From the archives: Mystery solved. An Iowan was behind iconic 'Nancy Drew' series
Explore the drawings of Mark Marturello as he brings famous Iowans to life in his latest illustration.
The greatest Nancy Drew mystery has been solved.
The author of the best books about America's favorite teen-age sleuth is Iowa's Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote as "Carolyn Keene."
The Ladora native is the one whose vision made Nancy Drew a cultural icon. Because of Benson, the young detective is smart, brave, level-headed, curious, independent, thoughtful and spirited — a role model for millions of girls.
Mildred Augustine was born in Ladora on July 5, 1905, the youngest of two children of Dr. J. L. and Lillian Augustine.
She sold her first story at 12 to St. Nicholas magazine.
Benson earned a degree in journalism from the University of Iowa in 1925. In 1927 she was the first person to earn a master of arts degree in journalism at the U of I.
In 1929, Benson received a slim outline from Edward Stratemeyer of New York's Stratemeyer Syndicate with a request to ghost-write a mystery novel, for $125 and no royalties, about a girl he named Nancy Drew.
The first volume of the series, "The Secret of the Old Clock," was an immediate hit and was quickly followed by two more Benson successes.
Benson wrote 22 of the first 25 volumes (and another in 1953), and kept her identity secret for 50 years.
► Want more stories like this? Subscribe to the Des Moines Register today.
From 1944 to 1975, Benson worked for the Toledo (Ohio) Times. She then became a reporter and columnist for the Toledo Blade.
She married, had a daughter and was widowed twice.
In 1993, Benson was at the center of a national Nancy Drew conference at the University of Iowa, and only since has she received national recognition.
Benson died May 28, 2002, after becoming ill while at work in The Blade's newsroom, where she continued to report daily to write her weekly column, "On the Go With Millie," using a computer.
She was taken to Toledo Hospital where she died. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1997, but continued to work.
MORE FAMOUS IOWANS:
- Mystery solved. An Iowan was behind iconic 'Nancy Drew' series
- 'Newhart,' 'I Dream of Jeannie' actor Bill Daily shares his Des Moines memories
- ‘Mr. Christmas’ Andy Williams was an Iowan to the end
- Love Rice Krispies Treats? You have an Iowan to thank
- Wild West icon and showman Buffalo Bill Cody
- Rock star Tommy Bolin hailed from Sioux City
- Iowa values carried Donna Reed to Hollywood stardom
- Johnny Carson spent his early days in southwest Iowa
- For a short time, Tiny Tim called Des Moines home
- Iowa native Meredith Willson was notable musician long before 'Music Man'
- Kate Shelley is among Iowa's best-known heroes