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University of Texas at Austin

Jessica Mitford:

An Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Mitford, Jessica, 1917-1996
Title Jessica Mitford Papers 1949-1973
Dates: 1949-1973
Extent 67 document boxes, 3 note card boxes, 7 galley files, 1 oversize folder (27 linear feet)
Abstract: Correspondence, printed material, reports, notes, interviews, manuscripts, legal documents, and other materials represent Jessica Mitford's work on her three investigatory books and comprise the bulk of these papers.
Language English.
Access Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition Purchase, 1973
Processed by Donald Firsching, Amanda McCallum, Jana Pellusch, 1990

Harry Ransom Center University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

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."

Scope and Contents

Twenty-seven linear feet of correspondence, printed material, reports, notes, interviews, manuscripts, legal documents, and other materials represent Jessica Mitford's work on her three investigatory books, The American Way of Death (1963), The Trial of Dr. Spock (1969), and Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business (1973). The material is arranged in three series; one built around each work. Generally speaking, the series follow Mitford's original arrangement scheme. All three series have the same basic subseries encompassing Research, Works, Promoting the Book, and Response to the Book. However, there are significant differences in the amount of material in each subseries for the three books. For example, promotional material and response to the book for The American Way of Death is extensive, while these sections are small to nonexistent in the other two series. The Trial of Dr. Spock and Kind and Usual Punishment series have small sections of personal materials, while The American Way of Death series has none. The research subseries of The American Way of Death and Kind and Usual Punishment are subdivided into Research by Chapter, Research by Topic, and General Research. The Trial of Dr. Spock contains only topical entries. No attempt has been made to separate materials by format in any of the series. Correspondence, for instance, is scattered throughout the three series. Although Mitford has written several books and innumerable articles, this body of materials represents exclusively those materials relating to her three investigatory works and articles pertaining thereto. Those materials designated as Personal fall within the context of Mitford's activities as an author of the said books.
Because of the preponderance of research materials in this collection, it possesses a strong informational value beyond its literary significance in relation to Mitford as an author. Of the three series, that representing Kind and Usual Punishment, a scathing indictment of the American penal system, provides the greatest potential for research. Not only is it the largest series, but also it contains a wide variety of materials and topics which would be of value to researchers interested in criminal justice and corrections. The American Way of Death exposes the avarice and unscrupled practices of the American funeral industry. Materials in this series provide a candid and revealing perspective on American death rituals and how the funeral industry has institutionalized and exaggerated these rituals. In The Trial of Dr. Spock, Mitford documents the 1970 conspiracy trial of Dr. Benjamin Spock in order to illustrate the American legal system's intolerance of civil disobedience. This is a small series perhaps of greatest value to those interested in Spock himself and/or Vietnam era jurisprudence. Kind and Usual Punishment (17 linear feet) is the largest series, followed by The American Way of Death (6.5 linear feet) and, finally, The Trial of Dr. Spock (3.5 linear feet).

Series Descriptions

Index Terms


Bass, Stanley A.
Bixby, F. Lovell.
Bromley, Marion.
Califano, Joseph A., 1931- .
Chord, John C.
Dellums, Ronald V.
Drinan, Robert F.
Evett, Robert.
Fletcher, Errol C.
Fritchman, Stephen Hole, 1902- .
Gottlieb, Robert.
Guthrie, Philip D.
Halvonik, Paul N.
Holter, Sandra.
Irby, James B.
Keyes, Jim.
Lamson, Robin.
Levine, Ellen.
Louie, George Sing.
Manning, Robert.
Misenheimer, Mike.
Morgan, Ernest.
Nunes, Roney R.
Opton, Edward M.
Petris, Nicholas.
Powers, Arthur.
Procunier, R. K.
Rennie, Ysabel Fisk, 1918- .
Rubin, Donald.
Schwalb, Alice.
Seale, Bobby, 1936- .
Sherrod, Robert.
Sieroty, Alan.
Spock, Benjamin, 1903- .
Stender, Fay.
Tostevin, Leslie W.
Treuhaft, Robert E.
Tromenhauser, Edward.
von Hirsch, Andrew.
Wennerstrom, Carl.
Whitehill, Joseph.
Wiles, Ronald. P.
Williamson, James Ralph.


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


American Civil Liberties Union.
American Correctional Association.
Bay Area Funeral Society.
California State Prison at San Quentin.
Committee for the Study of Incarceration.
East Bay Memorial Association.
Folsom Prison.
California. Inmate Welfare Fund.
Johnny Cash, Inc.
McNeil Island Penitentiary.
Patuxent Institution (Md.).
Prison Law Project.
Soledad Correctional Training Facility.
Solano Institute for Medical Psychiatric Research.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
United States. Selective Service System.

Jessica Mitford Papers--Description of Series