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March 29, 1982

The self-styled “Queen of the Muckrakers,” British-born journalist Jessica Mitford lectured on her writings—including The American Way of Death (1963) and Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking (1979)—to a near-capacity audience in the Villard Room. One of seven famous and often controversial daughters of an English peer, Mitford told her listeners that she’d turned to investigative journalism when her second husband, a trade union attorney, had uncovered the larcenous collusion between California union officials and undertakers. “Mitford stated,” wrote Bonnie Stollowitz ’84 in The Miscellany News, “that she didn’t approve of this form of operation, which through…‘collective bargaining’ would set up a ‘contract with the undertaker.’ She began to tease this group of “Quakers and University eggheads” about their ‘layaway plan’…. Poison Penmanship, Mitford’s collection of magazine articles, includes three articles describing and mocking the funeral racket.

“Regarding her profession, Mitford responded to one audience member by stating that she has never had to pay an informant for information…. ‘I have received an occasional death threat,’ she chuckled.”

The Miscellany News

The Years