A Woman to Know: Mildred Wirt Benson

Now that kind of woman is common, but then it was a new concept, though not to me. I just naturally thought that girls could do the things boys did. — Mildred

(Photo from University of Iowa Archives)
The lady behind Nancy Drew! And Penny Nichols! And Flash Evans! And the Boy Scout Mystery Series! Not that you'd know it from her name.

Mildred worked as a ghost writer for most of her career, penning adventures for zillions of your favorite childhood heroines. She wrote a number of Nancy Drew mysteries as Carolyn Keene, most famously, but she also adopted Frances K. Judd, Julia Duncan, Frank Bell and other pseudonyms (pour over this exhaustingly comprehensive list of every book and series Mildred wrote for a mind-boggling picture of her work). She's insanely profilic, of course, but you can also pick out some dominant themes in her writing: Plucky girl adventuress. Wonderfully wholesome friendships. Semi-treacherous escapades. Killer character names (Kay Tracey, Madge Sterling, Ruth Darrow, Penny Parker, The Dana Girls — it's all just too good).

But toward the end of her career, Mildred sort of resented this sideways success. As she told The New York Times in 1993, "I'm so sick of Nancy Drew I could vomit." She later wrote books under a variation of her own name, as Mildred A. Wirt, but none approached the acclaim of her ghostwriting endeavors. "Most people know their own name," she wrote in 2000. "I have had so many in my life of ghost writing that I am no longer sure."

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*~Mildred appeared in a previous edition of this newsletter! But way more of you have subscribed since then soooo~*

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