When I was younger, I would always ask myself: “If I heard a mysterious noise in the house, would I grab a flashlight and go investigate like Nancy Drew? Or would I cower in my bed and wait it out?”
Fortunately, I encountered very few situations where I heard mysterious noises in the night. But it was seriously a deep philosophical dilemma for me. Could I be as brave as Nancy Drew if the need should so arise?
Nancy Drew was the epitome of cool. She drove a light blue convertible, packed an overnight bag in her trunk “just in case,” had “titian blonde” hair, loyal chums Bess and George, a dependable boyfriend Ned, a rad lawyer dad named Carson, and a really nice housekeeper named Hannah.
I thought it was really important that good friends surrounded Nancy. They always supported her, but sometimes were worried for her safety and called her out on dumb decisions.
Nancy wasn’t defined by those people. She was privileged in a lot of ways. She seemed wealthy and was technically immortal, seeing as she was 18 every single summer. She didn’t have to have a real job, as my parents would probably request of me instead of traipsing around River Heights/the country/the world. She had a housekeeper who made her food.
But she had experienced loss. Her mom died, and she basically grew up with no real mother figure. She had Hannah and her cool aunt Eloise who lived in NYC, but it’s not the same. Her dad seemed busy with his successful lawyer life and as previously stated, Carson was rad, as well as wise and loving, but probably often occupied by his work.
Nancy grew up to be an independent young woman. She was brave and asked hard questions. She expertly handled awkward situations. She was good at running from henchmen with crowbars and hid in closets and poked around cobwebby libraries. She was smart and intuitive.
She came into existence after a mystery series executive realized that “Hey, girls read The Hardy Boys too,” he took it upon himself to create a version that would resonate with (and sell to) girls.
Enter Mildred Wert Benson. Benson outlined the very first Nancy Drew book, under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Nancy was written powerfully for a girl in the 1930’s. Nancy Drew was classy and gutsy, wealthy but scrappy. Benson only wrote the first 23 books and later several other people took on the writing responsibility until the present. There are several versions of Nancy now, apparently adapted to fit the times, but the true Nancy Drew is timeless.
Benson was an English major from the University of Iowa, and was the first person to get a master’s in journalism there in 1927. She made a poppin’ $125 per book, while working full-time as a journalist for the Toledo Blade, where she worked for 58 years right up until her death in 2002. She wrote over 130 books for girls for other series and under other names. Hero material, am I right?
I write this because, as everyone knows, I love the Little House books. I admire Laura Ingalls Wilder so much because she was her books. Her books consisted of her life for the most part. Because of this, she was just as important as the characters she created. My second childhood heroine is Nancy Drew, and for the longest time, knowing she was written under a pen name, I de-valued the author, like her work was cheap.
But recently learning about Mildred Wert Benson was striking and inspiring to my journalistic heart.
I grew up with prairies and detectives more than I did with castles or fairies.
I grew up with prairies and detectives more than I did with castles or fairies. I have an idealistic view of the world, but of a real world. I like to think that Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nancy Drew, as well as other smart and thoughtful characters such as Trixie Belden, Encyclopedia Brown, Jack and Annie, Darcy J. Doyle, Kit Kittredge, Molly McIntire, Samantha Parkington, Felicity Merriman, and the Boxcar Children truly impacted my life and shaped me to be who I am today.
I have a storytelling spirit, one that I hope to translate into the world of journalism. I think a love of fiction is what inspires a pursuit of truth.
photo from nancydrewsleuth.com