W&N to publish dazzling biography of pioneering businesswoman Mildred Ransom

Jenny Lord, Publisher of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to MILDRED RANSOM’S BUREAU: SMOGS, SPIES, STRIKES AND THE STORY OF HOW WOMEN WENT TO WORK by Ruth Cowenfrom Will Francis at Janklow & Nesbit in an exclusive deal. 

Ruth Cowen
(c) Francine Brody

In 1894 the redoubtable Mildred Ransom set up a ‘Copying Bureau’ to generate work for herself and other respectable women beyond the usual roles of nurse or governess. Starting with one typewriter in a single room above a chemist’s shop, she rapidly expanded into elegant chambers on the Edgware Road and finally a grand house in Cumberland Place.

The Bureau’s varied clientele provides an evocative snapshot of the age. From Lords, socialites, authors, scientists and politicians to quacks, spivs and charlatans – all of life poured through its doors. Often working for both sides in scandalous divorces and libel trials, in the 1920s Mildred and her staff were responsible for breaking a Russian spy ring, resulting in a sensational Old Bailey Trial.

Recognising that the City would eventually replace their legion of (male) clerks with in-house typewriters, Mildred attached a secretarial college to the Bureau to ensure her girls would be sought after, well-paid and independent women. And all while steering the Bureau through two world wars, the General Strike, a flu pandemic, poisonous London smogs and violent civil unrest that spilled onto the streets right outside – and sometimes straight through – her windows.

MILDRED RANSOM’S BUREAU is a book about the world – of work, women’s lives, and politics – of London and England in the first half of the twentieth century; a world both hauntingly familiar and as distant and strange as an alien planet.

Jenny Lord says: ‘The story of Mildred Ransom is simply remarkable, and the way in which Ruth came across it even more so. Mildred’s Bureau offers us a new way to look at how women went to work in the first half of the twentieth century, and promises to be an illuminating work of social history’

Ruth Cowen says: ‘Mildred’s story came to me via a decrepit cardboard suitcase stuffed with letters, ledgers, diaries and press cuttings. Sifting through it, Mildred’s amazing voice shone through — her humour, her resilience, her ceaseless battle to emancipate women through work. And all against a backdrop of wars, strikes and smogs! And now it is an extraordinary privilege to bring her story to a wider audience’

Ruth Cowen is an historian, multi-award-winning author, journalist, broadcaster, editor and speaker. Her first book RELISH: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF ALEXIS SOYER, VICTORIAN CELEBRITY CHEF, was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2007. Ruth was awarded The Jeremy Round First Book Award and The Guild of Food Writers Book of the Year, and was a finalist for The Glenfiddich Award and The Irish Book Awards. In 2016 Ruth wrote the bestselling 8-part series Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch, an original production for Audible.

MILDRED RANSOM’S BUREAU will be published by W&N in hardback and ebook in March 2022.