Benson, Mildred (Augustine Wirt) 1905-2002
BENSON, Mildred (Augustine Wirt) 1905-2002
(Millie Benson; Frank Bell, Joan Clark, Julia K. Duncan, Alice B. Emerson, Frances K. Judd, Don Palmer, Helen Louise Thorndyke, Dorothy West, pseudonyms; Carolyn Keene, house pseudonym)
OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born July 10, 1905, in Ladora, IA; died May 28, 2002, in Toledo, OH. Journalist and author. As the author of twenty-three of the first "Nancy Drew" novels, as well as over one hundred other books for young readers, Benson has a secure place in literary history. She had early aspirations to become a writer, publishing her first story at the age of twelve in the children's magazine St. Nicholas. She pursued her interest professionally by studying journalism at the University of Iowa, where she earned a master's degree in 1927. While still in school, she earned money to fund her education by writing short stories and working as a reporter and society editor for the Clinton Herald. She became associated with Edward Stratemeyer, owner of the Stratemeyer syndicate that published children's book series, by responding to a call for writers in a newspaper ad. Her first books for Stratemeyer were in the "Ruth Fielding" series, and her first contribution, Ruth Fielding and Her Great Scenario, under the Alice B. Emerson pseudonym, was published in 1927. After receiving her master's degree, Benson accepted the assignment to write a book in the new "Nancy Drew" series. The teenaged amateur sleuth made her debut in The Secret of the Old Clock in 1930, and Benson wrote many more books in the series after that, all under the house pseudonym Carolyn Keene. However, by contractual agreement she was forbidden to tell anyone that she was the author. The truth was finally revealed in 1980 when a court case proved that Benson, and not Harriet Adam, was the original author of the first "Nancy Drew" books. Benson gained a great deal of attention after that, although she did not always enjoy her fame and once complained that she was sick of Nancy Drew. For decades she had been happily working as a reporter and columnist for the Toledo Times, where she worked from 1944 to 1975. When the Times closed its doors, she moved to the Toledo Blade, where she reported on court cases and local government, and wrote the weekly columns "Millie Benson's Notebook" and "On the Go with Millie Benson" until her death. She also wrote many more children's books under a wide array of pseudonyms, including those featuring such series characters as Penny Parker and Dot and Dash. Her young characters were always notable for their fierce independence and ability to operate on an equal footing with adults. Some of those who knew Benson felt that her characters' independent spirits reflected those of the author, who among other exploits, became a pilot at the age of sixty, liked to swim, golf, and canoe, and was an amateur archaeologist who studied the Mayan civilization. Her literary accomplishments earned her the Agatha Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2000 and the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award in 2001, as well as several journalism awards.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Writers Directory, 16th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2002, p. B12.
New York Times, May 30, 2002, p. A23.
Times (London, England), May 31, 2002, p. 40.
Washington Post, May 30, 2002, p. B7.