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Author Helen Hooven Santmyer Dies At 90

February 22, 1986

XENIA, Ohio (AP) _ Helen Hooven Santmyer, whose hand-written manuscript about life in a small- town Ohio women’s club became a best seller and brought her national recognition at age 88, has died at age 90.

She died in her sleep at about 10 a.m. EST Friday at the Hospitality Home East nursing home, said nursing director Sylvia Rosenlieb. Miss Santmyer had suffered from emphysema since 1976, one year after she completed writing ″... And Ladies of the Club.″

A private ceremony was planned for later today at the Woodland Cemetery in Xenia, said her niece, Jane Williamson.

The family asked that contributions be sent to the Helen Hooven Santmyer Memorial Scholarship Fund in Xenia. The fund that Miss Santmyer ″often talked about establishing″ will help students studying English and aspiring writers, Mrs. Williamson said.

In an interview last year, Miss Santmyer said she found it hard to understand all the publicity generated by her 1,176-page novel, her fourth published work in 60 years.

″I think it’s the kind of book most people are not interested in. It’s not exclusively dramatic,″ she said. ″Part of the interest is because I’m an old lady.″

At her 90th birthday celebration in November, Miss Santmyer was presented the Bicentennial medal by Xenia officials.

″She enjoyed it all until the last couple of weeks,″ when Miss Santmyer became more steadily ill, Mrs. Williamson said.

″She just always said she hoped her writing would live longer than she would,″ Mrs. Williamson said.

″... And Ladies of the Club″ chronicled the lives of the ladies of the Waynesboro Woman’s Club from its founding in 1868 until 1932. She told interviewers it was a rebuttal to Sinclair Lewis’ unflattering portrait of small-town America in ″Main Street.″

″Not all small towns are wonderful, but I’d rather live in a small town than a big city any day,″ she said. Miss Santmyer was born in Cincinnati, but moved to Xenia as a child and considered herself a Xenia native.

″I have enjoyed my life very much. I’m not one of those weeping, regretful old ladies,″ she said.

The Berkley Publishing Group said the 1,443-page paperback edition of ″... And Ladies of the Club″ had sold more than 2 million copies by Sept. 15, 1985, making it the biggest selling paperback in history.

Miss Santmyer often debunked the myth that it had taken 50 years to write. She said she began writing the novel in longhand in a bookkeeper’s ledger in 1965.

In 1975, Miss Santmyer turned the 11 boxes of manuscript over to Ohio State University Press, which published it in 1982 and still holds the copyright, former director Weldon Kefauver said. It later was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in 1984.

According to The Book Publishing Annual, it sold 368,308 hardcover copies from its re-release in June 1984 to December of that year. It became No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, becoming the fourth best-selling book that year, although some critics called it a chore to read.

In the 1920s, Miss Santmyer was a secretary to the editor of Scribner’s magazine in New York, where she met many prominent authors.

During the 1920s, her first two novels, ″Herbs and Apples″ and ″A Fierce Dispute″ were published.

She became an assistant professor of English at Wellesley College and then graduated from Oxford University with a bachelor of letters degree. She served 17 years as dean of women and head of the English Department at Cedarville College near Xenia and later was a librarian for Dayton and Montgomery County.

She won the Ohioana Book Award for a collection of essays, ″Ohio Town,″ published by Ohio State University Press in 1963. She also was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame.

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