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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1915-2002
Creator: Benson, Mildred Augustine Wirt (1905-2002)
Extent: 1.00 linear foot.
Collection Number: IWA0054
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Journalist for the Toledo Blade and writer of the first Nancy Drew mysteries and other children's series books; collection includes writings, clippings, scrapbooks and a few photographs.
View Selected Items Online:Mildred Wirt Benson papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in boxes 1-2

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: With the exception of the manuscript of 'Runaway Sea Lion' for which the donor retains copyright, copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 108) were donated by Mildred Wirt Benson in 1992, 1993 and 1995. One manuscript, "The Cool One," was donated by the Iowa Historical Society (donor no. 574) in 1998.

Preferred Citation: Mildred Wirt Benson papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Mildred Augustine was born July 10, 1905 in Ladora, Iowa. She wanted to be a writer from an early age and published her first short story in 1919. She attended the University of Iowa, graduating in 1925, and spent the next year working as a reporter for the Clinton (Iowa) Herald. In 1926 she went to New York, hoping to find a job as a writer. Although unsuccessful, she did meet Edward Stratemeyer, the owner of Stratemeyer Syndicate, which published many popular juvenile fiction series, such as the "Hardy Boys," "Bobbsey Twins" and "Tom Swift" series. Augustine returned to the University of Iowa in 1927, where she became the first woman at that institution to earn a master's degree in journalism. While pursuing her degree, Augustine was offered the opportunity to write a novel in the "Ruth Fielding" series for Stratemeyer. Her work pleased Stratemeyer and after producing several pseudonymous novels, she was offered the opportunity to begin work on a new series, revolving around a girl detective named Nancy Drew. Under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, Augustine wrote 23 of the first 25 books in the series.

In 1928, Mildred Augustine married Asa A. Wirt, who was affiliated with the Associated Press, and moved with him to Cleveland, Ohio. They later moved to Toledo. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Mildred A. Wirt continued to write fiction for children and young adults under her own name, her own pseudonyms (Frank Bell, Joan Clark, Don Palmer, Dorothy West, Ann Wirt), and collective pseudonyms owned by Stratemeyer Syndicate (Julia K. Duncan, Alice B. Emerson, Frances K. Judd, Carolyn Keene, Helen Louise Thorndyke). She wrote over 100 novels, most of which were sold along with any royalty rights to Stratemeyer Syndicate for a flat fee of $125-$250. Wirt also published numerous stories and articles in magazines such as St. Nicholas Magazine, Lutheran Young Folks, Our Boys and Girls, and Calling All Girls, using both her own name and pseudonyms.

In the mid-1940s, Mildred Wirt began to work as a news reporter for the Toledo (Ohio) Times. She earned her pilot's license in the 1960s and became an avid aviator, writing a number of aviation-related articles for newspapers. Asa Wirt died in 1947. In 1950 Mildred Wirt married George A. Benson, her editor at the Times. George Benson died in 1959.

By the mid-1960s, Mildred Benson had ceased writing fiction and was working full time as a court reporter. In the late 1960s, she was approached by a publisher to begin writing juvenile fiction again, but decided against it. She later explained that ". . . the teenagers for whom I wrote lived in a world far removed from drugs, abortion, divorce, and racial clash . . . Any character I might create would never be attuned to today's social problems." [Books at Iowa (November 1973): 24-29]. When the Times went out of business in the 1970s, Mildred Benson went to work for the Toledo Blade. She continued to work at the Blade until the day of her death. In 1993 Benson was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame. The University of Iowa honored her with its Distinguished Alumni Award in June 1994 and she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in August 1994.

Researchers should consult Geoffrey S. Lapin, "The Ghost of Nancy Drew," Books at Iowa 50 (April 1989): 8-27; Mildred Wirt Benson, "The Ghost of Ladora," Books at Iowa 19 (November 1973): 24-29; Frank Paluka, "Mildred A. Wirt," Iowa Authors (1967): 197-208; and Carolyn Stewart Dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov, Rediscovering Nancy Drew (University of Iowa Press, 1995).

The Mildred Wirt Benson papers measures 1 linear foot and date from ca. 1915 to 2002. The papers are divided into seven series: Biographical information, Bibliographic material, Fiction writing, Journalism, Correspondence, Memory book, and Photographs. The papers contain examples of Benson's fiction writing (including the various stages of writing a series book for a syndicate) as well as her newspaper work. Also included is considerable information of a bibliographic nature, relating to the authorship of the Nancy Drew books. There is little material on Benson's childhood apart from one photograph and some material in the memory book pertaining to her high school years.

Biographical information (1931-1991) contains both biographical and autobiographical articles, while Bibliographic material (1964-1992) consists of letters, articles, and newspaper clippings pertaining to the authorship of various Stratemeyer Syndicate books. In the 1960s several book collectors independently began to investigate the true identity of Carolyn Keene; by the late 1970s several people had documented Benson as the first Carolyn Keene. But in anticipation of a new edition of the Nancy Drew series the Stratemeyer Syndicate began to put out publicity indicating that owner Harriet Stratemeyer Adams was Carolyn Keene. This series contains a number of articles on the subject, some verifying Benson's authorship and others naming Adams as the writer of the Nancy Drew mysteries. In 1993, the publishers of the Nancy Drew series books, Simon and Schuster and Grosset and Dunlap, officially acknowledged Benson as the writer of the earliest Nancy Drew books under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.

Correspondence (1927-1992) consists of a small amount of correspondence with Dodd, Mead and Co., a letter from Harriet Adams of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, some correspondence with University of Iowa officials, and a few pieces of fan mail.

The Fiction writing series (1919-1992 and undated) includes an unused radio script, manuscripts of the novel "Quarry Ghost," the working plot for one series book and the working copy of another, and copies of Benson's early short stories.

The Journalism series (1927-1994) includes correspondence and examples of Benson's reporting ranging from a mid-1920s article in the Des Moines Register to several feature articles on aviation and archaeological sites. Also included are columns written by Benson for the Toledo Times in the 1970s and Toledo Blade in the 1990s.

The Memory book (1922-1928) contains newspaper clippings, programs, a few photographs, and memorabilia dating from Mildred Augustine's high school and college years in Ladora and Iowa City, Iowa.

The Photographs series (1915-1993) consists of a few photographs, including portraits, images of Benson as a reporter and as a writer, and one of Mildred Augustine in front of her childhood home in Ladora.

The Special Collections Department at the University of Iowa Libraries has extensive holdings of books by Mildred Wirt Benson.

Browse by Series:

  • Box 1:
  • Author biographies - 1959, 1990
  • Autobiographical articles - 1970, 1973
  • Awards - 1969, 1974, 1989, 2000-2001
  • Biographical articles - 1931-1991
  • Obituaries - 2002
  • Box 1:
  • Articles - 1964-1992
  • Correspondence - 1964-1986
  • Newspaper clippings - 1966-1980
  • Box 1:
  • From University of Iowa Registrar - 1927
  • From Stratemeyer Syndicate - 1951
  • From Dodd Mead editor - 1957
  • From University of Iowa Special Collections - 1964, 1970
  • 80th birthday card - 1985
  • Fan mail - 1992-1993
  • Sub-Series: Unpublished works
  • Box 1:
  • "Anthony Wayne": working plot
  • "Anthony Wayne": manuscript, first version
  • "Anthony Wayne": manuscript, revised
  • "Boy Scout Explorers at Emerald Valley,' "working plot, ca. - 1942-1945
  • "The Cool One"
  • "Penny Parker, Tale of the Witchdoll," working copy, ca. - 1945-1960
  • Box 2:
  • "Quarry Ghost": original manuscript - 1958
    photocopy, original closed due to fragile condition
  • "Quarry Ghost": revised manuscript - 1958
  • "Quarry Ghost": materials relevant to manuscript revision and publication - 1958, 1959, 1992
  • Sub-Series: Radio script
  • Box 2:
  • Going South - 1943
  • Box 3:
  • "The Runaway Sea Lion" - 1964
  • Sub-Series: Short stories
  • Box 2:
  • "Boy Life" - 1929
    shelved in map case
  • "Lutheran Young Folks" shelved in map case - 1924-1931
    shelved in map case
  • "Our Young People" - 1927, 1929
    shelved in map case
  • "The Youth's Comrade" - 1923-1928
  • Miscellaneous - 1919, 1927, 1935
  • Series 5: JOURNALISM
  • Box 2:
  • Aviation reporting - 1967-1994
  • Happy Landings columns - 1972-1973
  • Feature articles - 1960-1995
  • Newspaper articles - 1946-1960
  • Newspaper articles - 1970-1975
  • Newspaper features and editorials, ca. - 1923-1927
  • Scrapbook of newspaper articles - 1944-1947
    oversize box 4
  • Scrapbook of newspaper articles - 1974
    oversize box 5
  • Box 4:
  • Scrapbook of newspaper reports articles - 1945-1947
  • Box 5:
  • Scrapbook of newspaper reports articles - 1946
  • Box 2:
  • Memory book, - 1922-1928
    photocopy, original closed due to fragile condition
  • Memory book photocopy with collation/comparison notes to original Xerox - 2009
  • Master's thesis: "Newspaper Illustration: A Study of the Metropolitan Daily, the Small City Daily, and the Country Weekly" - 1927
  • Series 7: PHOTOGRAPHS
  • Box 2:
  • General ca. - 1915-1993
  • Small albums - 1920-1960
  • Peggy Wirt album - 1930-1940
  • Series 8: ARTIFACTS
  • Box 6:
  • Typewriter