My Theory About The Jenkins Phenomenon

There are two aspects, psychological and medical, that, in my opinion, caused the whole tale to happen at all:

I. Psychological

Having been a child prodigy myself (boy soprano), and now looking back on how my childhood career affected me as an adult performer, I have an understanding of how a child prodigy's concept of life can become flawed and harmful.

Jenkins was a child prodigy pianist, performing widely across her home state of Pennsylvania. She even performed at the White House when she was 7 years old. At this point, she was growing up under her own misconception that life itself consisted of performing, receiving "love" and adulation.

When she was around 24 or 25 years old, she married Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins, in part, to rebel against her father who had refused to pay for her piano studies in Europe. Then, after the marriage with Dr. Jenkins ended and they parted - most likely because 1) he had given her syphilis (I base this on 2 eye witness accounts; otherwise, no proof) and, a then incurable, socially unacceptable disease and 2) because a brother of Dr. Jenkins was at the center of a murder scandal - she tried to survive alone as a piano teacher in Philadelphia. To make matters worse, she then suffered some sort of arm injury which ended her career as a pianist and teacher.

Some years later, she moved to New York City and, in an attempt to re-kindle her life on the stage -- any stage -- she took up singing, working with Metropolitan Opera mezzo soprano Henriette Wakefield.

We'll never know if she was bad, mediocre or decent. Her performing career as a singer began when she was 46, not exactly a youngster. All we have are the recordings made when she was 73, and newspaper or magazine articles, some of which were given to magazines, such as The Musical Courier, by her close associates.

II. Medical

As I relay in my documentary, Jenkins was the victim of an STD, syphilis, that she contracted after marrying Dr. Jenkins when she was in her mid 20s, ca. 1893. Syphilis is a word that makes people uncomfortable even in 2012, so one can imagine how forbidding it was even to mention it back then.

Add to that the disease's treatment of the time, the poisonous drug mercury and/or arsenic, and you have horrible physical, neurological and mental consequences. And it was a disease that was considered incurable until the 1940s, the decade of Jenkins' death (1944).

Her life, as she saw it, ended when her Carnegie Hall recital reviews came out on Thursday, October 26, 1944. Imagine realizing half of your life had been the subject of ridicule, a travesty, realizing that hilarity was going on behind your back. One might understand why no one said anything to her because it probably would have been considered bad manners to be truthful to a lady, or perhaps it was a gesture of kindness to withhold honesty. Then there's the aspect of all the charity work she had done. Collusion with her delusion by her friends and associates is baffling to us today, but must have made sense then.

The following Monday, October 30, she suffered a heart attack while shopping at the G. Schirmer Music Store. She passed away the following November 26.