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. Jessamyn lived in Yorba Linda and attended Whittier College as a student and after graduation
taught as an English professor. The collection holds her personal book collection including the 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. English is the primary language of all texts; however, some of her novels have been published in languages
around the world. The bulk of West’s manuscript series contains original handwritten drafts. The second step of editing can
be observed in the various typed versions of novels, short stories, and speeches. Special care is taken to preserve the original
newspaper or magazine clippings of published stories. The series of speeches are accompanied by individual work records to
help identify common themes, date delivered, the purpose of the speech, geographic location of speech, and abstract denoting
comparisons between speeches. There are two series within the speeches that need to be noted; “Getting Personal” and “Responsibility
to Writers and Readers.” These two sets of speeches provide multiple examples of West’s writing style and process. There are
four speeches on how and why to deliver speeches properly. This finding aid will be helpful to professors teaching English,
speech, poetry, and literature from the Transcendentalist era. Students in these classes will be able to access primary sources
illustrating the process for screenwriting, publishing novels, magazines, and delivering speeches.
Jessamyn West was born in 1909 into a Quaker family by father, Eldo Ray West (1879-1969), and mother, Grace Anna West (1882-1959)
in North Vernon, Indiana. The family moved to Southern California when she was 6 years old. Jessamyn had a younger sister
named, Carmen. Jessamyn’s mother was cousins to Richard Nixon’s mother. Jessamyn often babysat Richard when he was a child.
Jessamyn’s passion for reading started when she was 12 years old when the first library opened in Whittier, CA. Jessamyn graduated
with an Associate Bachelor’s degree from Whittier College in 1923. Jessamyn went onto the University of California at Berkeley
to study her Ph.D. in English when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She later worked as an English professor at Whittier
Jessamyn was diagnosed with tuberculosis while studing for her PhD in 1932. Facing her death, a friend told her to knit a
blanket for her mother, Grace to remember her by. Jessamyn elected to write instead. There she spent hours over the years
on bed rest writing the stories she recalled from her mother’s time in Indiana.
It was not until after Jessamyn married Max McPherson that she started to submit some of her writing samples for publication.
From there she was published in all the major magazines and Readers Digest in the 1940s’. By the 1950s, her novel, The Friendly
Persuasion was adapted for the screenplay with director William Wyler.
Jessamyn and Max adopted Ann McCarthy from Ireland in 1956.
After reaching literary success, Jessamyn was invited to deliver speeches all across the nation to librarians, educators,
book clubs, and commencement ceremonies at Whitter. In 1932, West suffered from tuberculosis and was subsequently sent to
a sanitarium to recover. Her time battling tuberculosis, both in the sanitarium and at home in the care of her mother, was
instrumental in shaping her life and her writing. Ms. West was second cousin to President Richard M. Nixon, and a fellow alumnus
of Whittier College. Later in life Jessamyn moved to Napa Valley, Calif. with her husband, where she died in 1984 due to complications
from a stroke.
Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce must be obtained from Wardman Library, Whittier College.
Open for research, with the following exceptions: Personal diaries and journals are restricted until 2050.