Jessica Lucy ‘Decca’ Freeman-Mitford was one of the six legendary Mitford Sisters — caricatured by The Times journalist Ben Macintyre as “Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur”.
In this very well-connected aristocratic family, Jessica was known as the “red sheep”.
Both Jessica and her sister Nancy wrote about their childhoods, in Hons and Rebels and The Pursuit of Love / Love In A Cold Climate respectively.
When Jessica was 12, she opened a ‘Running Away’ bank account. She would add to this fund by, for example, selling her removed appendix to her sister Deborah (the future Duchess of Devonshire).
She discovered Communism at a young age, allegedly as a reaction against her sister Diana’s admiration for Fascism. Legend has it they would compete to decorate their childhood bedrooms with Hitler / Stalin.
At 19 she eloped to Spain with her second cousin, who had just returned from fighting fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
This prompted the foreign secretary (and future prime minister) Anthony Eden to telegraph the British Consul with the words: “Find Jessica Mitford and persuade her to return.”
The reply came back: “Have found Jessica Mitford, impossible to persuade her to return.”
A naval destroyer was then sent to retrieve her. This also failed.
Her sister Diana became the mistress and then husband of the leader of the British Union of Fascists: Oswald Mosley.
Her sister Unity became a personal friend of Adolf Hitler.
(Technically a Unity Mitford fact, but is it any surprise she was such an admirer of Adolf Hitler when she was given the middle name of Valkyrie?)
Jessica’s husband died in the Second World War, and she later married an American civil rights lawyer (Robert Treuhaft).
When the Mosleys were released from prison in 1943 she wrote to Winston Churchill: “They should be kept in jail, where they belong.”
When living in the United States, she and her husband were invited to join the US Communist Party. She replied “We thought you’d never ask!”
She got into trouble with the Party when she promoted a women’s caucus event with a poster promising “Girls! Girls! Girls!”
Jessica and Robert eventually left the Communist Party to concentrate on their work for the Civil Rights movement.
In addition to writing books such as Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking and Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business, she had a publishing hit with her exposé on dirty tricks in the funeral industry: The American Way of Death.
She also had a band — “Decca and the Dectones” (a cowbell and kazoo orchestra) — in which she was the singer.
Her band once supported Cyndi Lauper, and there is a recording of her singing Right Said Fred with Maya Angelou.
J.K. Rowling considers Jessica Mitford to be “my most influential writer”, and named her daughter after her.
Jessica Mitford died of lung cancer aged 78. Her funeral cost $533.31.