Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Real Life Nancy Drew - The Mildred Wirt Benson Biography Update & Archive

Today marks the birthday of the original Carolyn Keene, prolific children's book author, Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. She was a journalist for most of her life, a writer, and an adventurer. Much like Nancy Drew in that her style of Nancy was an out in the world, more rough and tumble version with lots of  pluck and gumption, much like herself.

I am currently working on her biography. Life and Nancy Drew Convention planning have sidetracked me a little - not to mention getting a ton of new research material to sort through - so it's an ongoing process but it's going to be amazing once done. It's been like playing Nancy Drew to put all the puzzle pieces together, which has been so fascinating. So many new stories and angles to things that really make her story an exceptional one. She was the right person and the right time to help breathe life into such a phenomenal character, Nancy Drew, who has inspired generations of kids and has become such a Pop Culture icon. 

You can follow my progress and learn more about Millie, her books and series and life at my website.

I also want to update on a special project to create a shelf to house Millie's author's copies at the University of Iowa, Women's Archive - see below. Thanks to Nancy Drew Sleuths for  helping make this happen.

Millie around the age she was writing Nancy Drew

Millie on an archaeological adventure 

1940s Image of Millie with her author's copies in her writing room, Toledo, OH

1950s image from Mille's writing room, Toledo, OH

When the Nancy Drew Sleuths fan organization visited the University of Iowa as part of their 2015 convention, a plan was made to help raise funds to have a book case built to house all of Millie's author's copies which were donated to the University of Iowa following the death of her daughter Peggy. 

Some members contributed to raise the funds for the shelf - and the man who made the shelf, dedicated it to his daughter, now deceased, who was a Nancy Drew fan. Some of our funds ended up going to help create a special website on Millie that the University created to showcase the donation and the collection they have of not only her author's copies but also her archive. Mildred donated many papers, manuscripts and other neat items to the IA Women's Archive, so fans and researchers can go and learn more about her life's work. 

Some of our funds were also used to purchase a few original letters and documents of Millie's to bring them "home" to the collection. Back in the 1990s, there were some auctions and sales of some of Millie's personal papers to Nancy Drew collectors. I'd like to take a moment to point out - to collectors - who purchased these items, that you consider donating them to the Iowa Women's Archive so they can go where they should be archived and preserved properly, as they are historical pieces of  publishing history and important. It's better to do so before the opportunity is lost, by confusion with heirs and what to do and how to do it in the future once you are gone. So, to those of you who have original documents, consider donating or even selling them to the archive while you can make sure that it happens properly and is accomplished. If for some reason, you are unwilling to donate or sell such documents, even after 20+ years of having them, consider making photo copies and donating those so that researchers have more scholarly material to work with. Photo copies should be easy enough to make and ship off. If you are willing and able to donate materials or send photo copies, they can be sent to: 

Karen Mason, Curator
Univ. of Iowa Women’s Archives
100 Main Library
Iowa City, IA 52242-1420

Here's images of the Millie Benson shelf that I took in the spring of 2018 when I researched at the library:


There's a really neat magnifying glass that thanks the Nancy Drew Sleuths inside the case.