- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) Mildred Wirt Benson, a newspaperwoman who originated the popular children's mystery series about a young sleuth named Nancy Drew, has died. She was 96.

Mrs. Benson became ill Tuesday at the Blade, where she wrote a weekly column for the newspaper about daily life and older folks. She was taken to Toledo Hospital, where she died, the hospital said.

Mrs. Benson was a journalist for 58 years and wrote more than 130 books, including the Penny Parker mystery series. She penned countless short stories but is best known for creating Nancy Drew, who captivated generations of girls.

The series is still in print and has sold more than 200 million books in 17 languages. Dozens of ghost writers followed Mrs. Benson, also writing under the name Carolyn Keene.

Nancy Drew buffs have said Mrs. Benson's books allowed girls and young women to imagine anything could be possible at a time when females struggled for any sense of equality.

"I always knew the series would be successful," Mrs. Benson said in December. "I just never expected it to be the blockbuster that it has been. I'm glad that I had that much influence on people."

Mrs. Benson, known as Millie to friends and fans, wrote 23 of the 30 original Nancy Drew stories using the Carolyn Keene pseudonym. She was paid $125 per book and never collected royalties from the books, movies and board games.

She was bound by an agreement with the publisher not to publicly reveal her identity as the series author, but it became known in 1980 when she testified in a court case involving Nancy Drew's publisher.

Harriet Adams, daughter of the original publisher, Edward Stratemeyer, took over the series and directed writers to make the stories shorter and faster paced in the 1950s. Miss Adams died in 1982, and the syndicate sold Nancy Drew to Simon & Schuster.

Mrs. Benson began writing in Ladora, Iowa, where she was born July 10, 1905, to Lillian and J.L. Augustine.

"I always wanted to be a writer from the time I could walk," she said. "I had no other thought except that I wanted to write."

She wrote children's stories when she was in grade school and won her first writing award at 14.

Mr. Wirt died in 1947. In 1950, she married George Benson, editor of the Toledo Times, who died in 1959.

Mrs. Benson is survived by her daughter, Peggy Wirt, of Logansport, Ind.

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