Mildred Benson

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Mildred Wirt Benson
Born Mildred Augustine
(1905-07-10)July 10, 1905
Ladora, Iowa, United States
Died May 28, 2002(2002-05-28) (aged 96)
Toledo, Ohio, United States
Occupation Author
Genre Children's books
Spouses Asa Wirt (d.1947), George A. Benson (d.1959)
Children Peggy Wirt

Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson (July 10, 1905 – May 28, 2002) was an American journalist and author of children's books, in particular the earliest Nancy Drew mysteries. Writing under the Stratemeyer Syndicate pen name, Carolyn Keene, from 1929 to 1947, she contributed to 23 of the first 30 originally published Nancy Drew mysteries.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Benson was born Mildred Augustine in Ladora, Iowa to Lillian and Dr. J. L. Augustine.[2] She married Asa Wirt, who worked for the Associated Press.[3] The couple had a daughter together, Peggy Wirt, who was born in November 1936. Three years later, after Wirt's death in 1947,[4][5] she married George A. Benson, editor of the Toledo Blade newspaper of Toledo, Ohio.[6] He died in 1959.[4][7] Benson earned her degree in English from the University of Iowa in 1925. She later returned to the University and in 1927, became the first student there to earn a master's degree in journalism. [2] Benson worked for 58 years as a journalist, writing a weekly column for the Toledo Blade, and as a writer of many books. She continued to work full-time (mostly writing obituaries) until a few months before her death. She died from lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 96.[2]

Benson was a great adventurer, making numerous trips to Central America, traversing the jungle in a Jeep, canoeing down rivers, visiting Mayan sites, and witnessing archaeological excavations.[8]

Writing career[edit]

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Benson wrote for the society pages of the Clinton (Iowa) Herald. In the spring of 1926, Benson applied to an ad posted by the Stratemeyer Syndicate looking for ghostwriters. After getting the job, her first assignment was to write text for the book, "Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario" under the pseudonym of Alice B. Emerson.[3]

Benson's most famous project while working for the Syndicate was ghostwriting for the Nancy Drew series under the name "Carolyn Keene." In addition to the Nancy Drew mysteries, Benson also "wrote" the Dana Girls series using the same pseudonym.

Later, Benson also wrote many other series, including the Penny Parker books which were published under her own name. She often told interviewers they were her favorites. The books were about the adventures of a young newspaper reporter. Benson herself continued writing for newspapers until her death. She wrote under a dozen names and published more than 130 books according to the Mildred Wirt Benson Works page at

One unusual series was the cluster of four "Ruth Darrow" stories (1930-1931). Written as "Mildred Wirt," the books relate the adventures of an air-minded young woman of the era. Taking flying lessons and flying her own aircraft, Ruth wins a national cross-country race, lands on an aircraft carrier, helps the Forest Service in fighting forest fires, and alerts the Coast Guard of an immigrant-smuggling scheme. The aeronautical lore in the books is generally authentic, but the series' greatest strength is its consistent and outspoken advocacy of women's abilities and mechanical competence.[9]

Nancy Drew[edit]

While she wrote scores of books under her own and many other names, Benson is perhaps best known as one of 28 individuals who helped produce the Nancy Drew books. Edward Stratemeyer hired Mildred Benson in 1926 to assist in expanding his roughly drafted stories in order to satisfy increasing demand for his series.

Published book rights for the Nancy Drew series were owned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and are currently owned by Simon & Schuster. As with all syndicate ghostwriters, Benson was paid a flat fee of $125 to $250 for each Stratemeyer-outlined text, the equivalent of three months' pay for a newspaper reporter at that time. At Edward Stratemeyer's death, under the terms of his will, all Syndicate ghostwriters, including Benson, were sent one fifth of the equivalent of the royalties the Syndicate had received for each book series to which they had contributed.

As with all Syndicate ghostwriters, under the terms of her contract, Benson signed away all rights to her texts and any claim to the Syndicate pen name, Carolyn Keene. She was, however, permitted to reveal that she wrote for the Syndicate. The Stratemeyers protected their Syndicate pen names to preserve series continuity as contributors to the series came and went. Simon & Schuster currently maintain the same system.

The character of Nancy Drew was conceived by Stratemeyer, who provided Benson with index card thumbnail sketches. However, she was the one who created Nancy's spunky, plucky personality, and her daring, adventurous spirit. Benson took the plots supplied by the Syndicate and created a character that is still loved today. Her texts were edited and rewritten as required, and the Syndicate published the books using the pseudonym, Carolyn Keene. Subsequent Nancy Drew stories (with some exceptions) that Benson wrote for, were all re-written by Edna Stratemeyer Squier and, primarily, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, after their father's death in 1930.

However, in 1980, Benson's testimony, which she offered in a court case involving the publishers, revealed her identity to the public as a contributor to the Nancy Drew mystery stories. Without access to the Stratemeyer Syndicate archives, now held at the New York Public Library, the public[who?] presumed that she had a primary authorship claim to the Nancy Drew stories and pen name Carolyn Keene. In 2001, Benson received a Special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her contributions to the Nancy Drew series.

Benson's favorite Nancy Drew story was The Hidden Staircase, the second mystery in the series.[citation needed]

Books Written[edit]


Nancy Drew (as Carolyn Keene)[edit]

  • 1. The Secret of the Old Clock, 1930
  • 2. The Hidden Staircase, 1930
  • 3. The Bungalow Mystery, 1930
  • 4. The Mystery at Lilac Inn, 1930
  • 5. The Secret at Shadow Ranch, 1931
  • 6. The Secret of Red Gate Farm, 1931
  • 7. The Clue in the Diary, 1932
  • 8. The Clue of the Broken Locket, 1934
  • 9. The Message in the Hollow Oak, 1935
  • 10. The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, 1936
  • 11. The Whispering Statue, 1937
  • 12 The Haunted Bridge, 1937
  • 13. The Clue of the Tapping Heels, 1939
  • 14. The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk, 1940
  • 15. The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion, 1941
  • 16. The Quest of the Missing Map, 1942
  • 17. The Clue in the Jewel Box, 1943
  • 18. The Secret in the Old Attic, 1944
  • 19. The Clue in the Crumbling Wall, 1945
  • 20. The Mystery of the Tolling Bell, 1946
  • 21. The Clue in the Old Album, 1947
  • 22. The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, 1948
  • 23. The Clue of the Velvet Mask, 1953

Kay Tracey (as Frances K. Judd)[edit]

  • 3. The Mystery of the Swaying Curtains, 1935
  • 4. The Shadow on the Door, 1935
  • 5. The Six-Fingered Glove Mystery, 1936
  • 6. The Green Cameo Mystery, 1936
  • 7. The Secret at the Windmill, 1937
  • 8. Beneath the Crimson Briar Bush, 1937
  • 9. The Message in the Sand Dunes, 1938
  • 10. The Murmuring Portrait, 1938
  • 11. When the Key Turned, 1939
  • 12. In the Sunken Garden, 1939
  • 14. The Sacred Feather, 1940

Penny Parker (as Mildred A. Wirt)[edit]

  • 1. Tale of the Witch Doll, 1939
  • 2. The Vanishing Houseboat, 1939
  • 3. Danger at the Drawbridge, 1940
  • 4. Behind the Green Door, 1940
  • 5. Clue of the Silken Ladder, 1941
  • 6. The Secret Pact, 1941
  • 7. The Clock Strikes Thirteen, 1942
  • 8. The Wishing Well, 1942
  • 9. Saboteurs on the River, 1943
  • 10. Ghost Beyond the Gate, 1943
  • 11. Hoofbeats on the Turnpike, 1944
  • 12. Voice from the Cave, 1944
  • 13. Guilt of the Brass Thieves, 1945
  • 14. Signal in the Dark, 1946
  • 15. Whispering Walls, 1946
  • 16. Swamp Island, 1947
  • 17. The Cry at Midnight, 1947
  • 18. Unpublished Title, would have been 1948

Dana Girls (as Carolyn Keene)[edit]

  • 5. The Secret at the Hermitage, 1936
  • 6. The Circle of Footprints, 1937
  • 7. The Mystery of the Locked Room, 1938
  • 8. The Clue in the Cobweb, 1939
  • 9. The Secret at the Gatehouse, 1940
  • 10. The Mysterious Fireplace, 1941
  • 11. The Clue of the Rusty Key, 1942
  • 12. The Portrait in the Sand, 1943
  • 14. The Clue in the Ivy, 1952
  • 15. The Secret of the Jade Ring, 1953
  • 16. Mystery at the Crossroads, 1954

Penny Nichols (as Joan Clark)[edit]

  • 1. Penny Nichols Finds a Clue, 1936
  • 2. Penny Nichols and the Mystery of the Lost Key, 1936
  • 3. Penny Nichols and the Black Imp, 1936
  • 4. Penny Nichols and the Knob Hill Mystery, 1939

Connie Carl (as Joan Clark)[edit]

  • 1. Connie Carl at Rainbow Ranch, 1939
  • 2. Connie Carl on Skis, would have been 1939 (made into Penny Parker #4)
  • 3. Untitled Third volume, would have been 1939 [10]

Madge Sterling (as Ann Wirt)[edit]

  • 1. The Missing Formula, 1932
  • 2. The Deserted Yacht, 1932
  • 3. The Secret of the Sundial, 1932

Mildred A. Wirt[edit]

  • 1 Ruth Darrow in the Air Derby, 1930
  • 2 Ruth Darrow in the Fire Patrol, 1930
  • 3. Ruth Darrow in Yucatan, 1931
  • 4. Ruth Darrow in the Coast Guard, 1931


  1. ^ Martin, Douglas (2002-05-30). "Mildred Benson Is Dead at 96; Wrote 23 Nancy Drew Books". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-12-15. 
  2. ^ a b c "Nancy Drew's first author dies". USA Today. Toledo, Ohio: Gannett Company Inc. May 29, 2002. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "Mildred Wirt Benson | The Writing University". Retrieved 2015-12-15. 
  4. ^ a b "Nancy Drew author dies". BBC News World Edition. May 29, 2002. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  5. ^ Douglas Martin (May 30, 2002). "Mildred Benson, Author of Nancy Drew Mysteries, Dies at 96". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ Douglas Martin (May 30, 2002). "Mildred Benson Is Dead at 96; Wrote 23 Nancy Drew Books". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  7. ^ Myrna Oliver (May 30, 2002). "Mildred Benson, 96; Author Gave Life to Nancy Drew". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved May 16, 2012. 
  8. ^ Visci, Marissa (2015-07-14). "The Original Ghostwriter Behind Nancy Drew Was One of The Most Interesting YA Writers of All Time". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2015-12-16. 
  9. ^ Erisman, Fred (2009). From Birdwomen to Skygirls: American Girls' Aviation Stories. Fort Worth, Texas: TCU Press. pp. 84–92. ISBN 978-0-87565-397-6. 
  10. ^ The end of the manuscript of Connie Carl on Skis hints at another adventure for Connie when she wins the contest, which is a modeling job. No further information on the title is available.

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