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American heiresses rushed overseas to marry aristocrats a century ago

Just as Downton Abbey was a transatlantic hit, real Anglo-American marriages were headline news in the early 20th century. The marriages of heiresses like Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Ninth Duke of Marlborough and of May Goelet to the Duke of Roxburghe were front-page stories in America and England.

This exodus of American brides to England began when daughters of newly wealthy American families, unlikely to be admitted to the highest ranks of New York society, realized they could exchange railroad cash and mining stocks for the right to call themselves "Lady," and thus gain entry to the elite social world, wrote Angela Serratore in "How American Rich Kids Bought their Way Into the British Elite," in the Aug. 13, 2013, "Smithsonian."

The spark that lit this flame was the 1874 marriage of Jennie Jerome of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Lord Randolph Churchill, second son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and uncle to the ninth Duke. Jennie, her sister and her mother were vacationing in England when she met Randolph. Within three days of their initial meeting, Jennie and Randolph announced their plans to marry. Neither set of parents were thrilled, but the Jeromes had two advantages that could not be overlooked: A personal endorsement of the match by Edward, Prince of Wales, who had met and liked Jennie, and money which Randolph needed.

Following their marriage, newly rich mamas, cut from exclusive American social circles, made a mad dash for London, wrote Camille Hadley Jones in the April 14, 2008, "Edwardian Promenade."

By 1895 it was a relatively simple process. Mothers and their daughters visited London for the social season, relying upon friends and relatives who had already made British matches to make introductions to eligible young men. Depending on the fortune of the girl in question, several offers would be fielded, and her parents, weighing social and financial investments and returns, would make a selection.

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