NAPA, Calif. -- Author Jessamyn West, who started her fiction writing career from a sick bed, died Wednesday night from a stroke. She was 81.
Miss West sold her first story in 1939 when she had been 'sent home to die' after being stricken with tuberculosis.
She used her writing as therapy in her fight against the disease and in 1945 published her first book, 'The Friendly Persuasion,' tales about a Quaker family living on the border between the North and the South during the Civil War.
The book was made into a movie starring Gary Cooper and Anthony Perkins with a popular title song. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award.
Miss West lived most of her life in California, moving to the Napa Valley wine country more than 40 years ago.
Nevertheless, much of her fiction was set in her native Indiana and was the result of stories told her as a girl by her mother and grandmother about farm life among Indiana Quakers.
She was born Mary Jessamyn West in 1902 near Mount Vernon, Ind., the daughter of Eldo Roy and Grace Milhous West. The family moved to Southern California seven years later.
She lived in Yorba Linda, graduated from Fullerton, Calif., High School in 1919 and from Whittier College with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in English, in 1923, the year she married Harry Maxwell McPherson.
While doing graduate work at the University of California, she was stricken with tuberculosis and hospitalized in a sanatorium. Later she was released and in her words 'sent home to die.'
She turned to writing stories while fighting the disease and her first short story, '99.6,' was published while her husband was principal and coach at St. Helena High School. She and her husband then moved to Napa where McPherson served as school principal until his retirement.
Many of her stories dealt with Quakers, although she wrote on other subjects too.
'I seem to fall between two stools,' she once said. 'Those who like my stories about Quakers feel I should not write on other subjects and those who like my other stories tell me they are disinterested in stories about Quakers.'
Miss West was related to former President Richard Nixon, but said she did not write to him on the occasion of his resignation from the presidency 'because I did not know what to say to him.'
Among her short story collections were 'Cress Delahanty,' 'Crimson Ramblers of the World, Farewell,' 'Except For Me and Thee,' and 'Love, Death and the Ladies' Drill Team.'
Her novels included 'A Matter of Time,' 'Leafy Rivers,' 'South Of The Angels,' 'The Witch Diggers' and 'Massacre At Fall Creek.'
She also wrote a book about her experiences in Hollywood during the filming of 'The Friendly Persuasion' entitled 'To See the Dream.'
She is survived by her husband; a brother, Merle, of Whittier, Calif.; a daughter, Mrs. Alan Cash of Rodeo, Calif., and two grandchildren.