Naomi May Margaret Mitchison, CBE (née Haldane; 1 November 1897 Edinburgh – 11 January 1999 at Carradale) was a Scottish novelist and poet. She was appointed CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1981; she was also entitled to call herself Lady Mitchison, CBE since 5 October 1964 (but never apparently used that style herself).
Naomi was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford and began a science degree at the University of Oxford, but gave this up to become a VAD nurse during the First World War. She returned to her studies after catching scarlet fever, and restarted her studies in science (as a home student) at what is now St Anne's College, Oxford.
In 1916 Naomi married the barrister Gilbert Richard Mitchison (23 March 1894– 14 February 1970), who was a close friend of her brother Jack. He was then on leave from the Western Front of World War I, and like her, he came from a well-connected and wealthy family. Her husband became a QC, then a Labour politician, and eventually a Life Peer as Baron Mitchison in August 1964. They had seven children. Dick and Naomi Mitchison's four sons were Geoffrey (1918-1927, who died of meningitis) Denis (born 1919) later a professor of bacteriology, Murdoch (born 1922), and Avrion (born 1928), both professors of zoology. Their three daughters were Lois, Valentine, and Clemency (who died in 1940 shortly after her birth).
Mitchison was a prolific writer, completing more than 90 books in her lifetime, across a multitude of styles and genres. These include historical novels such as her first novel The Conquered (1923) a story set in 1st century BC Gaul during the Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar, and her second novel Cloud Cuckoo Land (1925) set in 5th century BC Ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War. Her best work is considered The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931) which treats three different societies including a wholly fictional one, and also frankly explores themes of sexuality (daring for its day).
Later works included more historical novels The Bull Calves (1947) about the 1745 Jacobite Rising and The Young Alexander the Great (1960). Mitchison also turned to fantasy such as Graeme and the Dragon (1954; Graeme was her grandson through Denis); science fiction such as Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) and Solution Three (1975); non-fiction such as African Heroes (1968), together with children's novels, poetry, travel and a three-volume autobiography.
Undoubtedly her most controversial work, We Have Been Warned was published in 1935 and explored sexual behaviour, including rape and abortion. The book was rejected by various publishers, was extensively rewritten to make it more acceptable to publishers, and was still subject to censorship.
After her husband's death, Mitchison wrote several memoirs, published as separate titles between 1973 and 1985. She was also a good friend of the writer J. R. R. Tolkien and she was one of the proof readers of The Lord of the Rings.
Mitchison, like her brother, was a committed Socialist in the 1930s. She visited the Soviet Union in 1932, and wrote We Have Been Warned about her experiences during that trip. The book was not successful, nor was her fictionalizing of stories about Jews living under the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria. She stood unsuccessfully as a Labour Party candidate for the Scottish Universities in 1935, at a time when universities were allowed to elect MPs. Eventually, as her political candidacy and her pro-Left writings both failed, she gradually became disenchanted with the Left. In 1939, when World War II broke out, Dick and Naomi Mitchison moved to Carradale in Scotland where they spent the rest of their lives.
Mitchison was a Life Fellow of the Eugenics Society. She was also a vocal campaigner for women's rights, advocating birth control, and was also active in local government in Scotland (1947 – 1976). Her own lack of knowledge about birth control (as stated in her memoirs) led to her interest in the causes of birth control and abortion. Mitchison helped found the first birth control clinics in London. Today, she is best known for her advocacy of feminism and her tackling of then-taboo subjects in her writing.
On 5 October, 1964, Dick Mitchison was created a life peer as Baron Mitchison of Carradale in the County of Argyll on retirement for his political work. His wife Naomi thus became Lady Mitchison (as the wife of a Life Peer), but apparently chose not to use the title. Her husband died in 1970, but Naomi remained active as a writer well into her eighties. She was appointed CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1981. Continuing to write into her eighties, she died at Carradale at the age of 101. She was survived by her three younger sons (all scientists) and her two elder daughters, and by several other descendants.
Her title came from her husband, who was made a Life Peer in 1964. Naomi Mitchison was not properly entitled to be called Lady Naomi Mitchison (although The Guardian and some other news sources make or perpetuate this error), but was rather Baroness Mitchison of Carradale formally, or less formally Lady Mitchison. She apparently preferred to be known as Naomi Mitchison. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren called her Nou. They often went to Caradale along with the rest of the family for huge family gatherings and holidays.
Biographical profiles for her husband Gilbert "Dick" Mitchison (later Lord Mitchison QC]
Biographical profile for her father John Haldane CH
Bibliographies/ focus on Naomi as a writer