By Charles Apple
Nancy Drew – sometimes a supersmart sleuth, sometimes a hardworking amateur who gets lucky at solving mysteries, but perpetually a teenager – turns 90 today.
Nancy was the creation of children’s book publisher Edward Stratemeyer, who wanted to create a girls’ counterpart for his successful Hardy Boys series of books he would launch in 1927.
He originally wanted to call his teen heroine Stella Strong, but then changed his mind to Diana Drew. And then Diana Dare. And then Nan Drew.
That last one would stick. Sort of.
In 1926, Stratemeyer hired 21-year-old University of Iowa journalism student Mildred Wirt to write the books for $125 each: About two month’s salary for a newspaper reporter at the time, or just under $2,000 in 2020 dollars. Wirt would write 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew mysteries ... but would receive no credit at all. Every book would be published under the pen name of Carolyn Keene.
The books would be updated over the years, republished with bright, new covers and tweaked slightly for girls of the 1960s and 1970s that a real-life Nancy Drew could hardly have imagined in 1930. But through it all, Nancy would remain a down-home girl from River Heights, who takes on mysteries with the help of her friends and hardly ever kisses her boyfriend. Because, after all, that would make for a book for slightly older girls.
There would be additional series of books: Find-your-own-way adventures, graphic novels, special Nancy Drew stories for elementary schoolers.
Nancy Drew movies and TV series would be made. The current TV incarnation on The CW network was recently renewed for a second season.
More recent books have Nancy driving around town in a hybrid car, using a cellphone and telling about her adventures in the first person.
Sources: University of Maryland Libraries, Penguin Random House, JSTOR.org, NancyDrewSleuth.com, BookRiot.com, BookSeriesInOrder.com, Amazon, Internet Movie Database