A Siren and a Siren Suit

The birth of Winston Churchill, the future Prime Minister, was a shocking surprise and a bit of a scandal. His father, Randolph Churchill, was related to the Dukes of Marlborough, whose seat was (and still is) the over-the-top Blenheim Palace just outside Woodstock.  His mother was the famous American beauty Jennie Jerome.  The couple’s engagement went on longer than they wished, due to financial negotiations, and the bride was very soon noticeably pregnant.  Jennie was a headstrong free spirit.  She was not about to give up the admiration of everyone on the dance floor just because of her condition. By all accounts, she was as lovely and alluring as ever in the final stages of pregnancy.

Jennie Jerome Churchill, , circa 1880, Public Domain

Jennie Jerome Churchill, , circa 1880, Public Domain

So Jennie was dancing, with abandon, in a diaphonous flowing gown when she suddenly went into labor–“prematurely,” or so the story went.  Winston was born about two months sooner than anyone expected, in the Palace that many people consider more grand than any palaces of actual British royalty.

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The surprise birth took place in a small and rather plain bedroom close to the grand state rooms, where the band played on. A glass box displays the baby’s infant vest.

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Much later in life, when he was Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston wore a “siren suit” during air raids.  Many people, men and women, had one. We’d call it a “jumpsuit:” a loose full-length garment, designed to be zipped into over pajamas on the way to the air raid shelter.

sirensuit

By today’s standards, Jennie Jerome would be considered a terrible mother–selfish before her child was born, and even more selfish afterward in pursuing her often scandalous social life. She paid very little attention to Winston as he grew up. He was raised almost entirely by a beloved nanny.  Yet in later life, Jennie became almost like a sister to her son, advising him and using her wide social and political connections to further his career.  The little bedroom in Blenheim Palace is where a remarkable life began.

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