Shelved Dolls: Jennie Jerome – Winston Churchill’s Scandalous Mom

jennie jerome

Look, before I begin the tale of Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill, I am going to tell you a personal story that you are not allowed to interrupt. I come from a family of fairly rabid anglophiles. We are not actually British, we are Canadian, but Mom worked in London, and somehow this has lead to many moments where we ask God to save the Queen. More than I think would typically be experienced by a Canadian family living in the United States.

My favorite childhood story was called “Clarence” (no, apparently it was called Sold For A Farthing) and it was about a little brown sparrow that survived the London Blitz during World War II and he was very brave and then one day he just curled up in his owner’s hand and died. I also read books normal kids enjoy, like Arthurian mythology. These tales of mighty knights end by saying that King Arthur is in Avalon, resting, and waiting to return when Britain needs him most.

Incidentally, I am tearing up just remembering these stories from my childhood.

Since I had the capacity to put two and two together as a kid, I asked why King Arthur didn’t return during World War II. The fact that he had not suggested that absolutely terrible, apocalyptic conditions were in store for Britain, and all the sparrows in the land, probably in the near future. I was looking forward to Arthur’s return, hopefully on a cool horse, but was also very worried about an imminent apocalypse.

And my mother turned to me with tears in her eyes – as though World War II had happened yesterday and we had been there, crouching in a grocery with Margaret Thatcher – and told me that King Arthur had returned in the form of Winston Churchill.

And I was pretty bummed because I really expected him to look more like a Disney prince.

You know, a lot of Winston Churchill’s attributes are not exactly in keeping with Arthurian mythology.

winston churchill

Note the lack of a horse

He was . . . God, Winston Churchill was just so cool. You see that as an adult. He was hard drinking, and chain smoking, and did not take no for an answer. Take this, one of his greatest speeches:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their Finest Hour.’

There’s also this lighter story about him, from H.A. Grunwald’s Churchill: A Life Triumphant, which says:

Toward the end of World War II, before the July 1945 election that he would lose, The Times (London) prepared an editorial suggesting that Churchill campaign as a non-partisan world leader and retire gracefully soon afterward. The editor kindly informed Churchill that he was going to make these two points.

“Mr. Editor,” Churchill replied to the first point, “I fight for my corner.”

And, to the second: “Mr. Editor, I leave when the pub closes.”

Where did all of that chutzpah come from? I would like to say from his mom, Jennie, who was born in Brooklyn.

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    • CG

      I can’t believe you didn’t talk more about Blenheim Palace…the room where Winston was born is actually part of the museum now!

      • kaimcn

        Blenheim is gorgeous! They have some of the best art thanks to that infusion of American cash.

    • Tania

      As a Canadian in Canada, I can’t think of the last time I said “God save the Queen” as a serious thing. But my mother did grow up singing it in school.

    • Samantha Escobar

      1) I did not know you were Canadian. This explains why you love Justin Bieber so, so, so much.
      2) I loved this edition of Shelved Dolls. I wasn’t even aware of who she was until now, I admit, but I think she sounds like she was damn exciting to have known.

    • MR

      I left a messate

    • MR

      Ps. I lost the whole message I posted.

    • MR

      What I said was that her husband slept with prostitutes – so after Jackie O’s revelations, she was a Jackie O and clearly not a trollop. She was an American living in a Britain that was still partially governed by its aristocracy. And as I mentioned to both you and Ashley earlier, during the last half of the 1800s, Brooklyn Heights to Prospect Park was inhabited by some of the richest people in the world – it was their sanctuary – so yeah, they including her dad thought they were America’s aristocracy. Lastly, as per her son’s speech you quoted, her offspring decided if fascism would succumb or prevail – and at that moment it was Britain all alone – damn right, she was from Brooklyn. :)

    • Girl Detective

      Also she had a tattoo of a snake around her wrist!

    • Cait

      I really do think the current Prince of Wales should be in charge of making sure the right people find each other. Prince Charles: Matchmaker.

    • anna

      This makes me sad, as the letters read the same as my mother writing to her mother from swiss boarding school. I remember one where she was begging to come home for christmas, and it was then I realized my mom had a mediocre childhood at best

    • kaimcn

      I’m so excited to learn that you’re Canadian. We’re pretty rad people.