Jennie Churchill

Winston's American Mother


The 'Greatest Briton of all Time' was raised by an American Mom. Contributor BRENDA WENSIL chats with Anne Sebba in London about her new book "Jennie Churchill: Winston's American Mother."



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Jennie Churchill circa 1885 via Wikipedia

She called him “My Brilliant Winston;” shaping a frail and depressive boy into a man that would one day coin the phrase, calibrate the mission, and single-handedly commandeer the historic Battle for Britain. Indeed, Winston Churchill’s life was a trajectory of events leading to his crowning achievement: the deconstruction of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. He was a soldier, Member of Parliament, prisoner of war and Statesman. Yet long before his legendary roar, Winston Churchill was a boy. “Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother” explores the apparent contradiction of an American socialite with libertine values raising perhaps the most iconic Prime Minister of the 20th century. I recently spoke with the author in London.

Born to an aristocratic family on November 30, 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was raised with loyalties on both sides of the proverbial pond. Part aristocrat, part commoner, he would display traits of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a British statesman from an established English family, and his mother, Jennie Jerome, an independent-minded New York. Often judged as absentee parents, outsourcing children to nannies and boarding schools was nevertheless an accepted way of life for the Victorian Upper Classes. But Churchill proved to be an independent and rebellious student. He did poorly in his studies and by April 1888 was sent to the renowned Harrow School, where, within weeks of his enrollment, he joined the Harrow Rifle Corps which put him on the trajectory to a military career. Sebba, however, scribbles an important sidebar into Churchill’s story. “She was a woman ahead of her time,” the author says, “in the way she accommodated her son’s peculiarities.” Teaching Winston to paint, learn languages and write became the tools with which Churchill would not only stave off the depressions he referred to as his “Mad Dog,” but to temper and translate political destiny, too.

Though his father died when he was only 21, Churchill later said “I knew him more by reputation than by any personal relationship we actually shared.” Effectively becoming a single parent, Jennie’s focus on her son was shaped by the sudden and complete destruction of his father’s career shortly before his death. Politics, after all, was the family business, and Jennie the American heiress underwriting the family firm. The Churchill’s moved feely amongst the inner circles of the monarch, society and members of parliament. But at the peak of his prominence as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Randolph resigned. In a miscalculated power play, Randolph opposed the demands made on the Treasury by the naval and military ministers. The cabinet however did not react as Randolph expected, and instead appointed a new Chancellor in his place. His career as the Conservative party’s chief was over.

She called him “My Brilliant Winston;” shaping a frail and depressive boy into a man that would one day coin the phrase, calibrate the mission, and single-handedly commandeer the historic Battle for Britain. Indeed, Winston Churchill’s life was a trajectory of events leading to his crowning achievement: the deconstruction of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. He was a soldier, Member of Parliament, prisoner of war and Statesman. Yet long before his legendary roar, Winston Churchill was a boy. “Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother” explores the apparent contradiction of an American socialite with libertine values raising perhaps the most iconic Prime Minister of the 20th century. I recently spoke with the author in London.

Born to an aristocratic family on November 30, 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was raised with loyalties on both sides of the proverbial pond. Part aristocrat, part commoner, he would display traits of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a British statesman from an established English family, and his mother, Jennie Jerome, an independent-minded New York. Often judged as absentee parents, outsourcing children to nannies and boarding schools was nevertheless an accepted way of life for the Victorian Upper Classes. But Churchill proved to be an independent and rebellious student. He did poorly in his studies and by April 1888 was sent to the renowned Harrow School, where, within weeks of his enrollment, he joined the Harrow Rifle Corps which put him on the trajectory to a military career. Sebba, however, scribbles an important sidebar into Churchill’s story. “She was a woman ahead of her time,” the author says, “in the way she accommodated her son’s peculiarities.” Teaching Winston to paint, learn languages and write became the tools with which Churchill would not only stave off the depressions he referred to as his “Mad Dog,” but to temper and translate political destiny, too.

Though his father died when he was only 21, Churchill later said “I knew him more by reputation than by any personal relationship we actually shared.” Effectively becoming a single parent, Jennie’s focus on her son was shaped by the sudden and complete destruction of his father’s career shortly before his death. Politics, after all, was the family business, and Jennie the American heiress underwriting the family firm. The Churchill’s moved feely amongst the inner circles of the monarch, society and members of parliament. But at the peak of his prominence as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Randolph resigned. In a miscalculated power play, Randolph opposed the demands made on the Treasury by the naval and military ministers. The cabinet however did not react as Randolph expected, and instead appointed a new Chancellor in his place. His career as the Conservative party’s chief was over.

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