Saturday, 30 September 2017

Lady Randolph Churchill (1854 – 1921) – American born socialite (mother of the British soldier and politician, Sir Winston Churchill)

Reading Siegfried Sassoon’s “Siegfried’s Journey, 1916 – 1920”, I noticed a reference to Lady Randolph Churchill:  “I had already become known to Lady Randolph at the Lancaster Gate Hospital, where she acted as a sort of Olympian head-matron.” (p. 101).  

I had to find out more about the 'Olympian' woman, and by a curious coincidence, the following day in a charity shop I found a book that answered all my questions.

Jennie Jerome was born in New York on 9th January 1854.  She was the second of four daughters born to Leonard Jerome, a New York financier who made and lost several fortunes, and his wife, Clarissa, nee Hall, who was known as Clara.  Jennie’s sisters were Clarita, later known as Clara, (1851 – 1935), Camille (1855 – 1863) and Leonie (1859 – 1943).   The sisters were brought up in New York society to be accomplished horsewomen and musicians.  Strikingly beautiful, their father ensured they were well educated and taught to speak several European languages.  They were encouraged by their father to be strong, independent women and from their mother they learnt the importance of ensuring a ‘harmonious family life’.

According to Kehoe, society life in New York during the American Civil War (1861 - 1865) continued much as before.   In 1867 the family travelled to France where they lived in Paris and were presented at the Court of the Empress Eugénie.  Jennie attended a boarding school outside Paris.

During the Franco-Prussian War (19th July 1870 – 10th May 1871), the Jerome women left Paris on the last train before the Prussians began the Siege of the city.  They took refuge in England, first in Brighton then in London, returning on a visit to Paris - a ruined city - in the winter of 1871.

Jennie met Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, at a reception on board the ship “Ariadne” during a summer vacation in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, UK in 1873.   The couple were married on 15th April 1874 at the British Embassy in Paris.  They had two sons – Winston (1874 – 1965) and John (1880 – 1947).

After the death of Lord Randolph in 1895, Jennie continued her life as a socialite and during the Second Boer War (October 1899 – May 1902), she helped to raise funds to equip a hospital ship to send to South Africa to treat wounded soldiers. Jennie chaired the American Ladies Hospital Ship Fund and American millionaire Bernard Nagel Baker, founder of the Atlantic Transport Company, lent his steam ship “Swansea” for use as a hospital ship, which was fitted out and re-named the “Maine”.  Jennie travelled to South Africa aboard the “Maine”, to help keep the peace between the American nurses and the British officers.  The photograph shows Jennie seated among the nurses, clad in white like the nurses and wearing a distinctive Red Cross armband.  For her work during the Boer War, Jennie was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal in 1902.

Although I have not been able to find any further reference to Jennie’s WW1 work, it seems obvious to me that she continued to help out. Apart from her work at the Lancaster Gate Hospital, in 1916 she published a book called “Women’s War Work”.   Jennie died after surgery following an accident, on 29th June 1921 and was buried in the Churchill Family plot in St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, UK.

Jennie’s outstanding legacy lived on in her son who became one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers and later accepted a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.



“Siegfried’s Journey 1916 – 1920” by Siegfried Sassoon, published by Faber and Faber, London, 1945 and

“Fortune’s Daughters: The Extravagant Lives of the Jerome Sisters: Jennie Churchill, Clara Frewen and Leonie Leslie” by Elisabeth Kehoe, published by Atlantic Books, London in paperback 2005.

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