an active part in the direction and equipment of one of the finest ambulance ships in the service. The ship itself was loaned by the Atlantic Transport Company, and named in memory of the ill-fated American battle-ship "Maine."
The contributions for its equipment were made by Americans on both sides of the ocean. Among the American women living in England who actively interested themselves in the matter were Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain, Mrs. Arthur Paget, Mrs. Bradley-Martin, and both of Lady Randolph Churchill's sisters.
An appeal, issued on the 27th of October, for 30,000 pounds met with a speedy response, and in the course of a few weeks the American hospital ship "Maine," flying the flag that was a gift from the Queen, and with accommodations for 200 sick or wounded soldiers, carrying its corps of surgeons and nurses and Lady Randolph Churchill herself, was on its way to Durban.
Though it was as the wife of Lord Randolph Churchill and through her close identification with his interests that Lady Churchill first came prominently before the world, it is undoubtedly her own personality that has made for her the place she holds there today.
On the 28th of July, 1900, Lady Randolph Churchill became the wife of Mr. George Cornwallis West. Though marriages of women to men many years their junior are by no means rare in British society, the rumor of this engagement, which had been afloat for quite a year, excited an unusual amount of comment and criticism.
The ceremony was performed at St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, the Duke of Marlborough leading Lady Churchill to the altar. Though widows of titled men in England may upon entering into a second marriage retain the name and title acquired through their former marriage, Lady Randolph Churchill settled the much-discussed question as to whether she would retain hers by her decision to be known as Mrs. George Cornwallis West.
Not yet in middle life, and with two sons to be launched upon their careers, in which she has already foreshadowed what her part may be, the world may still expect to hear much of her, for there is a bracing and vigorous quality in her individuality that renders her interesting and inspiring to many classes and many countries. She has been frequently reproduced in the fiction of her era, more than one English writer drawing his material continually from her life and character.
To what extent her beauty forms part of her magnetism is with many people a debatable question. Though Long painted her as a typical beauty, and Sargent's canvas of her that hangs in her own library portrays an exquisite feminine loveliness, she leans perhaps too much towards the masculine in mental poise and temperament to be an adequate reflection of purely feminine beauty. A many-sided, strong, self-sustained character, her outward form is an expression of her own uncommon personality rather than a type of conventional beauty.
Editor’s note: We pick up the rest of nee Jennie Jerome’s life from Encylopedia Brittania: “...In 1899 Churchill founded and edited the few numbers of the lavish but short-lived Anglo-Saxon Review. During the Boer War she raised money for and staffed and equipped a hospital ship, the Maine, which did valuable work in South Africa. She also turned to writing, producing a volume of discreet Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill (1908); Her Borrowed Plumes (1909), a play starring Mrs. Patrick Campbell; The Bill (1913), another play; and Short Talks on Big Subjects (1916), a collection of articles originally published in Pearson’s Magazine. She married two more times and in her later years grew increasingly eccentric...”
Editor’s note 2: Jennie Jerome died from complications from a fall in 1921.
For a 21st century account of Jennie Jerome’s life in the fast lane as the widow of Lord Randolph Churchill please click the following link to the London Evening Standard newspaper:
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