All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up

02 May 2010

Still Sleuthing-Happy 80th Nancy Drew!

Nancy Drew, literature's favorite girl spy turned 80 this week...well actually she turned 98 since she began her series at the age of 18.  She has survived the Great Depression and WWII...she made it through the Cold War and Woodstock and the Disco Era and is still sleuthing today all the while inspiring little girls around the world that they can do anything their heart wishes. Pretty good for a 98 year old!

Independent, smart, determined...yes, plucky, Nancy became a role model in a blue roadster opening up a world where girls could — and did — do anything. She was a new type of "heroine" in fiction marketed to young girls. Only a few years after women had been given the right to vote on April 28 1930, The Secret of the Old Clock the first Nancy Drew Mystery was released launching a series that would become a franchise and a staple on every girl's bookshelf.

In the 80 years since Nancy has been solving mysteries, with her sidekick Snowball the cat, over 200 million copies worldwide in 25 languages have been sold and countless readers have shared  her stories and  been inspired to not only tap on walls or search with a flashlight in hand, but also to believe that it was OK to be adventurous and smart.

Among her many fans are an impressive group of women who may very well have have learned from Nancy at an early age  not only that girls can be bold and fearless but also what girls can achieve-Hillary Clinton, Bette Davis, Beverly Sills,Barbara Walters, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Anna Quindlen, Nancy Pelosi and  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg among them.  Nancy Drew opened their minds to what they could accomplish and they in turn have blazed trails for all girls to follow.

The Nancy Drew Mysteries were actually created by a man, Edward Stratemeyer,  who also created the The Hardy Boys Mysteries and the Bobbsey Twins . Stratemeyer wanted to call his character Stella Strong who would be "a girl of sixteen" and would be "an up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy." There never was a Carolyn Keene, the author is the pseudonym that was used by several ghost writers over the years in the Stratemeyer Syndicate. The core of Nancy's personality can be found,however, in the books written by Mildred Wirt Benson who wrote 23 of the first 30 mysteries. Mildred Wirt Benson developed the character we have come to identify as Nancy Drew with a fiery "go get 'em" spirit.

After Edward Stratemeyer's sudden death his daughters would continue to outline the themes and story lines that Benson would write.  It was Benson,however, who would infuse the mysteries with a character that showed every little girl who curled up in a chair reading the series that they could do anything any boy could do.  Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, Edward's eldest daughter collaborated with Benson until 1953 yet had a different vision of Nancy which was more "refined" and polished reflecting Harriet's finishing school background.  A 1914 graduate of Wellesley College, Harriet insisted that if Nancy had gone to college she would have been a Wellesley the way Ms. Adams we call ourselves Wellesley Women now.  The role of women in society is not the only thing that has changed in all these years. In the new versions of Nancy Drew the convertible is gone and Nancy drives a blue hybrid...and the newly released commemorative 80th anniversary edition of The Secret of the Old Clock was edited to remove the racial stereotypes that were in the original.

Today in a world filled with multimedia options and gimmicks and flash, Nancy is still a popular girl.  The original stories may seem formulaic and dated but the series is something that Moms and Grandmoms share with their daughters as they share their special memories of hours spent following Nancy Drew solve her latest mystery.  80 years later strong role models for girls are still critical to their self-esteem and development so keep sleuthing Nancy!

Good Nancy Drew reading:

Search Books for girl sleuth nancy drew and the women who created her