From Nancy to Nancy
Women’s Campaign Fund
Nothing would or seemingly could stop her. Persistence, savvy, grit, focus, intelligence, empathy, resilience, and good over evil.
Nancy Drew turns 91 this time of the year, and while the cultural icon has changed appearance over the years, the story line remains what we believe to be truly all-American: it does not matter where you are from or how you look. It matters how you succeed in solving the problem, moving everyone ahead.
Across the political spectrum, Nancy Drew has been cited as a formative influence and passion igniter — one who bent convention in action-filled stories that gave ideas to readers, as well as credence to how being original works best for all of us.
From Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, and the Notorious RBG to Oprah Winfrey, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former First Lady Laura Bush, Nancy Drew’s “paradox” — why some can laud her as a formative “girl power” icon while others can love her typically “well-scrubbed middle-class values” — give her appeal beyond any stereotype.
In that way, she is all-American for today’s world and for WCF’s goal of #5050x2028, not to pursue diversity for show but to leverage the power of a diversity of ideas to find common ground and solve problems.
At the time of her creation, Nancy Drew was revolutionary. As Sherrie A. Inness, author of Nancy Drew and Company: Culture, Gender, and Girls, wrote, “In many respects, Nancy Drew exists as a wish fulfillment.” That she is no longer unique today shows how far we’ve come.
It didn’t happen by luck. Let’s call this one “The Secret of the Team Behind Nancy.”
Creating a strong heroine
Nancy Drew was created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer as the female counterpart to his Hardy Boys series. Here’s the irony: while Stratemeyer believed that a woman’s place was in the home, he was aware that the Hardy Boys books were popular with girl readers and wanted to capitalize on girls’ interest in mysteries by offering a strong heroine. In fact, one of the initial names considered for Nancy Drew was Stella Strong.
A strong heroine. He may have thought old world for himself but realized the new world reality of equality: only the best can solve the problem, and he wanted the best to be the star of the book.
Stratemeyer wrote the plot outline for the first book. From then on it was a team effort of female and male writers, ghostwriting under the nom de plume of Carolyn Keen. Again, the best “idea people” and writers were chosen to produce a product that grabbed the nation’s imagination and continued to offer new ways to look at women and the world we share.
Reading and leading
From 1935 to 1960, Nancy was among the top 15 names for girls. One of them was named Nancy nine years and 11 months after Nancy Drew was born.
That would be Annunciata M. D’Alesandro of Baltimore, Maryland, whom we know today as Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi is, of course, the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. Some say she could live up to one of Nancy Drew’s other earlier monikers, Diane Dare.
Regarding what Nancy Drew offered to readers, Pelosi wrote in a letter to the New York Times in 2009, “I read many of the books when I was young. I remember how proud I was that her name was Nancy.”
Today, a reader; tomorrow, a leader.
Who influenced Nancy Drew’s adventurous personality?
Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson contributed to 23 of the first Nancy Drew mysteries and, like the heroine she helped create, was known to be bold and independent. She worked as a journalist for more than 50 years, mainly at the Toledo Times and the Toledo Blade, covering the court house beat and wresting out facts about crime and corruption. Later she wrote features, aviation columns, and a popular column for active seniors.
In the 1960s, she trained to become a pilot and traveled to Central America, alone, to view ancient Mayan sites before they were opened to widespread tourism. She was once even locked inside a room in Guatemala in the early 1960s by locals who thought she knew too much about their town’s criminal activity. Eventually, Benson overpowered one of her captors and escaped.
Nancy Drew was envious.
Benson told ABC that she’d probably still be writing when the undertaker walked through the door. She was working on a column for the Toledo Blade in 2002 when she died at the age of 96.
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