Winston Churchill’s maternal grandfather, Leonard Jerome, was born in 1817 in Pompey, New York (outside Syracuse) to one of the most prominent farming and business families in central New York. After attending Princeton University, then earning a law degree at Union College, Leonard and his brother moved to Rochester. There they invested in a variety of business ventures, but that wasn’t enough for Leonard. He and his wife Clarissa and their three young daughters moved to New York City, where Leonard speculated in the unregulated stock markets on Wall Street. He and his wife were considered “nouveau riche”; although Leonard hunted and sailed with the wealthy, his Rochester-born wife was not widely accepted in social circles in New York.
After the Civil War, Leonard’s wife decided to find her daughters rich husbands; she and her daughters were among the first of the Gilded Age husband-hunters to descend upon England and other European nations. (Alva Vanderbilt was another eager matchmaker, dragging her reluctant daughter Consuelo to England, where she made a spectacularly unhappy marriage with the Duke of Malborough).
Mrs. Jerome was less than thrilled, though, when her most beautiful daughter, Jennie, caught the eye of the Randolph Churchill, a cousin of the Duke of Marlborough. Randolph was not in line to inherit a large fortune, and already had something of a reputation for wild behavior, but by the spring of 1874, Jennie was Lady Randolph Churchill. Apparently there was some urgency to the marriage, as their first child, Winston, was born in November of 1874 (officially, he was “premature”, but weighing in at over 8 pounds, not a lot of people believed that the baby was born at 7 months).
Another son was born six years later, but by then, any love or passion between Jennie and Randolph was gone; both were rumored to have other lovers, and Randolph increasingly behaved badly. One rumor was that he was suffering from the later stages of venereal disease; other rumors pointed to some less than normal ancestors in the family tree.
Jennie was considered one of the beauties of the age in England; portraits and photographs of her were widely displayed and sold, and her presence at any gathering guaranteed a large attendance. Intelligent, charming and curious, after her husband’s death, she would remarry, once again unhappily. She died in the 1920s after a lifetime of travel and adventure.
As he matured, son Winston was very proud of his American connections, and used them to his advantage as he, like his father, pursued a political career.