The Real American Duchesses: Part 1

Hello Lovelies!

As you all know, this blog and shoe company are called American Duchess – but would you believe we’re not the first American Duchess(es) to exist? Nope! Indeed, there have been many American Duchesses over the years, from real women to a race horse, oil company, and line of fine cigars.

Perhaps the first common usage of the term “American Duchess” arose in the 19th century, when it became “a thing” for wealthy American socialites to marry broke English lords. The ladies got the status while the gentlemen got the money. If this sounds familiar, it was the premise for the marriage between Cora and Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey.

The term “American Duchess” on our side of the pond – the American side – became a colloquialism for this kind of pan-Atlantic match regardless of the actual title of the ladies involved. Some were actual Duchesses while others could claim less – or greater! – titles. With that being said, and much to the chagrin of proper English folks everywhere, we share with you the stories of some of our favorite, notable “American Duchesses.”

Meet Jennie Jerome, who became Lady Randolph Spencer-Churchill. Lady Churchill was born in Brooklyn, New York to Leonard & Clara Jerome. Her father’s success in stock market speculation and investments meant that she grew up in wealthy aristocratic circles in Europe and New York. She married Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill in 1874, and became the mother to Winston Churchill. Turns out she was also, ahem, quite popular in aristocratic circles, and developed a lot of political and social connections this way. These political connections seem to be quite beneficial to Winston’s career as an adult. She was also just stunning:

Photography by Henry Van Der Wyde, 1874-80s 

Portrait c. 1880

Lord Randolph died in 1895, leaving Jennie a widow and a bit of a saucy cougar. Her second marriage was to George Cornwallis-West, who was the same age as her son, Winston, in 1900. Sadly, things fell apart over time, and they divorced in 1914. She married a third time to Montagu Phippen Porch, who was 3 years younger than her son Winston Churchill, in 1918.

Outside of her love life, Jennie seems to have been an incredibly inspiring person. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1902 for her services during the Second Boer War, published a memoir in 1908, was an avid playwright for West End productions, and edited a quarterly magazine, “The Anglo-Saxon Review” for a few years.

Jennie died in 1921, after a failed amputation attempt from an infection in her leg. She was 67 years old.

In my opinion, Jennie seems like she would have been an incredible woman to have been acquainted with during her lifetime, and is a great example of an “American Duchess.”

Finally, just wanted to share this picture of her son, Winston, from the 1890s, when he was smokin’ hot.


  • Ann

    September 7, 2017 at 11:56 PM

    "Lady Churchill was born in Brooklyn"

    Picky mode on: Since her husband was a duke's younger son, she was ALWAYS Lady Randolph, never Lady Churchill (her husband's family surname was Spencer-Churchill, but they dropped the hyphen and used "Churchill" in public life).

  • Sparrow

    September 8, 2017 at 2:16 AM

    What a great blog topic! The Buccaneers got me interested in the Parsons daughters from my home city of Columbus, Ohio. There were a lot of similarities between their stories. If you haven't already read To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery by Gail MacColl, the book that inspired Downton Abbey, it gives a thorough look into what the lives of women in that situation were like.

  • Caroline

    September 15, 2017 at 10:54 PM

    And Jennie wasn't actually a duchess, just the daughter-in-law to one. Her husband was the third son of the Duke Marlborough, thus why he was addressed as "Lord" even though he didn't have a proper title.

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