April 10, 2017

Winston Churchill and His Mother Jennie Jerome

New York Times Service article written at the time of Sir Winston Churchill’s death in 1965.

NEW YORK  Sir Winston Churchill’s mother was one of the liveliest and most controversial women of her time.

Jennie Jerome, born in Brooklyn of a mother who was one-quarter Iroquois Indian, was one of the few tattooed women in high society. The dark beauty’s tattooing was a snake coiled around her left wrist.

She married Lord Randolph Churchill and for many years was a glamorous figure in English society. In the book, The Glitter and the Gold, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, the former Duchess of Marlborough, wrote of her:

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“She was still, in middle age, the mistress of many hearts, and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) was known to delight in her company. 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. She was an accomplished pianist, an intelligent and well-informed reader and an enthusiastic advocate of any novelty.”

Lord Randolph Churchill died in1895 and in 1900 Lady Churchill married Capt. George Frederick Myddleton Cornwallis-West, an officer of the Scots Guards, who had been born the year of her first marriage. This marriage ended in divorce and in 1918 Mrs.Cornwallis-West married Montague Phippin Porch of the British Civil Service in Nigeria. Porch died on November 8, 1964, a few days before the 90th birthday of his stepson, Sir Winston Churchill.

When the South African war began in 1899, not only was young Winston off on the adventures that were to lead him to political success in the House of Commons, but also his brother, Maj. John Strange Spencer Churchill, was a serving officer in the fighting and his mother was on hand as a nursing aide on the U.S.-built hospital ship Maine.

Lady Churchill was an ardent opponent of Women’s suffrage and appeared at anti-suffrage meetings. She often accompanied her so Winston at meetings where both were heckled and booed by suffragettes.

Lady Churchill had a lively correspondence with many distinguished persons.  When she invited Bernard Shaw to lunch he replied with a telegram:

“Certainly not: What have I done to provoke such an attack on my well-known habit?”

Sir Winston’s mother replied:”Know nothing of your habits; hope they are not as bad as your manners.”

Lady Churchill started a magazine, The Anglo-Saxon Review, that both amused and annoyed London literary circles. It was supposed to been written and read by top-flight social personalities.

According to a plaque on the house at 426 Henry Street, Brooklyn, Jennie Jerome was born there in January 1850.  Her father was Leonard Walter Jerome, a financier.

She died June 29, 1921, and is buried in the churchyard at Bladon near Blenheim Palace, the ducal seat of the Marlboroughs, next to her first husband.

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