Information

Jessica Mitford


Jessica Mitford, the daughter of the 2nd Baron Redesdale, was born in Burford, Oxfordshire, in 1917. The sister of Diana Mitford, Nancy Mitford and Unity Mitford, she was educated at home by her mother.

Mitford's parents held right-wing political views and supported the British Union of Fascists and in 1936 their daughter, Diana Mitford, married its leader, Oswald Mosley. Another daughter, Unity Mitford, went to Nazi Germany and became a close friend of Adolf Hitler.

Unlike the rest of her family, Jessica developed left-wing political opinions. At the age of fourteen she was converted to pacifism and later, like her sister, Nancy Mitford, became a socialist. Jessica even considered the possibility of visiting Germany with her sister and murdering Hitler. She later wrote: "Unfortunately, my will to live was too strong for me actually to carry out this scheme, which would have been fully practical and might have changed the course of history. Years later, when the horrifying history of Hitler and his regime had been completely unfolded, leaving Europe half-destroyed, I often bitterly regretted my lack of courage."

In 1937 Mitford met Esmond Romilly, the nephew of Winston Churchill, who had just returned to England after fighting for the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. He was now working as a journalist for the News Chronicle and was about to go back to Spain to report on the war. Jessica went with him and they married in June 1937. While on honeymoon he wrote Boadilla , an account of his experiences in Spain.

When the couple returned to England Esmond Romilly found work as a copywriter for a small advertising agency in London, whereas Jessica was employed in market research. Along with her husband she became involved in the struggle against the British Union of Fascists.

In 1939 Mitford and Romilly went to the United States. On the outbreak of the Second World War Romilly joined the Royal Canadian Air Force but was killed in 1941 during a bombing raid over Nazi Germany.

Mitford went to work for Office of Price Administration (OPA) where she met the radical lawyer, Robert Treuhaft, who she married in 1943. They both joined the American Communist Party and were active in the Civil Rights movement.

In 1948 they moved to Oakland and Treuhaft joined the legal firm of Oakland, Grossman, Sawyer & Edises. The company specialized in trade union and civil rights cases. This included the Willie McGee case. McGee, a 36-year-old black truck driver from Laurel, Mississippi, was convicted of raping a white woman despite evidence that the couple had been having a relationship for four years. The trial lasted less than a day and the jury took under three minutes to reach a verdict and the judge sentenced McGee to be executed. McGee's defenders argued that no white man had ever been condemned to death for rape in the deep South, while over the last forty years 51 blacks had been executed for this offence.

Mitford travelled to Mississippi to organize a campaign against the sentence. While there she reported on the case for The Peoples World. This included an interview with William Faulkner who spoke out against the decision to execute McGee. Despite a nationwide campaign led by Bella Abzug and William Patterson, McGee was executed on 8th May 1951.

Mitford's involvement in the Willie McGee case resulted in her being subpoenaed by the California State Committee on Un-American Activities. Mitford and her husband, Robert Treuhaft, took the 1st Amendment and refused to answer questions about their involvement in left-wing political groups. Two years later they were called before the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Once again they refused to give evidence and later Treuhaft was described by Joseph McCarthy as one if the most subversive lawyers in the country.

Over the next few years Mitford became increasingly disillusioned with the form of communism being developed in the Soviet Union. This despair grew with the revelations about Joseph Stalin by Nikita Khrushchev and the Red Army invasion of Hungary. Treuhaft and Mitford finally left the American Communist Party in 1958 after John Gates was ousted as editor of the Daily Worker.

As a trade union lawyer Treuhaft became aware of the financial problems that deaths caused in working class families. In an attempt to reduce the high costs of funerals he established the Bay Area Funeral Society, a non-profit undertaking service. In 1963 Treuhaft and Mitford published the best-selling book, The American Way of Death (1963). However, only Mitford's name appeared on the book cover as the publisher argued that "co-signed books never sell as well as those with one author."

Other books by Mitford included the autobiography, Hons and Rebels (1960), The Trial of Dr. Spock (1970), A Fine Old Conflict (1977), an account of her time in the American Communist Party, and The Making of a Muckraker (1979).

Jessica Mitford died in 1996.

Participation in public life at Swinbrook revolved around the the church, the Conservative Party and the House of Lords. My parents took a benevolent if erratic interest in all three, and they tried from time to time to involve us children in such civic responsibilities as might be suitable to our age.

My mother was a staunch supporter of Conservative Party activities. At election time, sporting blue rosettes, symbol of the Party, we often accompanied Muv to do canvassing. Our car was decorated with Tory blue ribbons, and if we should pass a car flaunting the red badge of Socialism, we were allowed to lean out of the window and shout at the occupants: "Down with the horrible Counter-Honnish Labour Party!"

The canvassing consisted of visiting the villagers in Swinbrook and neighbouring communities, and, after exacting a promise from each one to vote Conservative, arranging to have them driven to the polls by our chauffeur. Labour Party supporters were virtually unknown in Swinbrook. Only once was a red rosette seen in the village. It was worn by our gamekeeper's son - to the bitter shame and humiliation of his family, who banished him from their house for this act of disloyalty. It was rumoured that he went to work in a factory in Glasgow, and there became mixed up with the trade unions.

Major storms were brewing beyond the confines of the fortress. Unemployment was rising alarmingly throughout England. Hunger marches, at first small demonstrations, later involving populations of whole areas, were reported in the papers. Police and strikers fought in the streets from London to Birmingham, from Glasgow to Leeds. Great population centres were designated "distressed areas" by the Government - which meant areas where there was no prospect of improvement in the employment situation. The Family Means Test, under which the dole could be denied any unemployed worker whose relatives still held jobs, was the subject of violent protest by the Communists, who gradually succeeded in swinging most of the labour movement into the fight.

The younger generation was highly political. They accused the elder statesmen of the Allied countries of sowing the seeds of a new and more horrible world war through the Versailles Treaty, the systematic crushing of Germany, the demands made on the defeated enemy for impossible war reparations.

Old concepts of patriotism, flag-waving, jingoism were under violent attack by the younger writers. The creed of pacifism, born of a determination to escape the horrors of a new world war, swept the youth.

I responded, like many another of my generation, by becoming first a convinced pacifist, then quickly graduating to socialist ideas. I felt as though I had suddenly stumbled on the solution to a vast puzzle which I had been clumsily trying to solve for years. Like many another suddenly confronted for the first time with a rational explanation of society, I was bursting with excitement about it. I longed to meet some flesh-and-blood exponents of this new philosophy.

In 1937 I met for the first time Esmond Romilly, a second cousin of ours whom I had long admired from afar. Esmond had been in the news for some years, ever since he had run away from Wellington, his public school, at the age of fifteen to work in a Communist bookshop where with other runaways he plotted the editing, production and distribution of a magazine designed to foment rebellion in all the public schools. He and his brother Giles had written a book. Out of Bounds, describing their education and their conversion to radicalism, which had stirred considerable controversy in the press when it was published in 1935.

I had followed Esmond's fortunes with deep interest in the newspapers and through family gossip; shortly before arriving at Cousin Dorothy's I had read a dispatch in the News Chronicle: "Esmond Romilly, eighteen-year-old nephew of Mr Winston Churchill, is winning laurels for his gallantry under fire while serving in the International Brigade, which is fighting for the Spanish Government in defence of Madrid.' In a disastrous encounter with the enemy at Boadilla, on the Madrid front, in which scores of volunteers were killed, Esmond and one other member of his unit had been the only survivors. Suffering from a severe case of dysentery, Esmond had been invalided out of the International Brigade and sent to England to recuperate, which is how he came to be staying at Cousin Dorothy's.

That weekend, Esmond agreed to take me with him back to Spain, where he had a commission as a reporter for the pro-Loyalist News Chronicle. The following Sunday we fled, having devised an elaborate stratagem to deceive my parents into believing I was going to stay in Dieppe with some 'suitable' girls of my age. By the time they discovered

my defection, Esmond and I were living in Bilbao, capital of the Basque province, and were engaged to be married. In an effort to prevent our marriage, Farve made me a Ward in Chancery and his solicitors sent Esmond a telegram saying, 'Miss Jessica Mitford is a ward of the court. If you marry her without leave of judge you will be liable to imprisonment.' We took this as a declaration of total war. Eventually the British Consul in Bilbao blackmailed us into leaving by threatening to withhold British aid in the evacuation of Basque women and children from the war zone unless we obeyed his instruction to return to England. This shabby piece of bargaining brought home to me the strength and ruthlessness of the forces ranged against us.

In many ways, this was a far from ideal honeymoon. Esmond was tormented by practical worries, and I felt completely inadequate to help solve them. But we got to know each other faster than would have been possible under more normal circumstances. Esmond had an infallible nose for the cheapest possible accommodation, and we stayed in Bayonne in a small hotel, crowded with Basque refugee families from the northern part of Spain. Every day we checked at the Basque Consulate for my authorization to travel and for possible news of transportation. We went for long walks in the town, during which Esmond told of his experiences on the Madrid front.

Within a few weeks of the first news of the Fascist rebellion, he had set out for Spain on his own, without telling any of his friends, fearful that he might be rejected and sent back because of lack of military training. For once in his life, he regretted his refusal to join the O.T.C. at Wellington. Knowing nothing of the organization of the International Brigade, he had simply bicycled to Marseilles in hopes of boarding some cargo ship bound for Spain. There he learned that young men from all countries were already flocking to the Spanish front, and he fell in with a miscellaneous group of volunteers - French, Germans, Italians, Yugoslavs, Belgians, Poles - sailed with them to Valencia, and was sent to the training camp at Albacete.

There was as yet no English battalion, so Esmond and fifteen other Englishmen were attached to the German Thaelmann Brigade. He was relieved to learn that most of these were also completely lacking in military training; they came from every conceivable walk of life - car-workers, farmers, restaurant-owners, university students. The training at Albacete was extremely brief, and within a few days the battalion was sent to the Madrid front. There they were in almost

continuous action, living the muddy, bloody, confused life of foot soldiers. A week before Christmas, in a single disastrous battle, all but two of the English group were wiped out. Esmond and the other survivor, ill with dysentery and battle fatigue, were sent back to England, entrusted with the heartbreaking task of visiting the relatives of the dead.

On May Day the entire community turned out, men, women and children, home-made banners proclaiming slogans of the "United Front against Fascism" waving alongside the official ones. The long march to Hyde Park started early in the morning, contingents of the Labour Party, the Co-ops, the Communist Party, the Independent Labour Party marching through the long day to join other thousands from all parts of London in the traditional May Day labour festival.

Everyone took lunch in a paper bag, and there was much good-natured jostling and shouting of orders, and last-minute rounding up of children who had darted away in the crowd.

We had been warned that the Blackshirts might try to disrupt the parade, and sure enough there were groups of them lying in wait at several points along the way. Armed with rubber truncheons and knuckle-dusters, they leaped out from behind buildings; there were several brief battles in which the Blackshirts were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the Bermondsey men. Once I caught sight of two familiar, tall blonde figures: Boud (Unity Mitford) and Diana (Mitford), waving Swastika flags. I shook my fist at them in the Red Front salute, and was barely dissuaded by Esmond (Romilly) and Philip (Toynbee), who reminded me of my now pregnant condition, from joining the fray.

Although mass meetings and fund-raising parties for the Loyalist cause attracted as much support as ever, the atmosphere had changed. The victorious feeling of the early days of the war had seeped away for ever. Even the magnificent Ebro offensive of that July, into which the Loyalists threw all their resources, did not basically change the desperate situation. Franco remained in control of three-fourths of the country.

As the offensive simmered down into a series of indecisive battles it was clear that slowly, day by day, the war was being lost, and that slowly, one by one. Loyalist supporters in England were beginning to give up hope.

In the draughty meeting-halls from Bermondsey to Hampstead Heath where they gathered to raise money for Spanish relief, the mood of the huge, grave audiences seemed out of step with the ever more strained optimism of platform speakers.

At the same time, the Spanish war was driven off the front pages by events in central Europe, where lines were being drawn for the last, bitter battle for collective security against the Axis. A million Germans were massed along the Czechoslovak frontier. Newspapers quoted Goering as saying he had definite information that if the German Army marched into Czechoslovakia the British would not lift a finger.

In the Office of Price Administration (OPA) I met a fantastically beautiful woman who attracted me not only by her charm and wit, but by her frugality. I watched with fascination as she moved down the line of the block-long counter of the cafeteria in the huge OPA temporary building. As she passed the beverage section, she would pick up a glass of tomato juice, down it, and set the empty glass down on a handy little shelf below the counter. Next she would scoop up a salad and dispose of the plate in the same way. Then a sandwich. When she reached the cashier, she had nothing on her tray but a cup of coffee - cost of lunch, five cents. This, I decided, was the girl for me.

Like millions of others in the United Nations and the occupied countries, I have all my life been an opponent of the fascist ideology in whatever form it appears. Because I do not believe that family ties should be allowed to influence a person's convictions I long ago ceased to have any contact with those members of my family who have supported the fascist cause. The release of Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley is a slap in the face of anti-fascists in every country and a direct betrayal of those who have died for the cause of anti- fascism. They should be kept in jail, where they belong.

We had already overstayed our time in Mississippi. The four weeks allotted for the trip stretched into five, as we did not wish it to appear we had been chased out by the Jackson Daily News. But we decided we could not leave the state without attempting to see Mississippi's most - in fact its only - illustrious resident, William Faulkner. The reserves having drifted back to their respective homes, it was the original four of us who drove down to Oxford. We asked a gangling, snaggle-toothed white boy for directions to Faulkner's house. "Down the road apiece, past the weepin' willa tree," was his response, which I took as augury of our arrival in authentic Faulkner country. We turned through a cast-iron gate into a long avenue of desiccated trees leading to a large, run-down plantation-style house, its ante-bellum pillars covered with greyish moss. Through the window we saw Faulkner, a small man in a brown velvet smoking jacket, pacing up and down, apparently dictating to a secretary.

We gingerly approached and rang the front-door bell. Faulkner himself came to the door, and when we explained the reason for our visit, greeted us most cordially, invited us in, and held forth on the McGee case for a good two hours. Faulkner spoke, much as he wrote, in convoluted paragraphs with a sort of murky eloquence. I was desperately trying to take down everything he said in my notebook, and frequently got lost as he expatiated on his favourite themes: sex, race and violence. The Willie McGee case, compounded of all three, was a subject he seemed to savour with much relish; it could have been the central episode in one of his short stories.

Later, it was my job to edit down his rambling monologue as a brief press release to be issued by our national office: He said the McGee case was an outrage and it was good we had come. He cautioned us that many people down here don't pay much attention to law and justice, don't go by the facts. He said in this case they are giving obeisance to a fetish of long standing. He expressed fear for McGee's safety in jail. When we left he wished us good luck.

The soil for the noxious growth of McCarthyism had been well prepared by the Truman administration, and the anti-Communist crusade was well under way, long before the junior senator from Wisconsin himself appeared on the scene. Joseph McCarthy was virtually unknown outside his home state until 9 February 1950, when he made his celebrated speech alleging that the State Department was in the hands of Communists, which catapulted him into the national limelight he enjoyed for the next five years.

Some signposts on the road to McCarthyism: 1947, Truman establishes the federal loyalty oath, barring alleged subversives from government employment. States and universities follow suit. The Attorney General, under authority of a Presidential executive order, publishes a list of subversive, proscribed organizations. 1948: Ten Hollywood screenwriters sentenced to a year's imprisonment for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about alleged subversion in the film industry. Mundt-Nixon bill introduced in Senate, requiring registration of Communists and members of 'Communist fronts'. Henry Wallace's campaign for the presidency on the Progressive Party ticket, into which the CP had thrown all its energy and forces, ends in disastrous defeat. 1949: Twelve top Communist leaders found guilty under the Smith Act of conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the Government by force and violence. Alger Hiss tried and convicted of perjury. Several of the largest left-led unions expelled from CIO.

Four months after McCarthy's opening salvo, the Korean War broke out, bringing Truman's foreign policy into harmony with his domestic drive against the Left and furnishing McCarthy with more ammunition for his anti-Communist crusade. In this climate most liberals turned tail. Senator Hubert Humphrey proposed establishing concentration camps for subversives, and declared on the floor of Congress: "I want them (Communists) removed from the normal scene of American life, and taken into custody." The American Civil Liberties Union, supposed guardian of First Amendment rights, instituted its own loyalty purge excluding from membership those suspected of harbouring subversive ideas.


Who really were the Mitford sisters?

Take six girls, all of them rampant individualists, and let them loose upon one of the most politically explosive periods in history. This is the story of the Mitford sisters. It is like a social experiment, the results of which would have staggered even the most imaginative scientist, and no small part of its fascination lies in the fact that the experiment can never be repeated. Never again will there be six such girls, raised in such a way, at such a time.

Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity and Pamela Mitford in 1935. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

The Mitford sisters were born in the heart of England, between 1904 and 1920, into a family of pre-Conquest antiquity. Daughters of the 2nd Lord and Lady Redesdale, they were expected to become wives, mothers, propagators of their class, the kind of women who appeared at state balls in slightly ill-fitting satin and tramped through Gloucestershire in good tweed. Something of this steadfast upbringing always remained with them: Nancy Mitford confessed on her deathbed that she would give anything for one more day’s hunting. But a world beyond the Heythrop had long since claimed Nancy, and indeed all the girls except Pamela – the shadowy exception – who threw the rest into even more powerful light.

Who were the Mitford sisters?

One can chant the careers of the Mitford sisters in the manner of Henry VIII’s wives, thus: Writer Countrywoman Fascist Nazi Communist Duchess. One can recite the mini-biographies, pulling out extraordinary facts with the practiced ease of a conjurer.

Nancy

An auto-didact who never learned to punctuate (Evelyn Waugh: ‘it is not your subject’), became a star author whose 1940s novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are deeply loved popular classics.

Pamela

The bucolic chicken-breeder whose blue eyes matched her Rayburn, was adored by the young John Betjeman (‘Gentle Pamela, most rural of them all’).

Diana

The greatest beauty of her generation, calmly put herself beyond the social pale when she left her perfect husband for the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley.

Unity

Unity, conceived in a Canadian town called Swastika, became a fervent Nazi and the close companion of Adolf Hitler.

Diana Mitford, The Hon. Lady Mosley. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

Jessica

Eloped with her fellow Communist, Esmond Romilly, the nephew (and rumored son) of Winston Churchill, and proudly set up home among the working classes of Rotherhithe.

Deborah

Became chatelaine of Chatsworth House, the magnificent seven­teenth-century seat of the Devonshire family, where she filled her office with Elvis Presley memorabilia.

All this poured out in a great torrent of newsprint when Deborah – ‘the Last Mitford Girl’ – died in 2014, although the facts were already familiar. Some people may have thought that Nancy was the Fascist and Unity the Communist, but they pretty much had the basic idea. Equally familiar was the collective aspect of the sisters: their irrepressible aristocratic levity, their variations-on-a-theme faces, their idiom. The Mitford sisters inhabited a linguistic micro-climate, whose almost nursery way of speech (‘oh do be sorry for me’) is famous above all for the nicknames they gave to everybody, especially to each other, which began as a private joke and were later displayed for public consumption.

Again, people may have sometimes got things confused and thought that Woman was the Nazi and Honks the Writer, or that Stubby was the Countrywoman and Bobo the Duchess nevertheless there was an awareness that this was how the Mitford sisters went on. They all met Hitler and they all called him Hitty or Herr House-painter. Or something like that.

LAURA THOMPSON is a writer and freelance journalist. She won the Somerset Maugham award for her first book,The Dogs, and is also the author of the critically acclaimed biography of Nancy Mitford, Life in a Cold Climate, Agatha Christie: An English Mystery (2007) and A Different Class of Murder: the Story of Lord Lucan (2014). She is the author of THE SIX: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters.


Jessica Mitford - History

Way back in 2014, we wrote a post about Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, making it the second of close to eighty literary friendships that we have featured on Something Rhymed. Some time afterwards, our friend Sarah Moore suggested that we write a piece that focused on another of Angelou’s fascinating relationships with a fellow writer …

By the time Maya Angelou and Jessica Mitford met in the late 1960s, both had come a long way from the very different worlds of their childhoods.

Jessica Mitford, appearing on After Dark in 1988 (Wikimedia Commons)

Mitford, the fifth of the six legendary Mitford sisters, was born into an English aristocratic family during the First World War. She spent her early years living a life of material privilege in what she would later refer to as a ‘time-proofed corner of the world’.

Angelou’s youth, in contrast, in the American South, introduced her early to racial prejudice and physical trauma. At the age of eight, in the mid-1930s, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. In the aftermath of the attack, Angelou became mute – except with her brother – for close to five years.

Angelou and Mitford would come face to face for the first time some three decades later, at the London home of editor and archivist Sonia Orwell, the widow of George Orwell. Angelou, who was around forty, had just completed the manuscript for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – the first of her celebrated autobiographies. As such, she was keen to seek the advice of Mitford, a writer herself by then and author of the memoir, Hons and Rebels. First published in 1960, Mitford’s book explored the upper-class upbringing she had fled, the evolution of her left-wing politics and her later life in the United States, where she became a prominent campaigner and journalist.

When Mitford began reading Angelou’s manuscript at the breakfast table one morning, she found it ‘so fascinating’ that she ‘kept reading it all night’. In the years to come, Angelou would be equally effusive about her new friend’s writing, declaring that while reading The Trial of Dr. Spock – about the famous paediatrician’s trial for anti-war activities – she ‘couldn’t put it down’.

Maya Angelou reciting ‘On the Pulse of the Morning’ at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 (Wikimedia Commons).

In addition to their literary bond, the pair grew close thanks to a shared dedication to challenging social injustices through their writings – a preoccupation, too, of their letters to each other. Such missives also explore their thoughts on political and cultural figures, past and present, and touch on key moments in twentieth century history. In 1992, when Angelou was ‘agonizing’ over the poem she’d committed to write for Bill Clinton’s inauguration and struggling to find her flow, Mitford sent some encouraging advice on possible ways in which her friend might find her ‘unique Maya rhythm’ once again.

By this stage, the pair had grown so attached that, when asked in a 1983 interview for Essence magazine whether black women could consider white women their sisters, it was this particular friendship that came to Angelou’s mind. In answer to writer Stephanie Stokes Oliver’s question, Angelou replied: ‘Jessica Mitford is a sister of mine. If I had to go into a room with a leopard, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for her.’

In addition to this fierce shared loyalty, there was a lighter side to their relationship. Music was a mutual passion, and one that would lead to an unlikely episode in their later years when Angelou and Mitford recorded a duet of the comic song ‘Right Said Fred’. It would subsequently be included in the charity album Stranger than Fiction, which featured vocal recordings by well-known writers, with proceeds going to organisations promoting literature and literacy.

Singing with Angelou would also play a poignant part in the final stage of Mitford’s life. After being diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996, Mitford’s health deteriorated rapidly. Although she had at first expressed a determination to undergo intensive treatment to prolong her life, in order to keep working on the current book she was writing, the seventy-eight-year-old eventually changed her mind and asked to come home from hospital to die in the company of her family and closest friends.

Angelou visited Mitford on each one of those four precious last days. As Mitford’s husband, the civil rights lawyer Robert Treuhaft would remember it, she was, in some ways, ‘the real doctor’ his wife needed at the end of her life.

He would look back on the sight of Angelou standing beside her friend’s bed and singing songs to her. Mitford was so weak by then that at first she didn’t react. But as Angelou persisted, Mitford would at last recognise who it was and even open her mouth to try to join in. A witness to this long goodbye between two old friends, Treuhaft would fondly recall that his wife’s final words ‘were really songs that Maya started her singing’.

Later, he would say that experience was one of the most profound of his life – a moment when he learned ‘what true sisterhood is all about’ .

What we’ve been up to this month:

Emily has been reviewing edits for her forthcoming book, Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice, which will be published by Counterpoint Press in North America in May 2021.

In addition to focusing on her own writing, in her role as Director of the Ruppin Agency Writers’ Studio, Emma has been preparing for this upcoming deadline (more information here):


Funerals Have Changed Since the 1960s. Here's How

You know the image of a standard American, usually Christian, funeral: It takes place at a funeral home with attendees dressed in all black. An open casket with an embalmed body rests in front of the crowd. After the service, a hearse takes the casket to a cemetery for burial.

This was a conventional funeral in the 1960s, but this send-off of the dead has undergone adjustments over the decades.

Perhaps the most significant change is the rising popularity of cremation, says Gary Laderman, chair of Emory University's department of religion and author of two books on death including "Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America."

The funeral industry had long worked to convince people of the importance of physically preserving loved ones, therefore burial remained prevalent.

"It's historically rooted in American culture, that is the idea that we can preserve the body," Laderman says. "That's an important concept in how we respond to and think about death."

But the idea of preserving the body started changing with the publication of a seminal book: Jessica Mitford's "The American Way of Death," a 1963 bestselling exposé of abuses in the U.S. funeral home industry. Laderman says Mitford's book ignited cremation because it provided alternative ideas to consumers.

In the 1960s, the cremation rate was only 3 percent, but today, cremations outpace burials. In 2017, the U.S. cremation rate was 51.6 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America. By 2022, the rate is projected to jump by more than 6 percentage points.

Cremation has raised questions about the importance of the body and its role in funerals, Laderman says.

"Clearly, the idea that somehow the body needs to be preserved for all time in a casket in a vault with an embalmed body no longer holds," he says. "We have different ideas about symbolic, religious meanings of the body."

Mitford's exposé isn't the only reason for changing funeral norms. The 1960s were a time of cultural upheaval, which extended to analyzing accepted death customs.

"It's also in tandem with the whole spirit of the 1960s, challenging authority, new forms of spirituality, new ways of thinking about the afterlife, all these things in addition to the politics," Laderman says. "That too contributes to a real major shift in people's thinking about death, how they experience death and what they do with the corpse."

Consumer culture has shifted since the 1960s, allowing people more opportunities for customization according to tastes. "This also spills into how we treat our dead," Laderman says.

You might recognize this in the myriad ways that funerals have gotten personalized: requests for mourners to wear nonblack clothes, music liked by the deceased playing at funerals, tombstones that pay homage to the person's hobbies.

"It's just an increasing willingness within the funeral industry as well as other resources that are available to help people when they're dealing with loss that allows people to try to personalize this significant ritual moment after death and trying to figure out the best way to memorialize and, on a more crass level, do right by the dead," Laderman says.

More often, people don't even need to contemplate how to do right by the dead. Until the 1960s, people might include funeral recommendations in their will, but it didn't usually get any more specific. Now, people have gotten more comfortable with planning their own funerals. This further drives the trend toward personalization, Laderman says.

Organized religion's lessening influence has also taken its toll on funerals. Unaffiliated religious "nones" – people who are atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular" – accounted for about 23 percent of U.S. adults, according to a Pew Research Center study in 2014. In 2007, only 16 percent of people were "nones."

"Traditionally, religion was the primary resource, providing all these cultural scripts for what to do with the body and the grave and what is the afterlife," Laderman says. "This is religion's business."

But traditional religions began losing their grip after the 1960s, which has created more freedom to choose other styles of funeral – another opportunity for personalization.

"To me, it's not a symptom of secularization or religion is absent," Laderman says. "It's kind of new forms of religious expression that get bound up in the most religious moment for any of us, which is when we have to face death."

Even the terminology of funerals has changed over the past decades, he says. It used to be called a "funeral service," but that morphed into "memorial service" and finally a "celebration of life" meant to showcase the deceased's life, personality, hobbies and accomplishments.

"[It] is a life-oriented mentality or attitude. It's not dwelling on the loss or the grief. It's not dwelling on the afterlife," Laderman says. "This celebration of life is something about an American effort — the optimism of really glorifying the person as they were when they were alive again as opposed to something about heaven or presence of God."

Jessica Mitford's book "The American Way of Death" helped prompt the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the funeral industry. That led to the 1984 enactment of the Funeral Rule, which protects consumer rights. Among other stipulations, funeral homes must provide customers with an itemized list of services and prices.


Faces of Philip: A Memoir of Philip Toynbee, by Jessica Mitford (1984)

Jessica Mitford describes Faces of Philip: A Memoir of Philip Toynbee as “A record of events, not purporting to be a complete history, but treating of such matters as come within the personal knowledge of the writer, or are obtained from certain particular sources of information.” With such a qualification, one can excuse the fact that this book is likely to have been of more interest to those who knew Mitford and Toynbee that anyone who might read it then or now.

Philip Toynbee was the son of Arnold Toynbee, the best-known English historian of his time, whose magnum opus, A Study of History, is probably read today by barely more people than read any of his son’s books (all of them now out of print). He and Mitford became friends in the Thirties, when she married Esmond Romilly, with whom Toynbee was working as an anti-fascist activist. Mitford and Romilly moved to the U. S. in the late 1930s and she was stuck there when the war broke out. Romilly joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was shot down on a mission over Germany and Mitford later married an American, Robert Treuhaft, and became an American citizen herself. Toynbee wrecked his first marriage and married again himself. Through it all, he and Mitford remained friends, writing each other often, seeing each other less often.

As Mitford makes clear without saying it outright, for much of his adult life Toynbee was an alcoholic and perhaps a manic depressive, given to such stunts as stripping to the nude while being returned to his Army unit after a riotous bender in town. But they shared a common sense of affection and fun, as reflected in Toynbee’s letter to Mitford in the late 1970s:

Believe it or not, I’ve just been asked to write your Times obituary. In some ways I see that this is tremendously one up on you–unless, of course, you’ve also been asked to write mine. On the other hand, it does give me a good deal of freedom, doesn’t it: I mean either you’ll never read it, or you’ll read it From Beyond where all is forgiven in every conceivable direction.

All love – and please don’t croak before I get this obit done. Drive carefully for next month or so.

Faces of Philip did offer Mitford the opportunity to pay tribute to Toynbee’s own magnum opus, a series of experimental novels in verse known as “Pantaloon.” Four volumes were published in the 1960s: Pantaloon (1961) Two Brothers (1964) A Learned City (1966) Views from a Lake (1968). As Mitford writes, “These have a small but devoted readership of fellow-poets and critics, some of whom discussed the series in their obituary articles.”

She provides a healthy sample of these assessments of “Pantaloon.” Patrick Leigh Fermor called it a “far-too-little-known, many volumed, and extremely brilliant narrative poem. Far more than a poetical feat of self-mockery, it is a most precious and perceptive documentation of a certain kind of growing-up, with all the problems, trends, dogmatic attractions and revolts to which the restless youth of the middle and late Thirties were prone.” To Stephen Spender, Pantaloon reflects Toynbee’s “serious, religious, ribald, self-mocking attitude to life. His friends will remember him as a poignant and moving personality who lived his life almost as if he were the ironically self-viewing hero of a fiction written by himself.”

Robert Nye, a champion of the experimental in literature, considered it “a remarkable achievement, perhaps a masterpiece…. It strikes me as one of the last authentic works of the spirit of modernism. After Toynbee’s death, Nye wrote that it was “one of the most important landmarks of post-war fiction in England. To re-read the individual volumes consecutively is to realise that here, at last, we have something that can be mentioned in the same breath as A la Recherche.”

In a review of Two Brothers, V. S. Pritchett wrote: “Another important reason for Mr Toynbee’s success is that he has hit on the right subject: the Grand Tour. This cannot fail in the hands of a restless, fervent .and cultivated writer who responds to the gay, the comic and the intense . . . Mr Toynbee has done a very fine thing.” Even The Times’ anonymous obituary writer described it as “A formidable achievement. Even now it is difficult to evaluate it confidently–passages of apparent rambling are juxtaposed with areas of intensely concentrated verbal experience–but it is never less than highly interesting.”

Despite this acclaim, “Pantaloon” has never been reissued and has now been out of print for 50 years. Mitford does mention that as someone who made his living as a book reviewer for most of the 1950s and 1960s, Toynbee took the reception of his own books with ironic humor. “There is only one review worth getting,” he once said. “The one that simply says ‘This is the Best Book Ever Written.'”

A brief excerpt from “The Third Day,” the third chapter in Pantaloon:

Once, in another age or life,
I was standing on the moving-staircase,
Going down.
Wheels and unseen chains were rattling
And feet were scraped on the metal slats of the steps.
Warm air was blown in our faces,
A warm wind breathed up the shaft
From the intricate dark mole-run of the Underground.
The blown air reeked of rubber and sparks
And a mild municipal disinfectant
Of fagged-out breath and hasty scent,
Warm bodies and clothes.
I welcomed the old smell of a London lifetime.


Jessica Mitford, Barroom Belter

Oakland writer Jessica Mitford, who died last week, is perhaps best remembered for her high journalistic standards, impeccable research, scathing humor and brilliant reporting. And as reported here earlier, Mitford (known to her friends as Decca) was compelled by a higher calling to embark on a second career in her mid-70s, when she performed in barrooms throughout the Bay Area as lead singer in Decca and the Dectones, a group noted as much for its energy and enthusiasm as its melodic precision.

With a curiously barrel-voiced gusto, Mitford belted out such classics as "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and capped each performance of an emotional "Mean to Me" by pulling out a pair of boxer's shorts to wipe a tear from her eye. Backed by the Dectones (all from the Bay Area and proficient on kazoos and cow bells), she so astonished author escort (by day) and budding record producer (by night) Kathi Kamen Goldmark that a contract was drawn up and the first "Decca and the Dectones" CD-and-tape package was recorded in 1995.

On that recording, Mitford performs not only "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" but the famous British song that launched a thousand souvenir ashtrays and mugs (as well as her 1988 book), "Grace Darling." Few warblers today could bring as much spirit to these works as does Mitford, and, with her Dectones kazooing happily in the background, the work caught on.

Only a year later, with 500 units sold, the project has broken even, and a check for $300 (Mitford's royalties) has been sent from Goldmark's company, Don't Quit Your Day Job Productions, to the Right to Rock Network, which is dedicated to fighting for the First Amendment rights of young musicians.

"She doesn't have a lot of musical acumen," Mitford's friend Maya Angelou would say later about the famous muckraker's singing career. "But on the other hand, she has the courage, the concentration, of somebody about to be executed in the next half-hour."

Such sentiments must have touched Mitford's heart, because you can hear Angelou saying these very words to interviewer Ben Fong-Torres between tracks of two working-class British songs that Mitford and Angelou later sang as a duet for the next Don't Quit Your Day Job Productions CD/tape project, "There Is a Moral to It All."

Here again the gusto. Here again the barrel voice. But this time, Mitford's resonance is complemented by Angelou's wide-ranging harmony as both lace their performance with intriguing Cockney accents. As they follow the adventures of two frustrated furniture movers ("After striving, heaving and complaining (pronounced complaye-ning) we was getting nowhere") in "Right, Said Fred"), one can't help thinking of early Sonny and Cher recordings. Cher, like Mitford, was the one with the unexpectedly deep, penetrating, enthusiastic voice, while Sonny, like Angelou, had the more lilting, higher tenor.

The second song, the moving and articulate "One Fish Ball," requires actual vocals from the Dectones and solos by Mitford, who proves as musically eloquent as she was politically focused, noting as she did all her life the problems of the poor ("He scanned the menu through and through/ to see what one ha'pence would do/ The only thing to do at all/ was but a single codfish ball").

Both recordings are sure to become collector's items for Mitford fans. They bring out a playful side to the disciplined writer that is also evident in the cover photo of "Moral," in which she and Angelou are laughing and embracing. While it's painful to consider what the Bay Area, the nation and her worldwide audience lost last week, Jessica Mitford was a woman almost entirely of her own making, and she left behind much of herself to remember.


Great writer. But as a mother? Jessica Mitford's children recall the woman they called Decca.

1 of 3 mitford014.JPG Jessica Mitford has been called a great writer and great wit. A new collection of letter is being published called "Decca." Her daughter Constancia "Dinky" Romilly and son Ben Truehaft were photographed at the home of Edward Guthmann. 10/29/06 MANDATORY CREDIT FOR PHOTOGRAPHER AND SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE/ -MAGS OUT Brant Ward Show More Show Less

2 of 3 Jessica Mitford believed she had her own things to do in life and expected her children to find their own things to do. Associated Press Photo, 1979 Show More Show Less

Having Jessica Mitford for a mother had its advantages. A stellar wit and inveterate tease, Mitford seemed to carry a sense of occasion wherever she went. She was the runaway daughter of pro-fascist British aristocrats, a Bay Area Communist who rallied against racial discrimination, a muckraker extraordinaire who tore the lid off the funeral industry with her 1963 broadside "The American Way of Death." On a day-to-day basis, however, she was a bit of a mess. Mitford couldn't handle housework, rarely cooked and admitted to managing motherhood in a spirit of "benign neglect."

That's the picture painted in "Decca" (Knopf, $35), a deliciously readable, 744-page collection of Mitford's letters edited by former Chronicle staffer Peter Y. Sussman. And that's also the way Mitford's daughter and son, Constancia Romilly and Benjamin Treuhaft, describe their unique but exasperating mother.

"There wasn't really a negligence," Treuhaft says. "I just think she didn't like touchy-feely anything -- including motherhood."

"She didn't like us much when we were little," adds Romilly with a merry grin. "She wasn't a 'goo-goo, gaga' Mommy. She was very matter-of-fact. She had her own things to do, and she expected us to have our own things to do."

"You raised me, didn't you Dinky?" Treuhaft asks his sister, using the childhood name that Romilly still goes by.

Indeed, theirs wasn't a typical mother-child relationship. From the beginning, sister and brother called their mother Decca or Dec, her nickname from childhood, instead of Mom.

Frequently, Mitford took them leafleting or on marches with the Civil Rights Congress: to protest housing discrimination or police brutality, to demand a retrial for Willie McGee, an African American unjustly convicted of raping a white woman.

Treuhaft, 59, and Romilly, 65, are sitting in a living room in North Oakland, close to the neighborhood where Mitford, who had moved to the Bay Area in the 1940s, lived until her death in 1996. It's a warm Sunday morning and later that night the siblings will appear at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School for "Decca," a salute to their mother.

Organized by editor Sussman, the evening will include readings from the book by local writers Susan Griffin and Wes "Scoop" Nisker, Romilly's sons James and Chaka Forman, actress Joan Mankin and The Chronicle's Leah Garchik. In the scampish, propriety-blasting Mitford tradition, Romilly will wear one of her mother's blouses to the event, and Treuhaft will sport a drab nightgown and robe -- Mitford's usual daytime attire.

During the interview, brother and big sister do a Mitford-like routine: debunking their famous mother, talking over each other, giggling over shared memories. "We're supposed to sit here and pontificate," Romilly tells Treuhaft when he arrives late on a bicycle, looking like a big, robust kid with his head covered in a Japanese scarf.

They delight in each other's company, the way survivors of a wildly unconventional family often do. Both live in New York, where Treuhaft, the son from Mitford's second marriage to civil rights lawyer Bob Treuhaft, is a piano tuner and recently became a father for the first time. Romilly, a retired emergency room nurse, is the daughter of Esmond Romilly, a British leftist and nephew of Winston Churchill, who died in World War II.

The "Decca" book was 10 years in the making and during that time, Romilly says, she and Treuhaft twice met with Sussman "to talk about the thorny issues of skeletons in the closet, and what we wanted to do about that. We basically said, 'Hey, it's your book -- go for it. Put in whatever you want.' "

Sussman compiled "Decca" at the suggestion of Bob Treuhaft, who died in 2001. Sussman spent six years on the book, going through collections of Mitford's letters at Ohio State and the University of Texas, burrowing through Mitford's friends' basements, soliciting letters through mailings and "Editor requests" notices.

Mitford was a prodigious correspondent and in 1959, she started making carbon copies of all her correspondence. "There were literally thousands of letters that I didn't use," Sussman said by e-mail.

Romilly and Treuhaft are great fans of their mother's wit. "She was a scream, man," Treuhaft says. On her rare visits to her native England, when she dropped her Americanisms and reverted immediately to her posh upper-class English accent, "She was hilarious, funnier than anyone -- because she had both these perspectives."

"He's the one who got that wit," Romilly interjects, pointing at the younger brother whom she calls Benj and still treats like a sweet, rambunctious kid. "He's amazing the way he puts a twist on words, a way of explaining something. So much like Bob and Dec."

Predictably, despite their admiration for their mother's verbal gift -- or her commitment to social justice and race equality -- neither sibling escaped the distinctive chill of standing in a famous parent's shadow. Romilly and Treuhaft remember being left with babysitters or friends when their mother went off to organizational meetings of the Civil Rights Congress. Both had periods of rebellion and disaffection.

"I was a very dutiful '50s girl," says Romilly of her teen years. When she enrolled at posh Sarah Lawrence College, "I stayed (there) even though I hated it. Finally, in my senior year, I got involved with the civil rights movement and I dropped out of school -- much to the fury of Bob and Dec!"

Romilly married James Forman, the African American director of the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and had two sons, James Jr., 39, now an associate professor at Georgetown School of Law, and Chaka, 36, an actor in Los Angeles. She's currently married to Terry Weber, a schoolteacher in New York.

Treuhaft had a rougher time. "My childhood sort of went somewhere past me. I can't remember any of it." At 16, he went to St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., flunked out and "ended up aimlessly walking around Berkeley, annoying people, crashing the family's car during my father's campaign for district attorney."

In his mid-20s, Treuhaft says, "I became bipolar in a huge way. I scared . everybody and that was a big battle. I woke up a completely different person, and I liked it. I was a very happy maniac."

For a long time, he says, "I would boycott my mother and father, particularly my mother. I just didn't want anything to do with English aristocracy. I didn't want to be the son of a famous writer. She made a fortune on 'The American Way of Death,' and I didn't want to be a little rich kid, either. I didn't know what I wanted. Whatever it was, I was divorced from them."

Later, "when I would come down off this manic jag I would be a terrific fan of both my parents, particularly my mother, and we became very close. They were such extraordinarily wonderful people."

For Romilly, the "Decca" book doesn't hold many surprises since she was witness to so much of what her mother describes in the letters. The big revelation, she said, were the tender letters Mitford wrote to her biological father, Esmond Romilly, when he was at war in Europe. Romilly died in 1941, on a bombing mission for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Mitford was living in Washington, D.C., at the time with the infant Dinky.

"(Those letters) were really amazing," Romilly says. "To try to visualize her in this weird, strange country. You know, in love with this guy who's gone off to fight in the war. And then stuck here with this little baby."

For Treuhaft, who is seven years younger and who spent more time estranged from his parents, "This book is a complete revelation to me. I'm loving every word of it because I don't know any of this stuff." Editor's note: A correction has been made in the above story.


Decca Mitford Romilly holds a pee protest

When Decca was expecting her second child in 1941, her husband Esmond was away in the air force. The couple were perpetually hard up. Decca was staying with a friend in Washington who urged her to make proper hospital arrangements for giving birth. Decca replied that all one needed was:

“A quantity of stout brown paper to cover the bedclothes, boiling water and a competent doctor.”

She was firmly told that she should give birth in hospital. Not having the money for private care she booked into a public ward. Trouble-free, she gave birth to a baby girl and, as was usual in those days, remained in hospital for ten days. But the communist-minded new mother noticed that the private-room patients were getting superior treatment – better food and immediate attention. She disliked this preferential and callous attitude of the nurses so decided to teach them a lesson and entertain the other mothers in the public ward at the same time. She devised a plan explained it to her ward-mates:

“The next time Mrs __ rings her bell, I’ll count to ten. If a nurse hasn’t come by then,we’ll all wet our beds.”

It worked. Sure enough, a nurse didn’t appear when one of the public ward ladies rang her bell. The other new mothers, according to plan, duly peed in their beds. When the nurse finally appeared:


  • Britain's most famous aristocratic supermodel Stella Tennant has died aged 50
  • Was granddaughter of Deborah Mitford, one of well-known aristocratic sisters
  • The Mitford sisters were raised in the Cotswolds to Lord and Lady Redesdale
  • Six daughters went on to shock polite society with impulsive, scandalous lives

Published: 19:03 BST, 23 December 2020 | Updated: 19:59 BST, 23 December 2020

Britain's most famous aristocratic supermodel Stella Tennant has 'died suddenly' at the age of 50 after gracing the fashion world with stand-out androgynous looks during her 1990s modelling heyday.

But while Scottish-born Stella commanded attention for all the right reasons, past members of her family weren't as fortunate - with their scandalous escapades shocking polite society.

Stella was the granddaughter to Deborah Mitford - one of the well-known aristocratic siblings who made headlines throughout the 20th century for their affairs, love of Nazism and an attempted suicide.

The Mitford sisters - Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo - were born between 1905 and 1920 to Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney and raised in the Cotswolds. They had one brother Tom who was educated at Eton.

But despite their privileged upbringing as members of the aristocracy, the six daughters went on to shock society with their impulsive, hedonistic lifestyles.

The most controversial of the sisters was Diana, known as Honks, who left her first husband and married the founder of the British Union of Fascists Oswald Mosley.

They tied the knot in a civil ceremony in Joseph Goebbels' drawing room in Berlin in 1936. Hitler was the only other guest.

Here, FEMAIL recalls the eccentric aristocrats' antics.

A rare picture of the Mitford family together, pictured in 1935. From left: Unity, Tom, Debo, Diana, Jessica, Nancy and Pamela

Bad taste in friends: Unity Mitford was a fan of the Nazi party and admired Hitler who she regularly met up with

While Scottish-born Stella commanded attention for all the right reasons, past members of her family weren't as fortunate - with their scandalous escapades shocking polite society. Stella is pictured left at her wedding and right on the runway in the 1990s

Model Stella Tennant dies 'suddenly' aged 50 as her family pay tribute to 'wonderful woman and an inspiration to us all'

Britain's most famous aristocratic supermodel Stella Tennant has died at the age of 50, just months after splitting from her husband.

Her family praised her as a 'wonderful woman and an inspiration to us all' in a statement which confirmed her 'sudden death' yesterday.

In August it was revealed Mrs Tennant had separated from her husband David Lasnet after 21 years of marriage earlier this year. The couple owned a property empire that includes a luxury mews house in Edinburgh and a stately home near her father's estate.

Mrs Tennant was the granddaughter of Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire and Deborah Mitford, one of the well-known aristocratic siblings.

The mother-of-four was known for her androgynous looks during her 1990s modelling heyday and soon became a muse for Karl Lagerfeld, which the fashion designer attributed to her resemblance to Coco Chanel.

The news comes as another tragic blow to the fashion industry, after the loss of the legendary designer Alexander McQueen in 2010, and his mentor, magazine editor Isabella Blow in 2006 both of whom took their own lives.

Mrs Tennant’s cause of death has not yet been ascertained, and police said there are no suspicious circumstances.

Unity Mitford was so close to Hitler his girlfriend Eva Braun viewed her as a love rival

Unity Mitford (born 8 August 1914 – died 28 May 1948) was an ardent fascist and travelled to Germany in the 1930s, where she was a personal friend of Adolf Hitler.

The Führer was as equally obsessed with the British aristocrat and met her 140 times while in the middle of preparing for World War Two, a German biography published in 2016, claimed.

Hitler was as spellbound by Unity - one of the famous 'It girls of the 1930s - as she was by him, according to the book entitled: ‘I was leafing through Vogue when the Führer spoke to me.'

Bestselling political science author Michaela Karl told how the bond was apparently forged at Hitler’s favourite Munich restaurant, the Osteria Bavaria, on February 9 1935.

Unity wrote to her sister Diana: 'At 3.00pm I was done with eating when the Führer came in wearing his sweet trench coat and sat down with two other men at his table. I was leafing through vogue when ten minutes after his arrival the innkeeper came over and said that the leader "wants to talk to you."'

Author Karl said 'Between 1935 and 1939 Hitler and Unity met every ten days - for a busy dictator, who at the same time was preparing for a world war, it was a total of 140 times, therefore surprisingly often.'

Soon he took her to the Wagner Festival to Bayreuth, to the Nuremberg rally and other grand events of Nazism. 'Unity quickly belonged to the inner circle,' added Karl. 'In England she is still well known but in Germany just a footnote in history.'

But Hitler’s secret girlfriend, who would marry him as Berlin collapsed in 1945 to become his bride of one day before killing herself with him, viewed Unity as a rival.

On May 10, 1934, the 23 year old Eva wrote in her diary that the wife of Hitler’s personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann had told her about Unity. Eva penned: 'Mrs. Hoffmann, tactlessly and lovingly, told me he has a replacement for me now.'

When war broke out in 1939, Unity shot herself in the head but was saved by surgeons. She returned to Britain but had suffered brain damage.

After the war, a sympathetic spin on her relationship with the Fuhrer was attempted by the Mitfords and the family maintained that Unity’s adoration of Hitler was the foolish attachment of a rather silly young girl.

Diana Mitford married fascist leader following her divorce

Diana at the Nuremberg Rally in 1936: Her support of Fascism led her to allegedly become 'the most hated woman in Britain'

Diana Mitford (born 17 June 1910 - died 11 August 2003) married Bryan Guinness, heir to the brewing fortune and had two children.

However, she later caused a stir in polite society when marrying Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists.

They tied the knot in a civil ceremony in Joseph Goebbels' drawing room in Berlin in 1936. Hitler was the only other guest.


Sources:

Guinness, Jonathan and Catherine. The House of Mitford. London: Hutchinson, 1984.

Ingram, Kevin. Rebel: The Short Life of Esmond Romilly. London: Widenfeld & Nicolson, 1985.

Mitford, Jessica. The American Way of Birth. NY: Knopf, 1992.

——. The American Way of Death. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

——. Daughters and Rebels (autobiography). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.

——. A Fine Old Conflict (autobiographical). London: Michael Joseph, 1977.

——. Kind and Usual Punishment. NY: Knopf, 1973.

——. Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muck-racking. NY: Knopf, 1979.


Watch the video: The Mitford sisters. Lady Diana Mosley interview. Oswald Mosley Good Afternoon (January 2022).