Perhaps having two daughters led Stratemeyer to create a female-centered series. He wrote outlines for the first four Nancy Drew books but died the year the first was published.
A man thought her up, but two extraordinary women gave Nancy that before-her-time personality.
Harriet Stratemeyer Adams took over the syndicate after her father’s death. She recalled, “He thought I should stay home and keep house.” Instead, this mother of four with no business experience succesfully ran her late father’s empire until her death. She outlined most of the rest of the mysteries, edited them and eventually became the primary ghostwriter.
The woman who wrote most of the first 25 books was also a tough cookie. Mildred Wirt Benson was one of the first women to receive a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa. She described herself as “a rough and tumble newspaper person who had to earn a living.” She earned her pilot’s license at 59 and survived the Mexican jungle at 62, writing about it all.
These women were pioneers before feminism coalesced. “I wasn’t thinking about women’s liberation when I wrote the books,” Mrs. Adams once said. “I’ve never thought of myself as a women’s libber, but I do believe that women have brains.”
Perhaps that’s why the girl detective has endured while other attempts to create good role models have failed. Nancy wasn’t invented to make a point.
Try to dilute that pre-feminist moxie, however, and girls won’t be as interested. Simon & Schuster created the “Nancy Drew Files” in 1986. In this later series, Nancy cares more about boys and clothes than the mysteries. It lasted just 10 years — nothing compared to the 77 and counting of the original series.
(“The Nancy Drew Notebooks,” aimed at girls 5 to 8, have none of that nonsense.)
Girls are still reading the classic tales, but now Nancy is inspiring them in a new medium. A series of computer games for girls using Nancy Drew has been pioneered by Her Interactive. The White Wolf of Icicle Creek, the 16th of the well-regarded Nancy Drew games, appeared on shelves this week.
Nancy is undercover as a hotel maid, so players have to face such typical female tasks as making beds and salads — but they also ride a snowmobile in the Alberta tundra. That’s something I’ve done. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so brave if I hadn’t grown up with that audacious heroine, Nancy Drew.
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