What Is the Story of Nancy Drew?
On a dark, rainy night, Nancy Drew sneaked out after bedtime to investigate an old stone house next door. Nancy was no stranger to danger. She was brave and followed her instincts. When she investigated a mystery, she never gave up untilthe case was solved.
As she explored inside the old house, she realized she was not alone. A maid was searching the house, certain that she had heard a noise. Nancy rushed to hide. She barely escaped getting caught. But she found herself locked in a room with no way out. “Now I am in a mess!” she said.
In the back of the closet, she felt a tiny knob and gave it a twist. Click!
With a push, the wall opened, and Nancy suddenly fell down a flight of stairs, into the dark. Nancy was shaken. She turned on her flashlight and saw a narrow passageway. She didn’t know where it led, but it was her only escape.
Nancy Drew isn’t a real person. This curious and independent teenage detective is a character in a series of books written by Carolyn Keene. When the first books in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series were published in 1930, girls and young women were not encouraged to be adventurous. But Nancy didn’t follow those rules. No one told her she couldn’t do something just because she was a girl. In fact, she often did things better than the men in her stories! Nancy’s character was popular, friendly, and kind. She was talented, smart, and thoughtful. She helped people in need and fought for fairness. Nancy had it all!
Readers have been enjoying Nancy Drew mysteries for more than ninety years. Over that time, Nancy has been chased, kidnapped, poisoned, and locked in closets. She has ridden horses, flown airplanes, explored haunted houses, and been attacked by a robot. Most readers would never have the kind of life Nancy has! But this famous detective’s luck and skill have inspired readers around the world to be curious, daring, and fearless as they face any of life’s challenges. Chapter 1: Big-City Book Business
The many stories about the character Nancy Drew have made her one of the most popular girl detectives of all time. But where did her own story begin? The key to this mystery starts in New Jersey.
Edward Stratemeyer was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1862. As a child, he loved to read adventure stories. He filled his shelves with books about poor boys who became wealthy heroes through hard work and bravery. He also read books about boys who traveled the world, fought in wars, explored the American West, and sailed the seas. Besides reading, Edward also liked to write his own adventure stories and even published a newspaper as a teenager.
Edward’s father didn’t think writing would be a good job for his son. So Edward worked as a clerk in his brother’s shop. He still wrote, though. In the late 1800s, many children read stories in story papers and magazines that came out weekly and monthly. Hoping they would be published, Edward sent them his stories. When he was in his twenties, he sold a story called “Victor Horton’s Idea” to Golden Days
magazine and made seventy-five dollars. It was published in 1889, and he decided writing would be his career.
Edward married Magdalene (called Lenna) and they soon had two daughters, Harriet and Edna. He tried out his own story ideas on the girls. Each night, they got just a bit of a story. They would have to wait until the next night to find out what happened next. Edward wrote a series called the Rover Boys, which became a huge success. His Bobbsey Twins series was also popular. Kids loved Edward’s books and couldn’t wait for more. This was not a problem for Edward. He had plenty of ideas.
Edward had been working for Street & Smith, a children’s book and magazine publisher. In 1905, he decided to start his own company, called the Stratemeyer Syndicate, first working from home and then from offices in New York City. (Syndicate
is another word for “group.”) He came up with the ideas, created the characters, and outlined stories for the book series. Then he hired authors, called ghostwriters, to write the books. He created pen names (made-up author names) for each series so that all the books in the series would seem like they were written by one person when, really, they were written by many. That way, he could create books in different series in much less time. A publisher would then print and sell the books.
The Stratemeyer Syndicate’s series sold by the millions! In 1926, the Syndicate had more than thirty book series in publication. In a survey that same year, 98 percent of kids listed a book by the Stratemeyer Syndicate as their favorite. Edward became rich!
Edward never stopped thinking of new ideas. Detective stories were becoming more popular with adults. So he thought young readers might like them, too. In 1927, Edward started the Hardy Boys series. In it, brothers Frank and Joe Hardy face danger as they solve crimes.
The Hardy Boys was a big hit with readers. Edward thought the Syndicate should have a similar series featuring a strong female character. He sent his idea to his publisher, describing his girl detective as “bright, clever, resourceful, and full of energy.” He thought she should be named Stella Strong. The publishers loved the idea but not the name. From a list of his other name ideas, they chose Nan Drew—which later became Nancy.
Now Edward needed to find a ghostwriter. He had just the right person—a young writer from Iowa named Mildred Augustine. Chapter 2: Small-Town Writer
As the Stratemeyer Syndicate grew in New York City, Mildred Augustine was growing up far away, in a small town in Iowa. Mildred was born on July 10, 1905. She spent hours playing adventurous games and making up stories with her paper dolls. Like Edward Stratemeyer, Mildred loved to read and write, too. When she was thirteen, she entered her story “The Courtesy” in a contest run by the popular children’s magazine St. Nicholas
. It was published in the June 1919 issue, announcing she had won the Silver Badge award.
Mildred left her small town for college at the State University of Iowa in 1922. She took classes in the new journalism program that trained students to become writers. She got plenty of practice working for the college newspaper. She also played sports, including soccer, basketball, and swimming. And she was really good at playing the xylophone! After graduation in June 1925, she went to work for the Clinton Herald
Mildred still wanted to write stories for children. In 1926, she answered a magazine advertisement from the Stratemeyer Syndicate that said it was looking for authors. Mildred met with Edward Stratemeyer in New York City. Soon after, he hired her. While writing books for Stratemeyer, Mildred went back to school to get another college degree in journalism. She also married Asa Wirt and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Through it all, she kept in touch with Edward.
In 1929, when Edward needed a ghostwriter for his new girl detective series, he thought of twenty-four-year-old Mildred Augustine Wirt. He asked if she would be interested in writing the first three books in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series for $125 each. She said yes. So he sent her his three-and-a-half-page outline for the first book—The Secret of the Old Clock
Mildred wrote a story full of action and suspense, just like Edward wanted. She then wrote the next two books in the series: The Hidden Staircase
and The Bungalow Mystery
. Following Edward’s ideas, Mildred helped create a unique girl with an unbelievable talent for solving mysteries. The character Nancy Drew is sixteen years old and lives in the town of River Heights. Her father, Carson Drew, is a lawyer. Her mother died when she was little, and so Nancy is in charge of running the household. She does have some help from the family’s maid, an older woman named Hannah Gruen. The Drews have plenty of money, and Nancy seems to have few worries. Her days are filled with shopping, visiting friends, going to parties, and running errands for her father in her very own car: a blue convertible, known as a roadster.
Nancy spends most of her time following clues to solve mysteries. Her curiosity, intelligence, and hard work lead her on adventure after adventure. Nancy’s life is nonstop action. Car chases! Spy missions! Underground explorations! Nancy stands up to criminals and always saves the day. She’s so good that the police and her father often come to her
The first three Nancy Drew Mystery Stories were released in April 1930 and used the pen name Carolyn Keene as the author. Before long, readers couldn’t get enough of this friendly, clever, and fearless girl detective.
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