Mitford, Jessica, 1917-1996

Alternative names
Birth 1917-09-11
Death 1996-07-23

Biographical notes:

Anglo-American memoirist, social commentator, journalist and author.

From the description of Papers, 1949-1973 (bulk 1961-1973). (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122452906

Jessica Mitford, a.k.a. Decca, was a writer and one of the famous Mitford sisters, daughters of the 2nd Baron Redesdale. Her books include two autobiographies: Daughters and rebels and A fine old conflict. Her many investigative works include: The American way of death, The trial of Dr. Spock, Kind and usual punishment: the prison business, Poison penmanship, and The American way of birth.

From the description of Jessica Mitford collection, ca. 1934-1996. (Ohio State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 61400068

Born September 11, 1917, in Batsford, Gloucestershire, England, Jessica Mitford is one of the six daughters of the Baron of Redesdale. The Mitfords are a well-known English family with a reputation for eccentricity. Of the Mitford sisters, Nancy achieved notoriety as a novelist and biographer. Diana married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British fascists before World War II. Unity, also a fascist sympathizer, attempted suicide when Britain and Germany went to war. Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire. Jessica, whose political bent ran opposite to that of her sisters, ran away to Loyalist Spain with her cousin, Esmond Romilly, during the Spanish Civil War. Jessica eventually married Romilly, who was killed during World War II. In 1943, Mitford married a labor lawyer, Robert Treuhaft, while working for the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. The couple soon moved to Oakland, California, where they joined the Communist Party. In California, Mitford worked as executive secretary for the Civil Rights Congress and taught sociology at San Jose State University. After resigning from the Communist Party in 1958, Mitford devoted her time to writing.

Mitford's first book, Lifeitselfmanship, was privately published in 1956. Her autobiography, Daughters and Rebels (1960), recounts her childhood and first marriage. The American Way of Death (1963), Mitford's first investigative study, exposes the avarice and commercialism of the American funeral industry. Although bitterly denounced by the industry itself, the book was Mitford's most successful and was used as the basis for a CBS television documentary, The Great American Funeral. Mitford's second investigative study, The Trial of Dr. Spock (1969), concludes with the observation that American conspiracy laws threaten citizens' civil rights. Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business (1973) launches a diatribe against the American penal system. Mitford condemns sentencing procedures, the parole system, and the use of prisoners in psychological and physiological research.

In 1977, Mitford published A Fine Old Conflict, a sequel to her autobiography, which traces her involvement with the Communist Party in America. Her latest work, Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking (1979), is an anthology of her investigative articles as they have appeared over the years in such magazines as Life, Esquire, Nation, and the San Francisco Chronicle . These articles have earned Mitford the title Queen of Muckrakers.

From the guide to the Jessica Mitford Papers TXRC91-A11., 1949-73, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center University of Texas at Austin)

daughter of 2nd Baron Redesdale

Epithet: afterwards Romilly afterw Treuhaft

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000265.0x0002b3


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  • Prisons--California
  • Corrections--United States
  • Prisoners--Legal status, laws, etc
  • Trials (Conspiracy)
  • Undertakers and undertaking--United States
  • Funeral rites and ceremonies
  • Prisons
  • Corrections
  • Vietnam Conflict--1961-1975--Draft resisters
  • Chicago Seven Trial, Chicago, Ill., 1969-1970
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Draft resisters
  • Undertakers and undertaking


not available for this record


  • Vietnam, South East Asia (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)