July 10, 1905: Mildred Augustine is born in Ladora, Iowa. Mildred’s first husband, Asa Wirt, died and she married George Benson, the editor of the Toledo Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. Mildred graduated from the University of Iowa’s journalism program and began writing for George’s paper after she was let go from the Toledo Times. All in all, she worked as a reporter for 58 years and continued to write a monthly column despite failing eyesight until she was 96. While she did remarkable work as a journalist, what she is best known for is her fiction. She wrote some of the most popular children’s fiction ever.
Mildred wrote under the pen name, Carolyn Keene from 1929 until 1947. She worked for Stratemeyer Syndicate and helped to flesh out an idea about a young woman who solved mysteries. Edward Stratemeyer gave small sketches written on index cards to Mildred. She then turned these into novels about a feisty teenager who insisted on being taken seriously despite her age and her lavish upbringing. The young woman was bright, energetic, and capable. The series took off and became quite popular. Mildred wrote 23 of the first 25 Nancy Drew mysteries.
Mildred was hired to write Nancy Drew even before she finished her college education. She was the first woman to earn a Master’s Degree in Journalism in 1927. She began working with Stratemeyer in 1926. She was one of 28 people who helped produce the series of books between 1929 and 1984. As a ghostwriter, she has to sign away all rights to the Nancy Drew stories she wrote as well as the Keene pen name. She was later permitted to reveal it was she who had written so many of the early books and shaped Nancy’s personality.
Mildred didn’t just sit in front of her Underwood typewriter (which she donated to the Smithsonian Institution) or computer screen. Although she was a prolific writer, one year putting out 13 books while working as a reporter. She wrote many short stories and articles for magazines as well. She was active throughout her life. She was playing golf into her nineties. She was the one of the country’s oldest newspaper reporters. Not content to just stay on the ground, she also learned to fly at age 59 and piloted her own Cherokee 180 which she finally stopped flying in 1996 at the age of 91. She died at the age of 96 in May 2002.
Because the minute I do I’m going into the past, and I never dwell on the past. I think about what I’m doing today and what I’m going to do tomorrow. – Mildred Benson, on why she didn’t read her finished books
I’m so sick of Nancy Drew I could vomit. - Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson
A man ninety years old was asked to what he attributed his longevity. I reckon, he said, with a twinkle in his eye, it because most nights I went to bed and slept when I should have sat up and worried. – Garson Kanin
I’m just one of the lucky people. I have no other reason for my longevity. – Johnny Mathis
Also on this day:
London Bridge is Falling Down – In 1212, one of London’s “Great Fires” begins on London Bridge.
Tsunami – In 1958, a 1,724 foot high tsunami struck in Alaska.
Death Valley – In 1913, the highest temperature was recorded in the Western Hemisphere.