Today for Women’s History Wednesday we’re featuring selections from our Mildred Wirt Benson digital collection. The UI alum and original author of the Nancy Drew series didn’t just write about adventurous heroines — she lived it!

From top:

The first Nancy Drew novel, The Secret of the Old Clock, was published in 1930.

Browse all: Mildred Wirt Benson digital collection

Learn more: Guide to the Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson papers, 1915-2002

  1. Spoiler alert.
  2. Happy Easter!! In a secular, candy-based way. Or not. Whatever you’re into…

Love, Iowa Women’s Archives

Iowa Digital Library: Patsy Carroll girls’ series advertisement in Ruth Fielding and Her Greatest Triumph by Alice B. Emerson (aka Mildred Wirt Benson), 1933

Iowa Women’s Archives: Guide to the Mildred Wirt Benson papers, 1915-2002

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Editor’s choice post!

My colleague, with an obvious love for Mildred Wirt Benson, found and made an amazing collection of images and gifs to highlight her life and writing. But there is something uniquely compelling about this 1925 yearbook image with her typing away in the offices of The Daily Iowan right here on campus. The only question remaining is…why don’t they have desks?

Tumblr user @zpopfunf asked if we have any typewriters.  This typewriter belonged to Mildred Wirt Benson, the woman who was the original ghost writer for the Nancy Drew series.  It is a recent addition to the iowawomensarchives, as a donation from her daughter.[*] Mildred, a UIowa alumna, donated her papers to the Iowa Women’s Archives in 1992.

Mildred Wirt Benson’s Papers, IWA0054

GIFs and photos of Mildred Wirt Benson.


The Treasure in the Old Will: Iowa Women’s Archives Inherits Valuable Nancy Drew Collection

There were no missing documents, phony relatives, or suspicious fires – just a straightforward bequest from Peggy Wirt, whose mother, the late Mildred Wirt Benson, was the original ghostwriter of the Nancy Drew series. But the collection that was recently left to the Iowa Women’s Archives calls to mind another mystery trope – the hidden treasure: the set of 150 books, written and signed by Benson, was appraised at $115,000. According to IWA Curator Kären Mason, however, the true value of the donation lies in further documenting an important figure in American popular culture…

…University of Iowa Professor Emeritus Carolyn Stewart Dyer has written of Nancy Drew as a feminist icon who inspires women “to persevere, to achieve, to ask questions and find answers":

Most compelling of the many elements of the stories women told us about reading Nancy Drew were the accounts of how, as girls, they saw in Nancy an alternative to conventional notions of what a woman could be. Women in many occupations told of learning from Nancy to see adventure in solving problems and the joy of self-reliance. These qualities, they said, led them to the futures they chose as lawyers, researchers, librarians, and detectives, among other roles.

Read the full press release here.


More like Women’s Mystery Wednesday!

Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski detective novels, visited the Iowa Women’s Archives over the weekend while in town for the Iowa City Book Festival. In the above photos, Paretsky finds a clue in the IWA stacks (note the fingerprints on the Greasy Thumb Automechanics Manual for Women) and tries out the typewriter of Mildred Wirt Benson (who wrote the first Nancy Drew mysteries under the pen name Carolyn Keene).

Paretsky received this year’s Paul Engle literary prize and appeared in conversation with NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan at the Coralville Public Library.