Whoa! So my mind was a teensy bit blown as I soaked up all the history regarding Nancy Drew’s creation. 

Nancy Drew was one of the last creations by Edward Stratemeyer, the head of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. He mass-produced hundreds of ghost-written children’s books based on his story outlines and all written under pseudonyms. Phew! If it sounds like a lot. Well, that’s because it is.

Stratemeyer was a popular children’s author in his own right. But he quickly realized that he couldn’t possibly pen all the stories he wanted. So he hired ghostwriters to churn them out. He outlined and edited them, then published them under various pen names. Thus, the syndicate was born and became a lucrative business. At the time of his death, Stratemeyer had outlined the first few Nancy Drew stories and had hired Mildred Augustine to write them. He never saw what a success this book series would be. 

Mildred Augustine wrote the early Nancy Drew stories. But because of her contract, she was not allowed to disclose this. When Stratemeyer died, his daughters Harriet and Edna took over the business. So at the height of the Depression, Nancy Drew was being molded and shaped by women. And prospering. 

Mildred and Harriet were modern day working women. And their ideas of Nancy clashed. When Mildred stopped working for the syndicate, Harriet herself took over the Nancy Drew stories. So there are 2 versions of Nancy. Mildred’s Nancy is adventerous, outspoken and a bit brash. Harriet’s Nancy is prim, posed, and well-mannered. Years later when the stories were revised, Harriet’s Nancy wins out. Funny enough, it’s Harriet’s stories that I rather enjoyed. 

Speaking of the revisions. The reason the stories were revised: racism. Something I discussed while reviewing the books was how inherently racist some of the stories were. I was both excited and nervous when Nancy traveled abroad. Apparently I’m not the only one that felt that way! As early as 1948, concerned parents were writing to the publishers. Because Nancy Drew books are great and all, but they have no clue how to deal with POC. So the publisher and Harriet agreed to revise the previously published stories. Except Harriet had, ahem, “old world” values. (My polite way of saying she was low-key racist). So her solution was to wipe out any POC from the books. But the books I read were still problematic so… um, yeah. Way to go with the revisions ya’ll! 

Anyway, this was a nice crash course reading on Nancy Drew. I enjoyed the stories Harriet wrote so finding out what kind of person she was made me really question myself haha. There was also a lot of drama behind the scenes. Harriet and Mildred butting heads. Harriet and her sister, Edna, also going at it. Each woman, so different from one another, managed to somehow create a literary heroine for the ages.

6 thoughts on “Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak

  1. Oo, this is really interesting and now it all makes sense with Harriet’s lowkey racism playing at the background. She didn’t know how to write POC, so she just left them out, but anytime they were introduced, she defaced culturally symbolic artefacts instead? That’s really Harriet’s attitude towards POC kicking in. Sometimes you can’t blame the character, you have to blame the author. I guess that whole thing would probably boil down to whether a person should separate art from the creator, but I think in this case, sometimes art like this shows us a realistic portrayal of history and society depicted through fiction. But the argument against it might be that it’s children’s fiction and that will create an impact. In that case, I do feel certain books, actually children’s only, should be done through guided reading or have disclaimers regarding the fact that it’s a product of their time. So many things to consider overall.

    I quite love Mildred’s version of Nancy, she seems more relatable for me and I guess some people would argue for that too despite not being like that but thinking they are *cough* *check for self-awareness*… moving on, I LIKE that Nancy is more prim and proper because a heroine like that in the 20th century would be considered a little outdated, no? Scoffed at, when in reality there is nothing wrong at all with being polite and well-spoken, those are freaking awesome and underrated virtues after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really liked this book. It was a wealth of information and it made the series make more sense. Like little details in the story were explained. In one of the books it says that Ned is in Europe. When I read that it wasn’t very important to me. But! Apparently the story was written during WWII. So simply stating Ned is in Europe means… Ned fought in the war!! It’s a kids book so they wanted to provide an escape for them but at the same time making it realistic. Something that me, as a modern reader, didn’t fully grasp.

      Oh, Harriet. Apparently she didn’t understand why people were offended smh. Ugh, I did like most of her stories though :/ I think she managed to balance her vision of Nancy with Mildred’s. Because while Nancy is caring, and polite, she has a strong will and is full of gumption. I think those are good virtues to have.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh well damn. That really puts it into perspective!!! Ned fighting in the war makes sense but since I’ve been following you on this journey, it just didn’t come across like that, but like you said, it’s a children’s book so it wasn’t really discussed (kinda wish it did). Interestingly, I think young Tom Riddle was in the orphanage in Britain during WWII which adds more layers but I’m guessing unintentionally.

        Her privilege didn’t understand why it was offensive *eye rolls* allow the privilege, it’s deliberately ignorant. But anyway at least Nancy has wonderful virtues.

        Liked by 1 person

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