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Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who…
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Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her (2005)

by Melanie Rehak

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I didn’t really intend to read two non-fiction books about fictional crime back-to-back, but as it turned out I did. Like most women these days and for the last 85 years, I grew up with Nancy Drew. I had my own books, but also read my mom’s. It’s one of those mother-daughter things that can really make a relationship close, especially when it comes to reading, something my mother taught me early to love. For a while there, the best part of going to the library was getting another Nancy Drew...or three. And yard sales, too, great places to find new books.

I can’t remember when I realized that Carolyn Keene wasn’t a real person, but a pseudonym, but I did already know and that’s what this book explores; the women who created and kept Nancy alive during hard times like the depression and the 60s and 70s when cultural change threatened to sink our titian-haired heroine. While both of the principal women involved (Mildred Wirt and Harriet Stratemeyer) ended their relationship with each other on somewhat bad terms, neither is vilified nor lionized in the book. Each brought her strength of character and personal vision to the mystique of Nancy Drew and it was fascinating to see who got the upper hand and for how long. I also enjoyed the chapters that talked about how and why the books got updated over the decades.

One thing that hasn’t been updated in the 85 years since Nancy made her debut is that while girls will readily read “boys books”, boys still won’t read “girls books”. Fully ½ of the human race still isn’t part of the human story, instead sidelined into “women’s fiction” or even worse, “chick lit”. Can you imagine J.K. Rowling would have been the same raging success she is had she chosen to use her full name on her books instead of initials? Or if her main character was Hermione instead of Harry? That glaring fact is the very reason the Nancy Drew books exist. That a white man woke up to the fact that girls were reading “boys books” and gee, couldn’t we make some money off them. Sadly, Nancy lost a lot of her independence and smarts and the modern novels are about boys, clothes and the latest styles.

Producing these and many other titles including The Hardy Boys was complex (it’s run by a big eastern syndicate you know) and it was fascinating to see how a book went from concept to manuscript to bound edition. Also the struggles each woman had in making her way in the worlds of publishing and journalism. Harriet Stratemeyer inherited (along with her sister, Edna) her father Edward’s syndicate that produced dozens of children's’ serial books. A woman running a large and successful business is still somewhat of an anomaly today, but in 1930 it was unheard of. Despite some bad decisions made from sheer inexperience, Harriet is successful and fights off the urge to get mad at the people who write to her and her sister as “Gentlemen”.

While the sisters sometimes disagreed about continuing to use the principal writer for the Nancy Drew series, Mildred Wirt, they kept coming back to her until eventually Harriet herself took over writing the books (and much of the rest of the business since Edna basically walked away only communicating to criticize, accuse and collect her share of the profits). Mildred was an awesome person and how I would have liked to have met her. She had her share of heartache and trouble (burying 2 husbands), but never despaired and always kept writing (and flying, she became a pilot when she was something like 60, you go girl!). Harriet, too, is a woman to be admired and one I would also liked to have met if only to thank her for saving Nancy Drew from oblivion so that I could enjoy the books over and over again. ( )
2 vote Bookmarque | Nov 30, 2015 |
This book about the woman who created Nancy Drew really helps the reader appreciate how truly ahead of her time Nancy Drew actually was. It gives the history of the two woman behind Nancy Drew, Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratermyer Adams. Harriet was most likely the first female C.E.O. and Mildred was a female pilot, journalist and writer of not only tons of books for the syndicate besides Nancy Drews but several of her own series. Anyone who has ever picked up a Nancy Drew and loved it, will love this book, it really cements Nancy Drew as a feminist icon. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
This book about the woman who created Nancy Drew really helps the reader appreciate how truly ahead of her time Nancy Drew actually was. It gives the history of the two woman behind Nancy Drew, Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratermyer Adams. Harriet was most likely the first female C.E.O. and Mildred was a female pilot, journalist and writer of not only tons of books for the syndicate besides Nancy Drews but several of her own series. Anyone who has ever picked up a Nancy Drew and loved it, will love this book, it really cements Nancy Drew as a feminist icon. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
This book about the woman who created Nancy Drew really helps the reader appreciate how truly ahead of her time Nancy Drew actually was. It gives the history of the two woman behind Nancy Drew, Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratermyer Adams. Harriet was most likely the first female C.E.O. and Mildred was a female pilot, journalist and writer of not only tons of books for the syndicate besides Nancy Drews but several of her own series. Anyone who has ever picked up a Nancy Drew and loved it, will love this book, it really cements Nancy Drew as a feminist icon. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
This book about the woman who created Nancy Drew really helps the reader appreciate how truly ahead of her time Nancy Drew actually was. It gives the history of the two woman behind Nancy Drew, Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratermyer Adams. Harriet was most likely the first female C.E.O. and Mildred was a female pilot, journalist and writer of not only tons of books for the syndicate besides Nancy Drews but several of her own series. Anyone who has ever picked up a Nancy Drew and loved it, will love this book, it really cements Nancy Drew as a feminist icon. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
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In September of 1929 children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer sent one of his inimitable typed memos to Grosset & Dunlap, his longtime publisher, describing a new line of books he hoped they would launch the following spring.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 015603056X, Paperback)

A plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women’s libbers) to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers’ lives. Here, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancy’s adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon? 
 
The brainchild of children’s book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO after her father died. In this century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:45 -0400)

An examination of the Nancy Drew stories and their influence on American girlhood since the 1930s explores mysteries related to the character's creators, and her role in shaping the modern.

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