Tuesday, April 9, 2019


President John F. Kennedy, son Randolph Churchill to his left, Jackie Kennedy and grandson Winston Churchill to her right.
At Kennedy's right is the British Ambassador to the United States, David Ormsby-Gore, later 5th Baron Harlech. Courtesy of  www.winstonchurchill.org
It's April 9th. Winston Churchill Day.
Not because he was born or died on this day, but because for the first time in American history, in 1963, a sitting president--Jack Kennedy--signed a proclamation conferring honorary American citizenship to the subject of another nation: Winston Churchill.

Jack described Winston as "a son of America," referring to his New York-born mother, Jennie Jerome Churchill. His son Randolph, and grandson Winston, accepted the honor for him at the White House, as Churchill was too infirm to travel. 

Joe, Kick, and Jack Kennedy entering the House of Commons Sept. 3, 1939, for Britain's declaration of war
I love this moment in time, because it conjures for me an association of so many ideas. As Francine Mathews, I wrote a novel entitled JACK 1939 a few years back, exploring the period when Jack Kennedy first met Winston Churchill--during the six months leading up to World War II, when Jack's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, served as American Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Jack's sister Eunice was a debutante along with Sarah Spencer-Churchill, daughter of Winston's cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, and the five elder Kennedy kids--Joe, Jack, Rosie, Kick, and Eunice, along with their parents, attended Sarah's incomparable coming-out ball July, 1939, at Blenheim Palace. Sarah would eventually marry an American naval officer.

Naturally, Winston was also there, watching the Young People jitterbug in the Long Library.

Jack was a junior at Harvard when he took six months' leave of absence to travel through Europe from February to October, 1939. He was intent upon researching his senior thesis, entitled "Why England Slept," which you can still read in the archives of the Kennedy Library--along with his thesis advisors' comments. Twenty-one-year-old Jack traveled alone, on a diplomatic passport, from London to Moscow and everywhere in between, as Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and prepared to invade Poland. Churchill was not yet Prime Minister, but his was the strongest Conservative party voice against appeasement. Jack's father, U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, supported Neville Chamberlain's policies of conciliating Hitler. But did Jack?

There are fascinating letters held in Kennedy archive in the months following Britain's entry into war in which Jack counsels his father gently but firmly that his isolationist views are out of step with the times. It's my hunch that his extensive travel and information collecting during 1939, as well as his numerous British friends (among them Randolph Churchill's wife, Pamela, and Kick Kennedy's eventual husband, Billy Hartington, heir to the Duke of Devonshire) influenced the development of Jack's views. 

On Winston Churchill Day, I'd like to share one of Win's quotations--which I like to think betrays his mother, Jennie's, influence:

"Live dangerously, take things as they come; dread naught, all will be well."

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Talking Women, History, and Books with Greer Macallister

Greer Macallister's latest novel, Woman 99, tracks an intrepid young woman who willingly checks into a 19th century insane asylum to investigate and report abuses against those forcibly held there.

As Women's History Month winds down, Greer and I exchanged a few thoughts on writing about our remarkable female forbears. You can read it right now, and leave a comment to join in the conversation, at WomensHistoryReads interview: Stephanie Barron .

I wonder what each of us will be working on next?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

JENNIE Salutes the Wearing of the Green

Green Pietro Yantornay shoes, metmuseum.org
Green Silk Brocade gown, Worth, 1890-93
Jennie Jerome Churchill had a number of ties to Ireland, but they were of an Anglo-Irish sort. Her husband, Lord Randolph Churchill, had cousins in the Anglo-Irish peerage; his father, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, served as Viceroy of Ireland from 1876 to 1880, when Jennie and her family lived with him in Dublin. (I've discussed Jennie's time in Ireland previously here on the blog). 

Jennie's youngest sister, Leonie, married the Anglo-Irish peer Sir John Leslie, whose home, Castle Leslie, still sits in County Monaghan hear the town of Glaslough, where Jennie occasionally visited. It's now a country house hotel--which means that you, too, can hack through the fields where Jennie and Leonie once rode, or linger by the fire in Leonie's library. The sisters' collected letters are held in the archives of the Irish National Library.
Library Fire, Castle Leslie, copyright www.castleleslie.com

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

Queen Victoria's 1845 Diamond and Emerald Tiara designed by Prince Albert,
Duke of Fife's Collection on load to Kensington Palace

Sunday, February 24, 2019


We're familiar by now with the concept that women who campaigned for the right to vote in Edwardian England and America chose to wear white as a symbol of virtue. But there's a fascinating fashion corollary.

Antiquarian or vintage jewelry sellers today enjoy selling pieces that they somewhat anachronistically associate with the Votes for Women cause--as Suffragette Jewelry, supposedly made in the colors of the Women's Social and Political Union. The WSPU was a major sufragette organization founded in Britain by Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst in 1903. As historical blogger Becky Stone points out in her excellent "Diamonds in the Library" post on this subject, The WSPU adopted green, white and violet as their colors in 1908--and one major London jeweler did, indeed, feature a page of sufragette jewelry in these colors in their catalogue that year. Give Women the Vote! as a slogan was neatly translated into precious and semi-precious stones, so that a woman could wear her politics on her sleeve. But as Becky adds, it's unlikely this was a widespread phenomenon. Jewelry was an expensive item women rarely purchased for themselves. The combination of colors from opposite sides of the spectrum was pleasing enough without a symbolic attachment, and newly-discovered peridots were in vogue in the Edwardian era in any case.

But let's explore the concept anyway.
Green stones (peridots or emeralds) symbolized giving, but also, of course, the word give.  White stones (pearls for the thrifty, diamonds for the extravagant) symbolized women. And Violet stones--amethysts--symbolized Votes!!

Suffragette rings are broadly marketed by vintage dealers these days. But Victorian and Edwardian women loved brooches--and particularly brooches that could double as pendants. They loved bracelets.  They loved matched sets, with earrings! All can be found in vintage combinations of stones in the green, white and violet range.

Knowing how little jewelry Jennie Churchill owned, I doubt she possessed any of these kinds of pieces. 

 I particularly LOVE this brooch, held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, formed from the ubiquitous Gilded Age symbol of the ouroboros--the snake eating its own tail, an image of eternity--in the suffragette colors.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Orouboros wrist tattoo (Read the book: You'll understand,)

THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN is still sitting on Denver's Local Bestseller List for the third week in a row. So grateful to all the people who READ in my fab city!

Jennie and I thank you.

Saturday, February 16, 2019


This hat's Austrian. The metal piece in front is called an aigrette--
it was a detachable pin purely decorative in nature.

Yeah, I know--no one wears hats anymore. But I happen to love them. I wore an enormous one away from my wedding, and my poor husband balanced it on his lap all the way across the Atlantic to Paris. I'm not that selfish or entitled anymore--and I rarely wear hats--but if I could go back through time to any other era for a brief fashion fling, it would be the period from 1900 to 1910. Because, the hats!!!!

Then I'd swiftly return to the present, satisfied but chastened. 
Because, World War I!!!

There are few photographs of Jennie wearing hats, interestingly enough--barring those in a riding topper.  All the head-turning fashions pictured here are relics from the period  1900-1910. 


Sunday, February 10, 2019


 Jennie Churchill had small, beautiful feet, and she was passionate about shoes. She displayed hers like candy on the shelves of her boudoir--found art. And it was her last pair of coveted Italian slippers that killed her.

Hurrying down a flight of stairs to join her hostess for tea--Jennie was always late--she tripped and fell, fracturing her leg. In an era without antibiotics, Jennie suffered a typical fate. Her leg became infected, eventually gangrenous, and had to be amputated. Jennie famously told the surgeon to "Cut high," because she wanted what we'd call clear margins. Ten days after the operation, she hemorrhaged suddenly at breakfast. She lost consciousness in seconds and was gone in moments.

Winston, who lived a few blocks away, ran through the streets of London in his pajamas to reach her when he learned the news. She was already gone.

So, shoes.
The Manolo Blahnik or Laboutin of Jennie's lifetime was an Italian, naturally--Pietro Yantornay. His shoes, handcrafted in Paris, are the footwear-equivalent of Worth's gowns or Lalique's jewelry: complex miracles of craft, one-offs of the shoemaker's art. All the shoes shown here are Yantornay's. Many are held in the Metropolitan Museum's fashion collection, others can be seen in museums around the world. He was active throughout the Edwardian period and the 1920s, making it possible Jennie may have owned his shoes.

 Worth dying for?

Hard to say.
But we all have to go sometime. Jennie went out dancing.

Saturday, February 9, 2019


leaning on a column from the house of Lady Cornelia Baroness Wimborne (1847-1927), sister of Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill, at Canford Magna near Bournemouth.
This photograph of Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill, was supposedly taken at the home of her sister-in-law, Lady Cornelia Guest, Baroness Wimbourne.  And it's dated 1892. She's wearing British country-house clothing--not exactly a riding habit, but a walking suit, correct for casual days spent striding around the estate. These were separates--a blouse worn with a skirt indoors, the jacket only donned for exterior wear. The fact that Jennie has left hers unbottoned, to reveal the glorious lace jabot of her blouse, emphasizes the informality--what Coco Chanel would term "sportswear" in the next century.

Jennie's youthful face and figure suggest the 1892 date is fairly accurate--she would have been 38 years old that year--but I can't square the almost Edwardian walking suit she's wearing with the late 1890s. So I did some visual research.

Here's a walking suit from 1891:

Notice the much shorter tails of the jacket and the much fuller skirt. The shape is still hourglass, suggesting tight corseting. And here are a few more images, specifically from 1892: The one on the left is from the Metropolitan Museum's collection, and the one on the right is a fashion plate from 1892. In that, the impossibly tall woman on the left is wearing the longer jacket. But the skirts, again, seem too full.

Walking suits from a decade later, however, track more closely with Jennie's in the photograph above: There silhouette is boxier, and although there's still obviously a waist, it looks freer than the corseted silhouette of a decade earlier. Jennie, in the photograph, is wearing a belt--so it's difficult to tell whether her suit is as boxy as an Edwardian one.

In the end, however, I had to take Jennie's hat into consideration. It's nothing like a hat from 1905, when brims were vast and trimmings lavish. 

Lady's hat, 1905
I'm forced to conclude, therefore, that Jennie was simply fashion-forward in 1892--in this, as in so many things, ahead of her time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

WORTH'S HEIRS: The Women Designers of Callot Soeurs

Callot Soeurs, 1907-1910
My time with Jennie Churchill ends in 1895, in THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, but of course her life continued for decades after that. I chose to frame the first forty years of Jennie's existence, before Queen Victoria's death, the brief decade of the Edwardian era, and World War I. 

After the turn of the 19th century, almost everything about life in Europe changed, ushering in the Modern as we envision it--although the process was not entirely complete until the end of the volcanic and violent upheaval of the Great War. 

In between, however, Fashion evolved in ways that reflected the increasing freedom of women's lives and bodies--although interestingly, with a silhouette that harkened back to the simpler Regency period of Jane Austen. Not much waist, thus no need for a corset; very few undergarments, no crinoline, no bustle...the hidden cages women adopted during the high point of the Victorian era were discarded once again for lighter and simpler garments.

Promenade suit, 1911, Callot Soeurs

This is partly due to the fact that women, not men, were suddenly the toast of Parisian fashion design.

The Callot Soeurs had burst upon the scene, their salon opening in 1895. Over the next several decades it challenged and in large part replaced the House of Worth--now run by son Jean Philippe--for primacy in women's dressing rooms.

The Callot sisters in their work uniforms

The French word Soeurs means Sisters in English. Callot Soeurs was comprised of four of them: Marie Callot Gerber, Marthe Callot Bertrand, Regina Callot Tennyson-Chantrell and Joséphine Callot Crimont. The eldest, Marie, was trained in dressmaking. Their mother was a lacemaker. The women began by fashioning ribbons and lace--trimmings, in essence--for other designers. By 1900, however, the three surviving sisters (Josephine committed suicide several years earlier) were featured at the Paris World Fair. They employed a staff of two hundred and were earning two million francs in sales; by the following year, those figures had tripled.
Callot Soeurs salon interior, 1910, G. Agié - Les Createurs de la Mode (1910) by L. Roger-Miles (1859-1928)

By 1916, at the height of the Great War, American Vogue dubbed the sisters The Three Fates, and proclaimed them "foremost among the destinies that rule a woman's life..." Turns out American money was critical in keeping Callot Soeurs going during World War I. Here's an image of American Hortense Mitchell Acton, along with the Callot dress she wore in the photograph.
Courtesy of the Acton Foundation, Villa Pietra, Florence

By the late 1920s, the sisters' reign was ending--Marie died, and her son failed to sustain the women's artistic vision. Notice, however, how women's clothing evolved during the decades the Callots dominated: From the Titanic-era silhouette we associate with the Edwardian period, to the looser outline of the Great War years, and finally, to the bustless, waistless, knee-skimming dresses of the Flapper era.  Fascinating! These are all Callot dresses, images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Fashion Collection.

Callot Soeurs, 1908

Callot Soeurs, 1911

Callot Soeurs, 1915

The Roaring Twenties Flapper period. Both gowns, 1925.

And my clear favorite: Something Daisy Buchanan would certainly wear--

Evening ensemble, gown and coat, Callot Soeurs, 1920s

The Callot sisters' influence waned as they aged, but they left an important legacy: Madeleine Vionnet, one of the great Parisian designers of the pre-World War II years, trained at Callot Soeurs and was eventually head seamstress there, before breaking out to found her own label. She later credited the Callots with teaching her the essence of couture.

Women empowering women.
Something Jennie Churchill would have loved.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Charles Frederick Worth, velvet and fur mantle, 1890s
...in the polar vortex, the way Jennie Churchill would. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Jennie Churchill is finally ready to ride out into the world! That Churchill Woman lands on bookstore shelves, and on digital screens, today.

If, as you read the novel, you're inspired to host a Book Group discussion, be sure to click on the Reader's Guide

For more images of people, places and fashion from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.

Happy Reading!