12 October 2010

Money Matters: If You Don't Want Our Money, New York...

By Anna Randol

In the 1870s in New York, the Knickerbockers and Old Money families that made up the city's elite were in trouble. Rich newcomers were swarming New York, demanding acceptance and recognition. They were families that had made their money through industry--railroads, armaments, and machinery. And these upstarts knew nothing of the Knickerbocker ideals of thrift, modesty, and conservatism. For instance, rather than leaving a dress from Paris in a trunk for a year to avoid being too showy and ostentatious as a proper women should, these gauche women would wear a new gown the very season they bought it.

The ruling women of New York society fought back against the interlopers by closing ranks and inventing increasingly intricate rules for how things should be done properly. Seeing the futility of trying to break into New York society, the mothers of some the upstart families whisked their young, beautiful, wealthy daughters to Europe.

One of these women was Clara Jerome. Knowing her husband's scandals had made it impossible for her three daughters to be accepted into New York society, she packed them up and moved to Paris. When a Prussian army invaded Paris a short time later to end the Franco-Prussian war, however, the family moved to London. To her delight, English society proved far more accepting than what she'd left behind in New York. Leading this acceptance was Albert, Prince of Wales. The prince was especially fond of these new, charming American women and English society followed his lead. After all, by this time, many of England's aristocratic families were deeply in debt. They took one look at the gloriously wealthy American girls and saw a way to mend roofs on manor houses and modernize drafty old castles.

All three of Clara's daughters married into well-respected English families. But perhaps the most famous was Clara's middle daughter, Jennie. She was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time. In 1874, she met and fell in love with Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of the Duke of Marlborough. In exchange for marriage to the duke's son, the Jeromes provided a dowry of ₤50,000, an exorbitant amount for the time. Eventually the couple had two sons Winston (yes, that Winston Churchill) and John.

Following Clara's lead, wave after wave of American mothers found that money bought their daughters not only the acceptance they craved but spouses among the aristocracy of England and Europe.

Anna Randol writes sultry, adventurous Regency romances. Her debut novel, set in the heart of the Ottoman Empire, will be released by Avon in the beginning of 2012.