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Jessamyn West Collection
07.West Collection  
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Mary Jessamyn West (1902-1984) was an American writer with Quaker roots. She was the cousin to the 37th President of the United States, Richard Milhouse Nixon. West lived in Whittier and Yorba Linda, attended Whittier College as a student, and after graduation taught as an English professor. The collection holds her personal book collection including works of authors mentioned in her stories and speeches. The collection also holds various photos, press releases, correspondence, novel drafts, and galley prints of her published works. The bulk of West’s manuscript series contains original handwritten drafts that demonstrate her writing style and editing process.
Mary Jessamyn West was born in 1909 into a Quaker family in North Vernon, Indiana, and when she was six years old, the family moved to Southern California. West’s mother was cousins to Richard Nixon’s mother, and West often babysat Richard when he was a child. Her passion for reading started when she was 12 years old when the first library opened in Whittier, CA. West graduated with an Associate Bachelor’s degree from Whittier College in 1923 (having helped found the Palmer Literary Society while at school) and married Max McPherson on August 16, 1923. She then went onto the University of California at Berkeley to study her Ph.D. in English, including periods of study at Oxford University. It was during this time that West was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Over the years to come, she would spend hours on bed rest writing the stories she recalled from her mother’s time in Indiana. West's writing was published in several major magazines and Readers Digest in the 1940s. By the 1950s, her novel The Friendly Persuasion was adapted as a screenplay by director William Wyler. After reaching literary success, West was invited to deliver speeches all across the nation, including commencement ceremonies at Whitter. She taught English at Whittier College for a time, and in 1956 the West-McPhersons adopted a child. In 1965 West pledged to donate her collection of books and writings to Wardman Library. Later in life the couple moved to Napa Valley, Calif., where West died in 1984 due to complications from a stroke. This finding aid was created by Thalia Lynn King, with later assistance by Paige Harris in 2023.
570 linear feet
Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce must be obtained from Wardman Library, Whittier College.
Open for research, with the exception of personal diaries and journals, which are restricted until 2050.