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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
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.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-02864
Language: English.
Access Open for research

Administrative Information

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

Harry Ransom Center, The 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 I. The American Way of Death, 1954-1973
Jessica Mitford is best known for her first book, The American Way of Death, which exposes the abuses of the American funeral industry. Mitford's attorney husband, Robert Treuhaft, stimulated her interest in the funeral industry while defending some of its alleged victims in court. Treuhaft was also active as an officer of the East Bay Memorial Association (later known as the Bay Area Funeral Society), a funeral cooperative. His involvement in this organization accounts for the presence of its records from 1954 to 1962 in the Mitford papers. In 1961, Mitford and two other authors published an article, "St. Peter Don't You Call Me," lambasting the funeral industry for its avarice and lack of scruples. This article received such a favorable public response that Mitford resolved to write an entire book on the subject.
This series spans two decades, from the records of the East Bay Memorial Association in 1954 to fan letters received by Mitford in 1973. It includes four subseries: Research, Works, Promoting the Book, and Response to the Book. The Research subseries begins with Research by Chapter. Chapters 2, 12, and 18 are not represented. Certain chapter titles are rather oblique: Chapter 4, "The Artifact," deals primarily with parlours and caskets; Chapter 8, "The Menance of P. O. [Please Omit]," discusses the florist's role in funerals; Chapter 9, "God's Little Million Dollar Acre," concerns cemeteries; and Chapter 10, "Shroudland Revisited," explores Forest Lawn, a southern California memorial park. Under Research by Topic are the records of the East Bay Memorial Association (EBMA). The article, "Can You Afford to Die?," by Roul Touley makes reference to the Mitford and her activties with the EBMA. Also present are the results of a mail survey of memorial societies conducted by Mitford. Under General Research is extensive correspondence with individuals from the funeral industry, the clergy, and other segments of society. Many of these correspondents are referred to in the book. J. Freeman is a pseudonym used by the Treuhafts in many letters. Mitford's articles appear in the Works section. "The Undertaker's Racket," of 1963 presages her book of that same year. The manuscript of The American Way of Death is present in multiple forms, from initial drafts to galley proofs. Records regarding the book's promotion include pre-release publicity, advertisements and articles, a list of persons to receive copies of the book, and material on a national tour sponsored by Simon and Schuster in the fall of 1963. Critical response to the book is heavily documented through reviews from the American and British press. Correspondence from this period includes exchanges between Mitford and Judith Viorst on President Kennedy's funeral. Dating from her first article, Mitford received letters from individuals seeking a sympathetic hearing for their experiences. Publication of the book increased this flow of letters which she initially categorized as "interesting" and "boring." In the spring of 1964 she discontinued this designation, filing all such letters as "fan letters."
Series II. The Trial of Dr. Spock, 1962-1970
Legal documents, correspondence, printed materials, notes, interviews, typescripts and other materials represent Jessica Mitford's second investigatory work, The Trial of Dr. Spock, William Sloane Coffin, Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Marcus Raskin. The book analyzes the 1969 trial in which the U.S. government tried the five aforementioned defendants on conspiracy charges. As activists critical of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, the defendants publicly denounced the policies of the Selective Service Administration and encouraged draft evasion. These activities elicited an indictment on charges of conspiring to subvert federal draft laws, although the five defendants had never actually met together prior to their indictments. The ensuing trial resulted in the defendants being found guilty with the exception of Marcus Raskin. A federal appeals court later reversed the decision. Of the defendants, Dr. Benjamin Spock stands out as the most prominent figure. A renowned pediatrician, he has published a number of books on child rearing. It is primarily due to Spock's reputation that the trial garnered so much publicity in the press. In her book, Mitford presents the trial as a travesty and condemns the American government for using conspiracy laws to deprive citizens of their civil rights.
Because Mitford's files for The Trial of Dr. Spock were acquired in a largely disorganized state, it was necessary to impose an order on this series of her papers, which follows the same organization as the other two. The series includes four subseries: Research, Works, Response to the Book, and Personal. The research subseries is by far the most extensive of the four, comprising some 2 linear feet of records. Included are materials concerning civil rights and antiwar demonstrations, and draft evasion and the draft policies of the Selective Service Administration. The subseries also contains information pertaining to conspiracy trials of other civil rights and antiwar activists. Bobby Seale and the Chicago Conspiracy Trial are prominent within this category. Conspiracy as a legal concept is represented by a file containing several articles on the subject. The largest body of material in the first subseries, however, describes the Spock trial itself. Legal briefs, articles, and a transcript of the trial proceedings are included, along with information pertaining to the defense, prosecution, jury, and verdict appeal. The defense documentation contains biographical information on the defendants, as well as information about the American Civil Liberties Union, which provided attorneys for some of the defendants. Of interest in Spock's files is correspondence between Spock and the White House concerning the Vietnam conflict. This includes photocopies of five letters from President Lyndon Johnson and one letter from Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Interviews predominate the materials filed under the prosecution and the jury.
The bulk of the materials in the second subseries, Works, consists of drafts for the various sections of the book. Four emended drafts of the text are included. Response to the Book, the third subseries, is a brief file containing the information generated in response to the book's publication. Of note here is correspondence between Dr. Spock and MacDonalds publishers in which Spock expresses his opinion of Mitford's book.
Personal, the final subseries, contains correspondence and photographs which originated while Mitford was writing her book, but have no direct bearing on the book itself. Correspondence between Mitford and her husband, Robert Treuhaft, appear separately within the correspondence category, the majority being from Mitford to Treuhaft. Also present is a letter from Spock to Mitford concerning draft resistance.
Series III. Kind and Usual Punishment, 1963-1973
This series of Jessica Mitford's papers, pertaining to her book Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business, is comprised of five subseries: Research, Works, Promotion of the Book, Response to the Book, and Personal. By far the bulk of the series is comprised of research materials, including correspondence, notes, printed materials, interviews, legal documents, financial documents, and reports. The first section of the research subseries is arranged according to chapter. No folders exist for chapters 1 and 15. Chapter 8, "Clockwork Orange," addresses behavior modification programs employed as a method of rehabilitating convicts. Chapter 9, "Cheaper than Chimpanzees," discusses the use of prisoners as guinea pigs in testing experimental drugs.
The second section of the research subseries is arranged by topic. In conducting her research, Mitford compiled rather large files on various organizations, many of which provided her with background information and, in the case of the Guggenheim Foundation, funding and a research assistant, Susan Sussman. Other notable organizations represented include the American Civil Liberties Union, American Corrections Association, and the Committee for the Study of Incarceration. Materials relating to the Prison Law Project and its attorney, Fay Stender, appear throughout this section. Among other things, Stender filed a legal suit against the Inmate Welfare Fund of California on grounds that the state was misappropriating inmate monies. Correspondence between Johnny Cash Inc. and Mitford, concerning Mr. Cash's charitable contributions to the Inmate Welfare Fund is also present. The California prison system is heavily documented in Mitford's research files, with the Washington prison system a distant second. Noteworthy in the Folsom Prison files are prisoner short stories and poetry. San Quentin and Soledad are also well represented. Mitford was personally involved in supporting an inmate strike at Washington's McNeil Island Prison in 1971. An injunction and restraining order filed by Mitford against the penitentiary are present in the Washington files. Individuals prominently represented include prison researchers James Robison and Joe Kagan, prison reform advocates Ysabel Rennie and Louis Wolfson, and prisoner activist Roney Nunes. George Jackson, an inmate of California's Soledad Prison and author of the book Soledad Brother, was a well-known black revolutionary of the early 1970's. A bizarre series of events resulted in his death at the hands of San Quentin prison guards in 1971. A Mitford interview of Jackson and correspondence between the two just prior to his death are present in the collection. Also noteworthy are materials pertaining to the book Eye for an Eye, written by Indiana inmates. Of special interest in the last section of research materials, General Research, is a collection of prison system newsletters and files containing Mitford's correspondence with prisoners (1971-73). One inmate in particular, James R. Williamson, is anonymously quoted throughout Kind and Usual Punishment. Among Mitford's interviews is an audio cassette recording of a call-in radio interview hosted by former convict Dr. Korn and former warden Mr. Prescott.
As for the second subseries, Works, two of Mitford's four articles on prisons, "Experiments Behind Bars" and "Kind and Usual Punishment in California," are represented in the collection. Notes, fragments, drafts, and galley proofs comprise the remainder of this subseries. The seven drafts of the text are in various stages of completion. The remaining three subseries, Promotion of the Book, Response to the Book, and Personal, are extremely small in relation to the rest of the series, comprising a mere five folders.

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.

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