Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson papers
Please navigate to collection organization to place requests.
Scope and Contents
The Mildred Wirt Benson papers measure seven linear feet and date from 1875 to 2012. The 1992, 1993, 1995, and 2018 accessions are divided into nine series: Biographical information (1875-2012), Bibliographic material (1964-1992), Correspondence (1927-2005), Fiction writing (1919-1992), Journalism (1927-2002), University of Iowa (1922-2009), Memory Book (1922-1928), Photographs (1915-2000), Artifacts (undated). The papers contain examples of Benson's fiction writing (including the various stages of writing a series book for a syndicate) as well as her newspaper work. Also included is considerable information of a bibliographic nature, relating to the authorship of the Nancy Drew books. There is little material on Benson's childhood apart from photographs and some material in the memory book pertaining to her high school years.
The Biographical information series (1875-2012) contains both biographical and autobiographical articles. This series also includes articles about various awards Benson received, information and the writings of both Asa Wirt and George Benson, and obituaries. Also included are draft manuscripts of “Stars and Stones,” a written work about a trip Benson took to Mexico. Included within this series are miscellaneous personal papers kept by Benson such as various magazine subscriptions; articles; rough drafts of articles; and a book of copies of the National Aeronautic Magazine, FLY, from November of 1908 to August of 1909.
The Bibliographic material series (1964-1992) consists of letters, articles, and newspaper clippings pertaining to the authorship of various Stratemeyer Syndicate books. In the 1960s several book collectors independently began to investigate the true identity of Carolyn Keene; by the late 1970s several people had documented Benson as the first Carolyn Keene. But in anticipation of a new edition of the Nancy Drew series the Stratemeyer Syndicate began to put out publicity indicating that owner Harriet Stratemeyer Adams was Carolyn Keene. This series contains a number of articles on the subject, some verifying Benson's authorship and others naming Adams as the writer of the Nancy Drew mysteries. In 1993, the publishers of the Nancy Drew series books, Simon and Schuster and Grosset and Dunlap, officially acknowledged Benson as the writer of the earliest Nancy Drew books under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.
The Correspondence series (1927-2005) consists of a small amount of correspondence with Dodd, Mead and Co., a letter from Harriet Adams of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, some correspondence with University of Iowa officials, and a large amount of fan mail from the years 1992, 1993, and 1994. Also included are letters to Benson’s daughter, Peggy Wirt.
The Fiction writing series (1919-1992 and undated) includes an unused radio script, manuscripts of the novel "Quarry Ghost," the working plot for one series book and the working copy of another, and copies of Benson's early short stories. Also included are several drafts of the manuscript “Command the Stars,” a work inspired by Benson’s trips to Central America. The Journalism series (1927-2002) includes correspondence and examples of Benson's reporting ranging from a mid-1920s article in the Des Moines Register to several feature articles on aviation and archaeological sites. Also included are columns written by Benson for The Toledo Times in the 1970s and Toledo Blade from the 1980s to early 2000s. There are many newspaper clippings of her column “On the Go,” which ran in The Blade from the 1980s to her death in 2002. Also included is a scrapbook filled with earlier articles she wrote while at the Clinton Herald.
The Memory book series (1922-1928) contains newspaper clippings, programs, a few photographs, and memorabilia dating from Mildred Augustine's high school and college years in Ladora and Iowa City, Iowa.
The Photographs series (1915-2000, undated) includes portraits, images of Benson as a reporter and as a writer, a picture of Mildred Augustine in front of her childhood home in Ladora, a photograph that depicts the aftermath of an airplane fire from 1948, and one photograph that displays a new model of airplane in 1973. Also included are childhood photos of Mildred Augustine and of Asa A. Wirt, as well as albums and scrapbooks focused on family, vacations, and Mildred Augustine’s college years.
The Artifacts series consists of Benson's typewriter and two landscape paintings, both of which were painted by Benson’s mother, Lillian Augustine. The Special Collections Department at the University of Iowa Libraries has extensive holdings of books by Mildred Wirt Benson.
- Creation: 1875-2012
Conditions Governing Access
The papers are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright held by donor with the exception of the manuscript of 'Runaway Sea Lion' for which the donor retains copyright, has been transferred to the University of Iowa.
However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/sc/services/rights/
Biographical / Historical
Mildred Augustine was born July 10, 1905 in Ladora, Iowa. She wanted to be a writer from an early age and published her first short story in 1919. She attended the University of Iowa, graduating in 1925, and spent the next year working as a reporter for the Clinton (Iowa) Herald. In 1926 she went to New York, hoping to find a job as a writer. Although unsuccessful, she did meet Edward Stratemeyer, the owner of Stratemeyer Syndicate, which published many popular juvenile fiction series, such as the "Hardy Boys," "Bobbsey Twins" and "Tom Swift" series. Augustine returned to the University of Iowa in 1927, where she became the first person at that institution to earn a master's degree in journalism. While pursuing her degree, Augustine was offered the opportunity to write a novel in the "Ruth Fielding" series for Stratemeyer. Her work pleased Stratemeyer and after producing several pseudonymous novels, she was offered the opportunity to begin work on a new series, revolving around a girl detective named Nancy Drew. Under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, Augustine wrote 23 of the first 30 books in the series.
In 1928, Mildred Augustine married Asa A. Wirt, who was affiliated with the Associated Press, and moved with him to Cleveland, Ohio. They later moved to Toledo. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Mildred A. Wirt continued to write fiction for children and young adults under her own name, her own pseudonyms (Frank Bell, Joan Clark, Don Palmer, Dorothy West, Ann Wirt), and collective pseudonyms owned by Stratemeyer Syndicate (Julia K. Duncan, Alice B. Emerson, Frances K. Judd, Carolyn Keene, Helen Louise Thorndyke). She wrote over 100 novels, most of which were sold along with any royalty rights to Stratemeyer Syndicate for a flat fee of $125-$250. Wirt also published numerous stories and articles in magazines such as St. Nicholas Magazine, Lutheran Young Folks, Our Boys and Girls, and Calling All Girls, using both her own name and pseudonyms.
In the mid-1940s, Mildred Wirt began to work as a news reporter for the Toledo (Ohio) Times. She earned her pilot's license in the 1960s and became an avid aviator, writing a number of aviation-related articles for newspapers. Asa Wirt died in 1947. In 1950 Mildred Wirt married George A. Benson, her editor at the Times. George Benson died in 1959.
By the mid-1960s, Mildred Benson had ceased writing fiction and was working full time as a court reporter. In the late 1960s, she was approached by a publisher to begin writing juvenile fiction again, but decided against it. She later explained that ". . . the teenagers for whom I wrote lived in a world far removed from drugs, abortion, divorce, and racial clash . . . Any character I might create would never be attuned to today's social problems." [Books at Iowa (November 1973): 24-29]. When the Times went out of business in the 1970s, Mildred Benson went to work for the Toledo Blade. She continued to work at the Blade until the day of her death. In 1993 Benson was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame. The University of Iowa honored her with its Distinguished Alumni Award in June 1994 and she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in August 1994. She died on May 28, 2002.
Researchers should consult Geoffrey S. Lapin, "The Ghost of Nancy Drew," Books at Iowa 50 (April 1989): 8-27; Mildred Wirt Benson, "The Ghost of Ladora," Books at Iowa 19 (November 1973): 24-29; Frank Paluka, "Mildred A. Wirt," Iowa Authors (1967): 197-208; and Carolyn Stewart Dyer and Nancy Tillman Romalov, Rediscovering Nancy Drew (University of Iowa Press, 1995).
7.00 Linear Feet
Photographs in boxes 1-2, 17-18 boxes
Artifacts in box 6 and Map Drawer 8 boxes
Language of Materials
Journalist for the Toledo Blade and writer of the first Nancy Drew mysteries and other children's series books; collection includes writings, clippings, scrapbooks, fan mail, photographs, and a typewriter.
Method of Acquisition
The papers (donor no. 108) were donated by Mildred Wirt Benson in 1992, 1993, 1995, and 2018. One manuscript, "The Cool One," was donated by the Iowa Historical Society (donor no. 574) in 1998.
Genre / Form
- [Bridget Butler, 1992 and Randel W. Lackore, 1996;revised 1999, 2002, 2017, 2018.] [Bailey Petersen 2018] [BensonMildred.doc]
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note