By K.P. Gresham
Ninety years ago the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock, was published. Since then, over 70 million copies of that series have been sold. The fictional female teenage sleuth was originally conceived by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, whose other brainstorms included The Hardy Boys, and my personal favorite as a five-year-old, The Bobbsey Twins. (Okay, I’m old. Get over it.)
Believe it or not, Stratemeyer firmly believed in traditional roles for women, but his mostly female ghostwriters under the shared pseudonym of Caroline Keene, had different plans. Mildred Wirt, who wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books, turned Nancy into a fierce, fearless, feminist heroine that inspired young girls to be the same ever since the books hit the shelves. Many prominent and glass-ceiling-shattering women count Nancy Drew as an inspiration in their youth including First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush and Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor and the recently departed and dearly loved Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Oddly enough, critics panned the series when it first came out. Nancy broke too many stereotypes, being frequently outspoken and authoritative. Librarians, educators and parents also considered the books too “formulaic” and feared they would negatively impact young readers and their future book choices.
As you may recall, they said the same thing about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.
The Secret of the Old Clock is the mystery that began it all for America’s controversial female teenage sleuth. In this story, sixteen-year-old Nancy wishes to help the Turners, who are struggling relatives of the recently deceased Josiah Crowley, find the missing will would give them claim to the Crowely’s estate. She becomes interested in the case because she disliked Crowley’s snobbish nouveau-riche social-climbing heirs.
Justice for the downtrodden? Fighting for the underdog? Outspoken? Authoritative?
Sounds familiar. Rest in Peace, RGB.
K.P. Gresham is the author of the Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days At Wrigley Field.