Friday, November 2, 2018


Jennie, Clarita, and Camille Jerome, around 1860

The three Jerome Sisters were considered lovely women, each in their own way. All three married Englishmen and spent a great deal of time together as adults. Perhaps as a result they were nicknamed in British Society: The Beautiful, The Wise, and The Good. Jennie was Beautiful--her little sister Leonie was Wise--and elder sister Clarita, whose blonde prettiness appeared angelic but whose personality in fact was rather dull, was Good.

What few people in London Society knew, however, is that there was a fourth Jerome sister: Camille. Camille might best be nicknamed The Lost.

It is almost certainly her image at the right of the group portrait above, not Leonie's, as is mistakenly stated whenever the picture is reprinted in Jennie's biographies. Camille and Jennie were only eighteen months apart; Leonie was five years younger. The three girls in the sketch were either captured before Leonie's birth--or at a time when the youngest Jerome was still an infant in the nursery. 

Jennie barely mentions Camille in her memoir, The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill, published in 1908. She refers to "another child, who died while the family was resident in Europe," but this is a blatant untruth. Camille is thought to have died during the summer of 1863, when she was seven and a half years old, of an unnamed fever. The death probably occurred in Newport--in the weeks just after the Battle of Gettysburg, when Leonard Jerome had sent his family out of Manhattan for their safety from the New York Draft Riots. It is impossible to find a death certificate for Camille, as states did not require them to be issued until after the Civil War, and the death of children was rarely recorded.

Why did Jennie, and the rest of her family, consign Camille so abruptly to the past? I suspect it has everything to do with grief. The precariousness of existence in the mid-nineteenth century, the fact that medical science could do little to treat even simple illnesses, that even the King of Wall Street, as Leonard Jerome was known, could not save his child....The stark abyss of death in the midst of the privileged and secure Jerome childhood must have been devastating.

Clara Jerome with The Good, The Wise, and The Beautiful, left to right.
Jennie is holding her Cairn terrier.
Jennie would have been nine when Camille died, and the two were closer in age than any of the Jerome girls--in That Churchill Woman, I imagine the two "middles," as their nannie calls Jennie and Camille, sharing a bedroom separate from the teenaged Clarita and the baby Leonie. Jennie's girlhood friends, Alva Erskine Smith, Minnie Stevens, and Consuelo Yznaga, would have known Camille just as well--she would have clung to the sides of Jennie's donkey cart as it raced up and down Bellevue Avenue, that summer in Newport. 

It is tempting to wonder whether the loss of a child had deeper ramifications in Leonard and Clara Jerome's marriage. They never had another child. And four years later, in 1867, Clara separated from Leonard permanently--moving herself and her three surviving daughters to Paris. This must have been a second emotional shock for Jennie, who adored her Papa. At the age of thirteen, she might be forgiven for believing that little about family life--or the bonds of love--could be trusted.

Camille's death spurred a predictable impulse in Leonard Jerome. Although he had provided lavish houses for his girls, in Manhattan, Newport, and Bathgate, he had no home for all of them in death. Camille was probably buried that summer of 1863 in Newport, but Leonard returned to New York and commenced the building of a mausoleum, in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, the resting place of Manhattan's elite. According to Green-Wood's records, Leonard had Camille's body exhumed from its original Newport resting place and interred in the Jerome mausoleum in Brooklyn in May 1868--six months after Clara and Camille's sisters had left America behind forever. 

Leonard and Camille are the only members of Jennie's immediate family at Green-Wood. The rest of the Jerome women are buried in England.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.  

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