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Jessica Mitford Edit Profile

activist , journalist , writer

Jessica Mitford was an English author, journalist, civil rights activist and political campaigner, and was one of the Mitford sisters.


Mrs. Mitford was born in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, on September 11, 1917. The sixth of seven children, she 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.


Jessica Mitford came to the United States in 1937 with her first husband, Esmond Romilly. They worked at a variety of jobs, including bartending and sales, across the United States before settling in Washington, DC. In 1940, Romilly joined the Canadian Air Force, and was killed in action two years later.

Meanwhile, Mrs. 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.

Mrs. Mitford published articles in Life, Esquire, and Nation, criticizing publisher Bennett Cerf, television, dieting and health spas, and expensive restaurants.


  • 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.



Mitford and Treuhaft became active members of the Communist Party. In 1953, at the height of McCarthyism and the 'Red Scare', they were summoned to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Both refused to testify about their participation in radical groups.


  • Mitford Sisters


  • Other Interests

    Investigative journalism


During the Spanish Civil War, she ran away to Loyalist Spain and married Esmond Romilly, a communist sympathizer who was later killed in World War II. In 1943, after moving to the United States, she met her second husband, Robert Treuhaft, a labor lawyer. They settled in Oakland, California. During the McCarthy era, Mitford was subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC).

David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale


Diana Mitford

Unity Mitford

Pamela Mitford

Nancy Mitford

Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Thomas Mitford



Esmond Romilly

Robert Treuhaft


  • Obituary: Jessica Mitford | The Independent Jessica Mitford, the writer and campaigner, lived for most of her life in Oakland, California, among lawyers, academics and left-wing activists, without ever losing the voice and attributes of her eccentric but privileged English upbringing. Displays of emotion were discouraged, as was undue attention to the sadnesses of life, or indeed death, known to her as the Reaper.
  • Jessica Mitford Jessica Mitford, who has died in California aged 78, was the most rebellious of the celebrated Mitford sisterhood, to the extent of embracing Communism and marrying an American.
  • BBC - Future - The woman who forced us to look death in the face In the 1960s, British aristocrat Jessica Mitford wrote a best-seller on the funeral industry’s practices. Twenty years after her death, she can still teach us how to handle mortality.