Historical records matching Jessica Mitford
About Jessica Mitford
Jessica Lucy Mitford, nicknamed Decca or Dec, writer and campaigner, was born in Burford, Oxfordshire on 11 September 1917 and died Oakland, California 23 July 1996.
Parents: 7th and penultimate child of David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford (1878-1958), 2nd Baron Redesdale and Sydney Bowles (d. 1963).
- eloped to Spain in 1937 and was married by the British Consul to Esmond Romilly, a nephew of Winston Churchill; he had joined the International Brigade to fight against Franco. In WWll Esmond joined the Canadian Air Force. He was killed in action in November 1941.
- in 1943 in Washington, D.C. to Robert Treuhaft. He is a Harvard-educated lawyer of Hungarian-Jewish extraction.
Children of Jessica Mitford and Esmond Romilly:
- Julia Romilly, b. ca. 1938 in the East End of London, and died of measles at four months of age.
- Constancia nicknamed Dinky, b. 1941 in Virginia.
Children of Jessica Mitford and Robert Treuhaft, born in Oakland, California:
- Nicholas, born in 1944
- Benjamin, born in 1947. He was killed in a traffic accident in 1955.
Born into one of Britain’s most renowned families, Jessica Mitford forsook the traditional perquisites of upper-class life in order to fight fascism and government corruption.
She was born Jessica Lucy Freeman-Mitford on September 11, 1917 in Gloucestershire, England, the sixth of seven children, was the daughter of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale and his wife Sydney (daughter of politician and publisher Thomas Bowles), and grew up in a series of her father's country houses. She had little formal education, since her mother did not believe in sending girls to school, but was nevertheless widely read. Though her sisters Unity and Diana were well-known British supporters of Hitler and her father was described as being "one of nature's fascists," Jessica (always known as "Decca") renounced her privileged background at an early age and became an adherent of communism. She was known as the "red sheep" of the family.
At age 19, Mitford met her second cousin Esmond Romilly, who was recuperating from dysentery caught during a stint with the International Brigades defending Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. Romilly was a nephew (by marriage) of Winston Churchill. The cousins fell in love immediately and decided to elope to Spain, where Romilly picked up work as a reporter for the News Chronicle covering the conflict. After some legal difficulties caused by their relatives' opposition, they married. They moved to London and lived in the East End, then mostly an industrial slum area. Attended by doctor and nurse, Mitford gave birth at home to a daughter, Julia Decca Romilly, on 20 December 1937. The baby died in a measles epidemic the following May. Jessica Mitford rarely spoke of Julia in later life and she is not referred to by name in Mitford's autobiographical novel, Hons and Rebels.
In 1939, Romilly and Mitford immigrated to the United States. They traveled around, working odd jobs, perpetually short of cash. At the outset of World War II, Romilly enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force; Mitford was living in Washington D.C. and considered joining him once he was posted to England. She gave birth to another daughter, Constancia ("the Donk" or "Dinky") Romilly on 9 February 1941. Her husband went missing in action on 30 November 1941, on his way back from a bombing raid over Nazi Germany.
Mitford threw herself into war work. Through this, she met and married the American civil rights lawyer Robert Treuhaft in 1943 and eventually settled in Oakland, California. She became an American citizen in 1944. There the couple had two sons: Nicholas born 1944 (who was killed in 1955 when hit by a bus), and Benjamin, born 1947. Mitford approached her motherhood in a spirit of "benign neglect", described by her children as "matter-of-fact" and "not touchy-feely". She became closer to her own mother by letter over the decades.
During the mid-1950’s, she unsheathed her poison pen and launched her career as a muckraker. After she published The American Way of Death (1963), a powerful exposé of the funeral industry, the resulting public outcry forced the industry to restructure itself almost overnight. Her other investigative books included The Trial of Dr. Spock (1969), Kind and Usual Punishment: The American Prison Business (1973), Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking (1979), and The American Way of Birth (1992).
In a series of investigative articles, Mitford single-handedly exposed a variety of society’s cherished institutions, including Bennett Cerf and other “faculty” members at the Famous Writers’ School, Elizabeth Arden’s Maine Chance spa, National Broadcasting Company (NBC) censorship, a restaurant in New York City, and personnel procedures at California’s San Jose State University. Censors were among her favorite targets. In September, 1965, she published an article titled “Don’t Call It Syphilis” in McCall’s magazine. The hard-hitting exposé publicly embarrassed NBC for cancelling a two-part segment on the dangers of syphilis.
Meanwhile, Mitford herself was the subject of an attempt at censorship when she was hired to teach at San Jose State University as a distinguished professor in 1973. The trouble began when the university ordered her to sign a loyalty oath, tried to fingerprint her, and deleted the word “muckraking” from her course descriptions. When she resisted these measures, the administration fired her and canceled her classes. However, she ignored both actions and continued teaching her classes without pay. Eventually she signed the oath under duress, but forced the fingerprint issue into court. Finally, an embarrassed university paid her; after the fall semester ended, a court ruled that the fingerprint requirement was not enforceable.
Mitford’s long struggle against censorship won her respect as one of the nation’s foremost investigative journalists. The New York Times conceded that “Mitford’s pen is mightier than the sword,” and Time magazine dubbed her “Queen of the Muckrakers”—a title that she cherished.
Mitford died of lung cancer at age 78. In keeping with her wishes, she had an inexpensive funeral, which cost $533.31 – she was cremated without a ceremony, and the ashes scattered at sea, the cremation itself costing $475. The funeral company was the Pacific Interment Service, which prides itself on "dignity, simplicity, affordability".
Her widower survived her by five years. Their surviving daughter had continued the activist tradition by working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She had two children with James Forman, its African American director, and eventually became an emergency room nurse.