Who was Mildred Wirt Benson?

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December 10, 2015 by jillclever

Mildred (Millie) Benson was the real name of the original Carolyn Keene of Nancy Drew fame. The first of these books was The Secret of the Old Clock which appeared in 1930. She wrote the first 23 books of the original series of books. Although she is now best known for writing the first of the Nancy Drew books, she was so much more than that.

In college at the University of Iowa she excelled in sports, including soccer and swimming, as well as scholastics. She became the first student, male or female to earn a Master of Arts from the School of Journalism at the University of Iowa.

She was a longtime journalist with several newspapers including both the Toledo Times and Toledo Blade newspapers.

In addition to the Nancy Drew books she also wrote many other popular series for young people, such as the Ruth Fielding, Ruth Darrow, and Penny Parker series.

Millie was also an experienced aviatrix and in her later years Millie even applied to be part of NASA’s ‘Journalist in Space’ program which never came to fruition due to the Challenger disaster in 1986. That application, some of her flight logbooks, and other memorabilia, are owned by the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Most of her other records are now housed at her alma mater the University of Iowa.

The last Nancy Drew story that Millie wrote was The Clue of the Velvet Mask, published in 1953. Due to the major rewriting by other authors that occurred later in Nancy Drew’s history, she refused to sign any books that were not the original editions of which she was the actual author. Her identity as the original author of the first Nancy Drew book was finally revealed in a court case in 1980 where she was a witness.

Later in life she received many awards for her work, including a Malice Domestic Life Time Achievement Award and an Edgar Allan Poe Special Award from the Mystery Writers of America. She died in 2002 at the age of 96. Her last column, about the importance of Carnegie libraries, was published next to her obituary on the front page of the Toledo Blade.

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