W&N snares Cowen's biography of business pioneer Mildred Ransom

W&N snares Cowen's biography of business pioneer Mildred Ransom

Weidenfeld & Nicolson has snared a “remarkable” biography of pioneering businesswoman Mildred Ransom written by Ruth Cowen.

Publisher Jenny Lord acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to Mildred Ransom’s Bureau: Smogs, spies, strikes and the story of how women went to work from Will Francis at Janklow & Nesbit in an exclusive deal. The book will be published in hardback and e-book in March 2022.

It tells the story of Ransom, who set up a “Copying Bureau” to generate work for herself and other women in 1894. The synopsis goes on: “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.”

Cowen is an historian, 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. In 2016 she wrote the eight-part series Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch, an original production for Audible.

She said: “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.”

Lord added: “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.”