Showing posts with label gilded age. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gilded age. Show all posts

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Damn, Girl-Jennie Jerome Churchill

Jennie Jerome, also known as Lady Randolph Churchill, or Jeanette Jerome Churchill, is most famous for being the mother of Winston Churchill. However, she was a trailblazing Dollar Princess with a dazzling life in her own right. Writer, socialite, philanthropist, and political pundit, Jennie campaigned to put her husband in power, fundraised, served on a hospital ship, and wrote a bestselling memoir.

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Jeanette "Jennie" Jerome Churchill
Born January 9, 1854, Jennie was the daughter of Leonard Jerome and his wife, Clarissa (Clara) Jerome, nee Hall. Leonard was a financial speculator and prolific rakehell. Clarissa was a fashionable social climber, shuttered from society because of her rumored Haudenosaunee ancestry, and her husband's loose morals. They had four daughters together--Clara (called Clarita), Jennie, Camille (who died at age seven), and Leonie. The three surviving daughters were referred to in society as "the Good, the Beautiful, and the Witty".

Leonard was new money and had fingers in many pies. Most of his money had been made on Wall Street, but he had also been a part owner of the New York Times and had started a political journal called The Native American with one of his brothers. However, he dropped all journalistic ambitions after the Civil War and instead turned to horse racing and women. He popularized horse racing among the elite of New York society and was infamous for his love of opera singers, so infamous that it is rumored that Jennie was named after the famous soprano, Jenny Lind. He frequently combined his love of women and horse racing, packing a coach full of beautiful women and racing at a breakneck pace around New York. He took up with opera singers, and had more than one illegitimate child, some of whom even lived with the family.

Unsurprisingly, Leonard's antics were humiliating to Clara, and put the reputations of their daughters in jeopardy. New York society at the time was headed by the formidable and unforgiving Mrs. Astor and her henchman, Ward McAllister, neither of whom would even think of receiving Clara and her daughters anywhere.¹ At the end of her rope, Clara separated from Leonard in 1867, moving herself and the girls to an apartment on Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. Leonard was informed that he could visit whenever he liked, and that he was to pay the bills.

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Jennie and her sisters. They were close all their lives

Left to right: Jennie, Clarita, Leonie
If the Jerome's were coolly received in New York drawing rooms, they were welcomed with open arms in Paris. Empress Eugenie, the beautiful wife of Napoleon III, had an American grandfather and loved American women, specifically young, pretty American women with a great deal of cash. Jennie hadn't yet made her debut into society at this time, but her older sister Clarita was smashingly popular. Clarita made an impression on Napoleon III and his wife and was sought by many members of the French nobility. Clarita was so popular that when the Prussian army came knocking in 1870, Clara put off leaving Paris. The Jeromes stayed in Paris until the Prussians literally came marching down the streets. Clara, who had a sprained ankle at the time, had to be pushed out of the city in a wheelbarrow, and the Jerome's carried their possessions wrapped in sheets. They managed to beg their way onto a boat bound for Brighton, and were met there by Leonard, who saw them installed comfortably in London.

Once settled in London, the Jerome's took up the threads of their old lives. Many of the people they'd rubbed elbows with in Paris had resettled in London (including the emperor and empress), and English high society was just as welcoming of the nouveau riche Americans as the French. The Prince of Wales was notoriously fond of pretty American ladies, and wherever the Prince of Wales was welcome, they were welcome too. Given that the Prince of Wales was the leader of society at the time, Dollar Princesses like the Jeromes would be welcome everywhere.

The Prince of Wales took a particular shine to Jennie; they were lifelong friends and sometimes lovers. It was at one of his boating parties that Jennie was to meet her first, and most illustrious husband, Randolph Churchill.

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Jennie and Randolph, 1874
Randolph Churchill was the second son of the Duke of Marlborough. He was something of an eccentric and not at all good-looking, being described as "slender, pop-eyed, balding with a bushy mustache." His chief love and ambition in life was his hounds. He had performed poorly in school and seemed an unlikely match for Jennie who was, at nineteen, fluent in two languages, a talented pianist, well educated, and a renowned beauty with all the requisite accomplishments of young lady of the era.

The story of how Randolph and Jennie met is very romantic, and various versions of it can be found across history and literature. It was August 12, 1873 when Randolph saw beautiful, brilliant Jennie across the ballroom at the Cowes Regatta Ball and had to be introduced to her. They had one dance together (a quadrille, in their case) and talked the rest of the evening. They spent the ensuing days together, and Randolph proposed three days later.

This, of course, caused an enormous scandal. Randolph was twenty-four, and Jennie was only nineteen. They had known each other only three days, and Randolph hadn't made his intentions known to Jennie's parents before he asked her to marry him.² Both sets of parents objected; Jennie's on the grounds that Jennie had only known Randolph for three days, Randolph's on the grounds that Jennie was American and that her father was a speculator. The fact that Leonard had seen huge financial losses a few months previously didn't help their case. All parental units were firmly against the match, but the approval of the Prince of Wales, and Jennie and Randolph's pleading eventually broke them down. Randolph and Jennie would be allowed to marry, but only if Randolph could get a seat in Parliament.³

This pronouncement was calculated to put the brakes on Randolph and Jennie's relationship, as parliamentary elections were held sporadically at best, and it seemed unlikely that the then prime minister, Gladstone, would hold another election. However, to the shock of all, Gladstone dissolved his government, and 1874 saw the first election in six years. Randolph was able to secure the Woodstock seat by a narrow margin.

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Lord Randolph Churchill

Never especially close to Randolph's parents, the
negotiation of Jennie's dowry would
cause a permanent chill between Jennie
and her in-laws.
The first hurdle overcome, the engagement next stalled over the negotiation of Jennie's dowry. The Duke of Marlborough, like most English noblemen of the time, was deeply indebted. He had a lot of land but not have a lot of money. He and his eldest son saw Jennie as a temporary reprieve from financial difficulties and acted accordingly. The tense transatlantic negotiation ended with Leonard offering a respectable £50,000⁴ (or $250,000⁵) as a dowry and the duke paying Randolph's debts.

However, there was a hitch. Leonard insisted that Jennie get £1,000⁶ pounds a year of her own($139,528⁷), and that simply wasn't done in Britain. It was unthinkable for a married woman to have her own money; upon marriage, all that a woman owned went to her husband. Among the English, a man that allowed his wife to have her own money was seen as weak. In America, however, it was perfectly normal for women to retain their property after marriage. Leonard had been fairly flexible when it came to Jennie's dowry, but he worried about making his daughter wholly dependent on her husband. Leonard and Jennie were very close (Jennie was far closer to her father than she was to her mother, with whom she butted heads constantly), and he worried about his headstrong daughter becoming subordinate to Randolph. Though the Churchill's blustered, Leonard held firm, writing:
"In the settlement as is finally arranged I have ignored American custom, and waived all my American prejudices. I have conceded to your views and your English custom in every point but one. That is simply a somewhat-unusual allowance of pin money to the wife. Possibly the principle may be wrong but you may be very certain that my action upon it in this instance by no means arises from any distrust of Randolph."
Finally, the Duke acquiesced, though there were some bad feelings between the families, and Randolph's family did not attend the wedding. Jennie and Randolph were quietly married in the British Embassy in Paris on April 15, 1874. In attendance were Jennie's family and a few friends. Jennie had wanted a big, church wedding, but Randolph wouldn't have it, saying that he could not stay in Paris any longer. Jennie, also desperate to be married, agreed.

For Jennie, with marriage came a certain amount of freedom. She had informed Randolph early in their engagement that a condition of their marriage was that he allow her to do exactly as she liked, and Randolph agreed. After being married, Jennie was freed from the constraints of needing a chaperone and having her mother breathing down her neck.

Additionally, there was a certain amount of sexual desperation between the pair. Clara was constantly getting after Jennie for being caught alone with Randolph, and more than one ruinous letter was sent back and forth. It is worth noting that their first son, Winston, was born only seven months later.

Jennie seems to have genuinely loved Randolph, and he her. She was devoted to him, and though they tended to argue a lot, they were quick to make up. They had a shared love of politics, and both followed parliamentary affairs voraciously. During their engagement they wrote scores of letters back and forth to each other, full of academic debate, endearments, amours, and not infrequent admonishments. Though their affection undoubtedly cooled after their marriage, Jennie remained loyal to Randolph (if not quite faithful).

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Jennie with her sons.

Left to right: Jack, Jennie, Winston
After the birth of their first child, the Churchills returned to London and settled into a house on the fashionable Curzon Street. Jennie set about ingratiating herself into society, and Randolph worked at his political career. They were close with the Prince of Wales, fashionable, and invited to all the right places. Things were fantastic when, in 1876, disaster struck.

Randolph was, as mentioned, the second son of the Duke of Marlborough. His elder brother, George, was the Marquess of Blandford, an unhappily married peer with a taste for married women. He embroiled the entire family in scandal when he eloped with the married Edith Aylesford.

At the time of the elopement, Edith's husband had been touring India with the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales was less than impressed with Blandford and made that well known. There was talk of Aylesford divorcing Edith, which would have sent Edith and the entire Churchill family to social Siberia. In order to prevent this, Randolph produced some indiscreet correspondence written by the prince to Edith Aylesford. He took it to Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, and informed her that, should Aylesford divorce his wife, the letters would be made public knowledge, which would embroil the prince, who had already been named in one divorce case that year, in scandal.

Queen Victoria was livid, and the Prince of Wales was furious. He declared that he would not appear anywhere that the Churchills were received, and suddenly the Churchill family was shuttered from society. The position of Viceroy of Ireland was extended to the Duke of Marlborough, and despite having turned down the position before, the duke hied himself off to Dublin. Jennie and Randolph went on an extended tour of North America before joining the Duke in Dublin.

The Churchills would spend nearly five years in Ireland. During that time, they developed a sympathy for the Irish and became proponents of Irish Home Rule. They also saw the birth of their second son, Jack Strange Churchill, in 1880. Shortly after Jack's birth, the Churchills returned to London, kowtowed to the Prince of Wales's satisfaction, and in 1884, they were welcomed back into society.

By this time Jennie and Randolph's amours had cooled somewhat. Though they were still a loving and devoted couple, there were infidelities on both sides, and it was heavily rumored that Jack was not Randolph's son but instead the son of Star Falmouth, a handsome military man Jennie was enamored with, or John Strange Jocelyn, an close friend of Jennie's.

This was not unusual for the age and class to which Jennie belonged. Many upper-class marriages were made for convenience, politics, or money, and not for love. A love match like Jennie and Randolph's was rare, and affairs on both sides were acceptable so long that all sides were discreet, and nobody told the papers. Throughout her marriage, Jennie would have many lovers, especially as Randolph's behavior grew more erratic and cruel.

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Winston, a year or two before
being sent to boarding school.
Despite her distance during
his childhood, Jennie and
Winston would be quite
close when Winston became
an adult.
As a mother, Jennie didn't quite measure up to Victorian (or modern) standards. Like many women of her class and era, she left her sons to be raised by their nanny until they were house trained. However, even for the relative coldness of the age, Jennie was an exceptionally cold mother, and Randolph was no better as a father. The pair rarely saw their sons as babies, skipping the customary daily baby inspection. When the boys were sent off to boarding school, Jennie and Randolph almost never visited. In the case of their eldest son, Winston, they each visited exactly once. There were several instances of Jennie or Randolph being across the street from the school their son attended, yet not bothering to drop by.

It wasn't until her sons were older that Jennie started to become a part of their lives. She took a particular shine to Winston and served as his political advisor and mentor for many years. Despite his mother's early distance, Winston adored Jennie. According to him, "she shone for me like the evening star." This was despite the fact that she and Randolph had ignored Winston's pleading letters and left him to rot in an abusive boarding school. Winston later wrote:
"She seemed to me a fairy princess; a radiant being possessed of limitless riches and power."
Winston would retain fond memories of his mother throughout his life and would defend her relentlessly. Due to this, Jennie's inadequacies as a mother are usually glossed over.⁸

One of the main binding factors in the Churchills' marriage was their shared love of politics. Jennie was Randolph's close advisor, observing him in the House of Commons and helping write his speeches. She was instrumental in his campaigns, both for office and for specific pieces of legislation. She was glamorous and vivacious and charmed those she met. This made her an excellent political hostess, and even Randolph's political opponents couldn't help but adore his wife.

Chief among Jennie's political achievements was the founding of the Primrose League. The Primrose League was established in 1883 and was a group that brought a social element to politics. Chiefly conservative, the League was inspired by Benjamin Disraeli's death in 1881 and the worry about Gladstone's liberal policies. The primrose was chosen to represent the League because the primrose was Disraeli's favorite flower, and League members were already conveniently wearing it to commemorate the anniversary of Disraeli's death.

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Members of the Primrose League wore badges
like this.
Primarily a social club, the Primrose League was known for its balls, high teas, dinner parties, picnics, train trips, and cycling clubs. The league helped the conservatives into power between 1885 and 1906 and had a significant influence on Gladstone's policies on Irish Home Rule. Though they fell from power after 1906, the Primrose League remained active until it was dissolved in 2004.

The Primrose League was unique in that it not only allowed women to join its ranks but that it encouraged women to join. Membership was more than 50% female, and the women of the Primrose League helped promote conservative legislature, and influenced the men in their lives to vote along conservative lines.

However, despite Jennie's glittering facade, things at home were tense. Randolph, who had contracted syphilis⁹ during his time at Oxford,¹⁰ was, to put it delicately, cuckoo for cocoa puffs. He grew increasingly cold towards his wife, and would upbraid her in public. Never a team player, Randolph increasingly excluded members of his own party from his political decisions, and publicly fought with his political allies. He began acting erratically in public, until he abruptly resigned from his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1886.

Jennie was just as invested in Randolph's political career as he was, but he had increasingly excluded her from his public life. He purposefully kept her out of the loop concerning his resignation, and Jennie didn't find out about his resignation until she read about in the newspaper the next day. When Jennie confronted Randolph about this, his reaction was unsettling to say the least. Of that occasion, Jennie wrote:
"When I came down to breakfast, the fatal paper in my hand, I found him calm and smiling. 'Quite a surprise for you,' he said. He went into no explanation, and I felt too utterly crushed and miserable to ask for any, or even to remonstrate."
This was the beginning of Randolph's downward spiral. He continued to participate in the House of Commons, but his absences due to ill health grew longer and longer until Jennie had to take him abroad for his health. He died on January 24, 1895. He was only 45.

Jennie went into a short period of mourning, then threw herself back into society. She mingled and partied, and did all that widowed ladies of her class were expected, including charity work. In 1899 Jennie turned her attention to fundraising. The Second Boer War was raging, and both Jack and Winston were serving in South Africa. She rallied the other American ladies of her class to fundraise to buy and outfit a hospital ship. She was successful, convincing American financier Bernard N. Baker to donate a ship and crew. They called the ship The Maine, and Jennie shocked society when she went along with the ship to South Africa. She served as a sort of hospital administrator for the duration of the war, and in 1902 was awarded the Red Cross by King Edward VII (the former Prince of Wales).

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The RFA Maine, 1902
Jennie's motives for accompanying the Maine weren't entirely pure, however. While both of her sons were serving in South Africa, so was her boyfriend, George Cornwallis-West, a young member of the Scots-Guard. Jennie had been a friend of George's mother and had known George for years. They started to seriously court in 1897, despite the objections of George's family. Jennie was twenty years older than George, with George being only sixteen days older than Winston. Nonetheless, they were married in 1900.

Shortly after her marriage, Jennie began helping Winston with his political career. She became his political mentor and helped him in much the same ways that she had previously helped Randolph, serving as his political hostess until Winston married in 1908.

Despite being disgustingly wealthy, Jennie had always had money issues, even during Randolph's lifetime. Money flowed out faster than it came in, and this problem was further exacerbated with her marriage to George Cornwallis-West, who had very little fortune of his own. Leonard had died, and Clara didn't have much money to send. In order to make a little extra cash, Jennie turned to writing.

In 1899 Jennie started the Anglo-Saxon Review, a quarterly magazine dedicated to preserving the ideas of her time. Its circulation included prestigious heads of state and society, and its contributors were equally prestigious. The Review contained articles from Algernon Swinburne, Henry James, Cecil Rhodes, and Lord Rosebery, among others. It was a lavish publication, fronted with leather covers, each individually hand-tooled by master craftsmen. It was an enormously expensive publication and, unsurprisingly, failed in 1901 after only ten issues.

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George Cornwallis-West. Jennie was noted,
more than once, for her love of men with
mustaches.
Undeterred, Jennie set pen to paper in 1908, writing the play "His Borrowed Plumes." It was produced at the Hicks Theatre and starred Mrs. Patrick Campbell,¹¹ a popular, if unscrupulous, actress. The play was a financial failure, as was Jennie's 1913 play "The Bill."

While Jennie wasn't much of a playwright, she was a talented memoirist. Her book The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill came out in 1908 and was a great success. Her 1916 collection of essays, Short Talks on Big Subject,s was also very successful.

To add insult to the "His Borrowed Plumes" injury, George, never faithful, ran off with Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Jennie had quite liked Mrs. Campbell, and the cut was deep. In January of 1913 Jennie filed for divorce, claiming that George had "denied her her conjugal rights." Their divorce was finalized in July of 1914.

Times were changing, and Jennie was beginning to feel a bit lonely. Her friends were dying, and the world was rapidly changing. When World War I started in 1914, Jennie helped translate French documents for the English government and wrote on the war in Ireland for the London Daily Chronicle. The war came and went, and Jennie continued on as before--society, parties, charity.

In 1913, however, Jennie had had a fortuitous meeting with Montague Phippen Porch, a colonial secretary in Nigeria who was three years younger than Winston. They met at a wedding in Rome, and Porch was smitten. They corresponded while Porch served as an intelligence officer in Africa during WWI, and in 1916 he proposed to Jennie.

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Montague Phippen Porch
Jennie was hesitant to marry again, but she accepted on the caveats that she would retain her name, and that she would not move to Africa. The pair were married in Ireland at the Harrow Road registry office on June 1, 1918. Her sons were, surprisingly, fine with Jennie marrying for a third time. Both realized that their mother had been unhappy and gave their blessing. Winston informed Porch that he would never regret marrying Jennie. Porch later agreed.

After tying the knot, Porch left the military, and the pair traveled. Porch was not wealthy and had to return to Africa to make a living. There was quite a bit of tittering around London about the pair, and Porch never felt quite comfortable in English society. Despite the distance, their marriage was very calm. Montague was madly in love with Jennie, and she liked him. Many people remarked that she looked happier with Montague than she ever had with Randolph or George. When people brought up their age difference, Jennie merely remarked "he has a future and I have a past so we should be alright."

Though separated by a continent, Jennie and Montague stayed in close contact, writing frequently. Jennie kept busy, volunteering with the YWCA and the Shakespeare Union. She shocked society by appearing in a movie and boarding an airplane. She was visiting a friend in June of 1921 when she slipped down the stairs in her new high-heeled shoes. She broke her ankle, and a few days later, gangrene set in. The doctor amputated her leg above the knee, but that didn't stop the infection. A few days later, Jennie started bleeding profusely. She slipped into a coma and passed away on the 29th of June. She was only 67. Her sons were with her, but Montague had not been able to make it back from Africa.

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Jennie
Jennie was buried with Randolph in the Churchill family cemetery. She was memorialized by her son and nephew and has been a favored topic of Edwardian Age enthusiasts ever since. Though her fame has been far eclipsed by that of her son, Jennie Jerome Churchill was one of the most colorful women of her time.



¹Though Ward McAllister was a big fan of Leonard's, specifically Leonard's habit of giving guests at his dinners lavish presents.
²Nor, for that matter, had Jennie's mother even been aware of Randolph's suit.
³Because he was the younger son, Randolph was not entitled to a seat in the House of Lords, and had to run in the House of Commons. He ran for the Woodstock seat, which was the location of his family home. That same seat had once been held by his father, who cherished the idea of a career in politics for his younger son.
⁴£5,391,452 in 2019 currency
⁵$6,976,404 in 2019 currency
⁶£107,829 in 2019 currency
⁷$139,528 in 2019 currency
⁸It must be said that Randolph was an equally terrible parent. He appeared to despise his sons, and never spoke to them. Winston recalled once asking his father if he had gone to Harrow or to Eton, and being completely ignored.
⁹The popular historical story is that Randolph's illness was syphilis. However, not all of his symptoms line up with the typical syphilitic, and many historians have speculated that he may have suffered from a brain tumor or bipolar disorder. These theories are further backed by the facts that neither Jennie nor Winston seemed to suffer from syphilis.
¹⁰Randolph and his Oxford cronies explained his contraction of the disease with a lurid tale that began with a glass of champagne, and ended with waking up in a bed with an old prostitute with one tooth. However, Randolph's family claimed that he contracted it from a chambermaid shortly after his marriage to Jennie.
¹¹Mrs. Campbell would later go on to create the role of Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.
More on Similar Topics


Sources
American Jennie: the Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill by Anne Sebba
The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill by Jennie Jerome Churchill
To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
Society as I Have Found It by Ward McAllister
The Husband Hunters by Anne De Courcy
"The Love of Power and the Power of Love: Churchill's Childhood" by Marvin Rintala
UK Inflation Calculator
Leonard Jerome New York Times Obituary
Clara Hill Jerome New York Times Death Announcement
Camille Jerome Genealogical Records
The Primrose League
Jennie Jerome Churchill-The History Chicks
Jennie Jerome Churchill-Britannica
Churchill, Jennie Jerome
American Jennie-Portrait of Jennie Jerome Churchill

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Damn, Girl-Madam C.J. Walker, Millionaire, Beauty Guru, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a wildly successful business woman who overcame the Reconstruction Era limitations put on African Americans to become the first female millionaire. Part businesswoman, part philanthropist, part activist, Madam Walker and her company gave education and well-paying jobs to thousands of African American women, and left a legacy of education and self-sufficiency that still survives today.

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Sarah Breedlove
Sarah was born in December of 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on the same plantation her parents and elder siblings had been enslaved on. Sarah was the first of her family to be born free and grew up against the shaky and uncertain background of the post-Civil War South. Her parents, though technically free, were unable to leave the plantation because of a lack of funds and the "Black Codes", laws that restricted the movements of African Americans. They and their children kept working in the cotton fields, and Sarah was put to work helping them at a young age.

Though Sarah's mother, Minerva Breedlove, would have liked for her daughter to attend school, African Americans of the era were still not alloted all the rights of white Americans. Schools were segregated, and black schools were frequently burned, and teachers harrassed or killed. Furthermore, in 1873, the year Sarah would have started first grade, the Louisiana state legislature refused to fund public schools, and the schools in Sarah's parish, as well as many others, shuttered. Because of this, Sarah was unable to get a formal education, a problem Sarah would attempt to remedy throughout most of her life.

An unfortunate fact of Sarah's life is that she was never very lucky. This bad luck started off in 1873 when Minerva died. Sarah's father, Owen Breedlove, remarried, but he passed in 1875 when Sarah was only seven. The exact natures of their deaths are unknown, but it is supposed that they, along with many others, were carried off by the cholera or yellow fever epidemics that swept the South. The Breedloves died leaving six children orphans.

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Delta, Louisiana
It was difficult to find work in Delta, and so the family, one by one, left for Vicksburg, Mississippi, not far from where Sarah and her younger brother, Solomon, were living with their elder sister, Louvenia, and her husband, Jesse. Sarah's older brothers, unable to find work, gradually headed west to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Sarah at the mercy of her brother in law. Jesse was a violent and abusive man who resented Sarah, and to escape him, Sarah married Moses McWilliams. She was only fourteen.

Sarah was notoriously tight-lipped about her past, and not much is known about her marriage with Moses. From Sarah's telling of it, it was a strictly pragmatic move on her part, born out of a desire for her own home rather than true love. Regardless, they had one child together, Lelia, who would be more or less the center of Sarah's life until her death.

Bad luck struck again, and in 1888, Moses died. Like with Sarah's parents, the cause of death has been lost to time, though the popular legend is that he was among the 95 victims of lynching in Mississippi that year. This claim is more or less refuted by A'lelia Bundles, Sarah's great-great-granddaughter, citing evidence that these claims originated from people who didn't know Moses, long after Sarah's death. There are other claims that Moses died in a work accident, but if there was any official documentation in the matter, it has been lost to history. Irregardless, he left Sarah a widow with a two year old child to support.

Sarah had been working as a laundress in Vicksburg, and she and Moses had been just barely scraping by. With the loss of Moses's income, there was no way Sarah could survive in Vicksburg, and there was no chance for improvement in Mississippi, so Sarah went to St. Louis to join her brothers.

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A'lelia would go on to become a major
figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Alexander, James, and Solomon Breedlove were all working as barbers when Sarah and Lelia joined them in 1889. At the time being a barber was a prestigious profession for an African American man, and Sarah's brothers enjoyed reasonable prosperity. Through familial association, Sarah was undoubtedly able to learn things that would greatly assist her in the haircare business later.

Finding a job was difficult, especially as a single mother. The only work Sarah was able to find was as a live-in-maid to a wealthy white family, a job that would not allow her to keep Lelia with her. Though it undoubtedly broke her heart, Sarah put Lelia in an orphanage, on the arrangement that Lelia would not be put up for adoption, and worked tirelessly for about a year until she had enough saved up to start her own business as a laundress. Lelia rejoined her, and she was able to send her daughter to school.

In 1894, Sarah married again, this time to John Davis, a ne'er-do-well who had a drinking problem and a bit of fluff on the side. Almost immediately, their marriage soured as Davis was brazenly unfaithful, and refused to work. He was brought up before the courts several times, which undoubtedly humiliated Sarah, who worked tirelessly to create a good reputation for herself and her daughter.

Not much is known about this second marriage, because, as with so much of the unsavory bits of Sarah's past, she attempted to have all mentions of it expunged. However, it is very telling that pair had to move several times, and in 1899, Lelia attended school only 23 times, despite the fact that she had attended school almost religiously the year before and would do the same after. By 1903, the pair had separated for good, and Sarah had begun seeing Mr. Charles Joseph Walker, an ad man and reporter for the local black newspapers.

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1904 World's Fair
In 1900, Sarah had, with the help of her church friends, started attending night classes. Sarah was ambitious, she wanted to move up in the world, and, having rubbed elbows with the middle class in church attendance, she was determined to become a respectable and affluent person in her own right. She just wasn't sure how to go about it.

Sarah attended the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and there she attended meetings and lectures given by some of the most prominent black leaders of the day, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Their talk of civil rights and their determination to end lynching inspired Sarah, but she was very intimidated by them, due to her lack of wealth and appearance.

Like many women of the era, Sarah was going bald. Poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water for washing had led to a scalp infection, which had caused her hair to break off and caused her to develop bald spots. Sarah tried a multitude of remedies, and in 1903, Sarah found a solution, Annie Pope Turnbo's Miracle Hair Grower. Not only did this ointment help Sarah regrow her hair, but she also began to work as a door-to-door saleswoman for the company.

In 1905, Sarah moved again, this time to Denver. Lelia was at boarding school in Tennessee, and it was growing ever more difficult to make a living as a Turnbo Saleswoman in St. Louis. The market was oversaturated with Turbo products, and there was no real path to advancement for Sarah. However, rumors were that Denver was hell on the hair. So once again she packed her bags, and arrived in Denver with $1.50 in her pocket and a bag of hair products to sell.

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Annie Pope Turnbo would rebrand many times,
but her products eventually became known
under the name Poro.
Luckily, Sarah had family in Denver. Her sister-in-law and three nieces lived in the booming mine town, and Sarah was able to rely on her for support while she found her feet. Sarah found work as a cook in a boarding house and made friends with the local pharmacist, Edmund Scholtz.

Pharmacists at the time were just as much mad scientist as pill counters, and Scholtz helped Sarah analyze the ingredients of her Turnbo hair products so that Sarah could add and take away from the creams and create her business. Sarah likely took him up on the offer, and in 1905, she rented a small attic she used as a laboratory, mixing up hair remedies to try on herself and her nieces.

Sarah would later claim that the idea and recipes for her products would come to her in a dream, but this can be easily dismissed as self-aggrandizing nonsense and was about par for the course in Sarah's attempt to sugarcoat her past. Without the contributions of Edmund Scholtz and Annie Turnbo, Sarah would never have gotten anywhere.

She continued to sell Turnbo hair products, as well as other soaps and cures made up by local companies. By 1905, Sarah had saved up enough to quit her cooking job, and she set up a hair salon, giving hair treatments and selling products first Ms. Turnbo's, then her own. Though she still took in washing two days a week, she began to make money off her own business.

Sarah had still been seeing Charles Walker, though, given the distance, their relationship was likely more "off again" than "on again". However, in late 1905, he joined Sarah in Denver, and they were married on January 4, 1906.
Related image
Sarah's first product line included three products. The
'Wonderful Hair Grower' was one of them.

Charles was a businessman as well, and he joined ship. Though their relationship would end up as tumultuous as Sarah's previous relationship, he made two major contributions to Sarah's business. He suggested that she add a mail-order element to her business model, and he suggested that she rebrand her products as "Mrs. C.J. Walker". Sarah took these ideas and ran with them. She hired her daughter and nieces to run the mail-order arm of her company and branded her products under the name "Madam C.J. Walker", a name invoking all the refinement of a French salon.

Though she was selling well in Denver, Sarah wanted to expand. Against her husband's protests, she left Lelia in charge of the mail-order side of business and went on a sales and lecture tour of the Rocky Mountain and Southern states to gain brand recognition, promote her "Walker Method" of grooming, and increase sales. She began to advertise in prominent black newspapers, taking the extraordinary leap of using pictures of herself for her before and after shots in advertisements. This lent her extra credibility because then, as now, advertisers would often use pictures of two completely different people in their before and after pictures.

Her business was growing to an almost unmanageable point, so Sarah decided to move from Denver which, while a good city, was not the bustling trade hub Sarah needed. In 1907, Sarah moved her company to Pittsburgh, a major transport hub that would drastically reduce Sarah's shipping costs. Sarah opened up a factory and started making her products on a wider scale.

Most importantly, while in Pittsburgh Sarah opened up the Lelia College of Beauty Culture to train the thousands of "hair culturists" that sold her products. In this school, Sarah not only taught sales strategies but also taught how to give hair treatments and how to dress hair. Her goal for her hair culturists was that they would not only sell products, but also sell the women they served on a lifestyle of cleanliness and style. Sarah firmly believed that being clean and well-groomed was as much a secret to success as hard work, and she wanted to spread her secret to as many of her sisters as she could.

Sarah was a devout woman, and her faith informed her business practices. The churches she belonged to stressed charitable action, and Sarah believed that it was her duty to not only do charity but to also raise her employees up with her and give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sarah's school gave African-American women the skills they needed to start their own businesses and paid well enough that the children of her employees were able to attend school, something still rare for the era.
Image result for c.j. walker theatre
After shuttering in 1981, Sarah's manufacturing plant became
the 'Madam Walker Theatre'

Throughout her career, Sarah employed more than 10,000 black women, and their average pay was between $15 and $40 a week, about $430--$1,148 in 2019 currency. She extended this pay level to not only her skilled saleswomen but to her less skilled factory workers as well. Sarah was known for being a good and generous employer throughout her life.

Pittsburgh was never the intended final resting place of Sarah's business, and in 1910, she moved to Indianapolis where she incorporated. Indianapolis was, at the time, the crossroads of America, and contained a thriving black business community. She opened another factory there, as well as another beauty school, and started to rake in the cash.

The year of her move to Indianapolis Sarah "divorced"¹ Walker. He had never been content being her subordinate, and had been unfaithful to Sarah. He attempted several times to counterfeit her products but was never successful. Though she was no longer technically "Mrs. C.J. Walker", Sarah kept the name because it was inextricably mixed up with her brand.

Sarah stopped personally overseeing her company in 1913, leaving operations to be managed by Lelia. She turned her attention to philanthropy, giving generous sums to the YMCA, retirement homes, convalescent homes, and orphanages. She sponsored at least six students at the Tuskegee Institute and provided scholarships for several black women to attend schools of higher learning. She made charitable giving a part of her company culture and encouraged her employees to get involved in charity. Upon her death, Sarah willed two thirds of her net worth to charity, including giving the NAACP the $5,000 ($143,622 in 2019 currency) they would need to stay afloat during the Great Depression.

Not content to remain a philanthropist, Sarah took up activism as well. Sarah had had strong political opinions since her encounters at the 1904 world fair not a decade before. As a prosperous woman, Sarah felt she finally had something to bring to the table. She joined the NAACP, and helped organize the "Silent Protest" of 1917. She encouraged her employees to get involved on a local level.

Image result for villa lewaro
The Villa Lewaro, in Harlem. Sarah took the name for her
home from the name of her daughter, Lelia Walker Robinson
Interestingly, Sarah clashed with the most influential civil rights leader of the time--Booker T. Washington. Sarah's usage and promotion of the hot comb--an early hair straightener--caused Washington to accuse her of attempting to whitewash black women. This combined with the perceived frivolity of the beauty industry caused Washington to dismiss Sarah as a business leader, despite the fact that she frequently sought his approval. However, as Sarah grew more influential and inspiration in black business circles he grudgingly gave her his respect.

Sarah moved to New York in 1914 with the intention to rest. A life of struggle and stress had left Sarah with hypertension and nephritis. Sarah's version of "rest" wasn't very restful, however, and she continued her activism and philanthropy. In May of 1919, she died of kidney disease.

If we're talking about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, Sarah Breedlove Walker is foremost among them. Where so many people who claim to be "self-made" have come from incredibly privileged backgrounds, Sarah started with nothing and through hard work and determination, she pulled herself out of poverty to create a company that would not only give her daughter a better life, but would also create a better life for her thousands of employees, and their children. Sarah's determination to lift up her community has left an immeasurable impact on the African American community



¹We put "divorced" in air quotes, because when Sarah went to divorce Charles, she discovered that she had never gotten around to divorcing John Davis, which meant Sarah had been living as a bigamist for four years.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


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Sources
On Her Own Ground: the Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'lelia Bundles
Madam C.J. Walker: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Millionaire by Mary N. Olounye
Madam C.J. Walker-Biography
Madam C.J.Walker-Official Website
Madam C.J. Walker-National Women's History Museum
Madam C.J. Walker-Encyclopedia Britannica
Madam C.J. Walker's Philanthropy
Madam C.J. Walker-Archbridge Institute
Madam C.J. Walker-The History Chicks
Currency Conversion

 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Dollar Princesses-Social Mobility Across the Pond

It's the late Victorian Era, and the English nobility are having a rough time of things. Many of them are trapped with vast crumbling estates, huge debts, and little to no money. There's been an economic and agricultural depression, and country landlords are finding that their tenants can no longer pay rent. Things are pretty bleak, and all around the country, and ancient noble families are having to close the doors of their country homes and downsize.

Image result for jennie jerome
Jennie Jerome, later Lady Randolph Churchill. She
became engaged to Lord Randolph Churchill
within three days of meeting him. Their engagement
lasted about 4 months as their parents squabbled over
the marriage contract. Their eldest son, Winston, was
born just seven months after their wedding. 

Meanwhile, in the New World, it's the Gilded Age and things are booming! Americans have stopped killing each other, and instead they're building railroads, starting banks, opening factories, and making millions. New millionaires pop up in the mid-west every day, and as soon as they strike it rich, these millionaires move their families to New York City, home of high society. Unfortunately, upon arrival, these New Money families found that their millions couldn't necessarily buy them into upper echelons of society.

1870s New York Society was ruled by Mrs. Caroline 'Lina' Astor, and her crony Ward McAllister. Lina and McAllister were both part of the 'Knickerbockers', a stratification of New York society. To be a Knickerbocker, one had to be descended from the original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, and be very, very wealthy. Additionally, one's wealth couldn't come from something vulgar like railroads or manufacturing. It had to come from something aristocratic, like landowning and already being wealthy.

The railroad and manufacturing magnates didn't fit the mold, and the Knickerbockers were determined to keep them out. While it was possible for a noveaux riche to gain entre to society, it was extremely difficult, and the society courting system heavily favored the daughters of the Knickerbockers. This incensed many of the noveaux riche parents, particularly the mothers, who wanted their daughters to have all the privileges and advantages they themselves had never had. In order to give their daughters these advantages, their mothers decided to skip New York Society, and do one better--they decided to marry their daughters off to members of the English Aristocracy.

Image result for consuelo vanderbilt
Consuelo Vanderbilt, later Duchess of
Marlborough, was engaged to marry Winthrop
Rutherford, a man she loved when her mother made 
her break it off. She was soon engaged to the 
Duke of Marlborough. The couple separated
after 11 years of marriage, and eventually
divorced.
Hopping across the pond was not only beneficial for the daughter's marriage prospects, but a huge 'up yours' to the gatekeepers who had kept them out of New York society. If being rich wasn't enough to make families like the Astors respect them, then a title might do the trick.

This idea was not totally unfounded. While there were still some serious ill feelings between the United States and the United Kingdom (the United Kingdom had, after all, supported the South during the Civil War, attacked the United States in 1812, and it was less than 100 years since the American Revolution), having a noble or royal title still meant something in the United States, especially among the members of New York Society. Mrs. Astor and her friends wanted to create their own sort of aristocracy, and they admired little more than actual aristocracy.²

Across the ocean, these young ladies and their iron willed mothers were surprised to find themselves received into British Society with relatively open arms. The wealth, style, and glamour of the American girl made her fascinating to the British Lords, who were used to the quiet, reserved English girls. Throw in the fact that Albert, Prince of Wales and leader of fashion, ADORED American girls, and marrying an American became all the rage.

The Prince of Wales plays a big part in the success of these American women in English society. Because Queen Victoria had largely withdrawn from society, it fell to her son to be the leader of fashion and society, and this was a role Albert reveled in. He loved big parties, heavy drinking, and lots of sex, much to the disapproval of his mother. Albert had found that the wealthy Americans were much better able to host him, and that American manners much better suited his sense of fun. He became good friends (and lovers) with many of the first Dollar Princesses, and was responsible for the introduction and popularization of most of them in society.

Image result for albert prince of wales
Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, was
the son of Queen Victoria and Prince
Albert. Even after he reached his majority
his mother kept a tight grip on her reigns
of power, leaving Albert with little
to do but party.
Marrying an American heiress wasn't just popular however, it was also very convenient, and sometimes necessary for the impoverished English Lord. Because primogeniture wasn't observed in America, American girls could expect to get an equal share in their father's estates, and many of them came with an enormous dowry. Even the smallest of American dowries could pay off an English lord's debts, and set him up comfortably for a good long time. Because of this many of these marriages became little more than business transactions--the trade of millions of dollars for a title. Extra-marital affairs, already common among the upper class of that era, were even more common in these unions. Several unions were unhappy enough that they ended in divorce, such as the case of Consuelo Vanderbilt.

For this reason, as well as a few others, marriages between society heiresses and destitute noblemen weren't incredibly popular with the American people, though they were obviously popular with the families in question. Americans, for all their love of the glitter of society weddings, did not like the idea of an arranged marriage. It was common to marry for love, or at least affection in America, and the idea that a nobleman would marry an American girl for her money and not for her personality repulsed the public. Additionally, the idea that hard earned American dollars were going into funding the crumbling institutions that had so recently oppressed them was unpopular with Americans. As the 1900s dawned the prominence of international unions led many Americans to despair that the English were stealing all the American heiresses.

Image result for frances work
Despite being included in the 'Old Money'
elite of New York Society, Frances Work
married James Burke Roche, who was
set to inherit a barony. Unfortunately, the
couple divorced before James (and Frances)
inherited the title.
For about 20 years American heiresses went across the Atlantic to find a husband. The titles grew less important, but during the reign of Edward VII the transatlantic union was still very popular. However, this all changed when his son George ascended the throne in 1911. George (the current Queen Elizabeth's grandfather) and his wife Mary didn't approve of the joviality and high spending of Edward's court. They wanted a return to traditional English values, and marrying an American slowly fell out of fashion.

The 'Dollar Princess' is a major character in fiction. From Edith Wharton's Buccaneers to Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey, Dollar Princesses figure heavily in period pieces set in the Edwardian Era/Gilded Age/Belle Epoque. In real life, the descendants of these ladies still occupy a high place in British Society. Prince William, heir to the heir to the throne³, is the great-great grandson of Frances Work, the daughter of a stock-broker. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister during WWII was the son of Jennie Jerome, one of the first Dollar Princesses.

Aside from the children they left behind, the Dollar Princesses left a huge imprint on both their home and adopted countries. Not only did their marriages induce anglomania in the United States, but it also cemented alliances between the United States and United Kingdom. Though it was not the intention, these marriages functioned much as many political marriages of the time. They essentially married two countries together, forming an alliance that, to this day, is still one of the most important diplomatic ties for each country.

¹In the North that is. The South is undergoing Reconstruction  which pushed the region into an economic slump that still affects it to this day.
² In theory anyways. In practice, most Americans found members of nobility, especially the English nobility, to be severely lacking in moral fiber.
³ It is, however, unlikely that William will ever become king, as Queen Elizabeth II is most likely immortal.

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Sources
To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol Mc.D Wallace
The Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
A Look Back at the 'Dollar Princess'
Dollar Princesses
Topics in Chronicling America-- 'Dollar Princess'
The Gilded Age's Real Life 'Dollar Princesses'
How American Dollar Princesses Changed British Nobility
Gilded Age Heiresses