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Mary Jessamyn West (July 18, 1902 – February 23, 1984) was an American Quaker (originally from Indiana) who wrote numerous stories and novels, notably The Friendly Persuasion (1945). She graduated from Fullerton Union High School in 1919 and Whittier College in 1923. There she helped found the Palmer Society, in 1921.
West was born in Vernon, Indiana, to Eldo Roy West and Grace Anna Milhous. She is a second cousin of Richard Nixon through her mother's father. Her family left the state to move to California when she was the age of six. The family included two brothers and a sister, Merle, Myron, and Clara. Growing up in the West Home in the same rural Yorba Linda region as Nixon, West attended a Sunday-school class taught by Nixon's father, Frank, whom she described as "a fiery persuasive teacher." She later wrote that Frank Nixon's version of the social gospel inclined her politically toward socialism.
She graduated from Whittier College with an English degree in 1923 and began teaching. That year she also married Harry Maxwell McPherson, whom she had met at the college. They lived in Yorba Linda before West started graduate work at the University of California in 1929. While there, she attended Oxford University for a semester, and visited Paris. Prior to her oral exams at Berkeley, she was diagnosed with bilateral tuberculosis. In August, 1932, she was sent to a sanitorium, and two years later was sent home to be with her mother because she was not expected to live. While in the hospital, she resumed writing to pass her time. West wrote in her autobiography that she felt she had nothing to live for and was tormented by the lives of those who did, but that her mother shared childhood memories of growing up as a Quaker farm girl in southern Indiana to provide her "a life to live in" while she regained her health. Slowly she began a recovery, but the writing continued.
Much of her work concerns Indiana Quakers, despite the fact she spent much of her life in California. Asked about this in an interview, she said, "I write about Indiana because knowing little about it, I can create it." Comparing herself to other authors who created fictional universes, she remarked:
Her stories, although shaped by her imagination, are loosely based on tales told to her by her mother and grandmother of their life in rural Indiana. The Birdwells of her books The Friendly Persuasion and 'Except for Me and Thee' are based on Joshua and Elizabeth Milhous, the great grandparents she shares with President Nixon.
The Friendly Persuasion (1945) was West's most famous work. When it was published, New York Times book reviewer Orville Prescott called it "as fresh and engaging, tender and touching a book as ever was called sentimental by callous wretches... There have been plenty of louder and more insistent books this year, but few as sure and mellow as The Friendly Persuasion."
To See the Dream, an autobiographical book, described her experiences as the movie's script writer.
In 2002 the city of Indianapolis selected The Friendly Persuasion as the One Book, One City project for the year.
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