Adams, Harriet Stratemeyer

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ADAMS, Harriet Stratemeyer

Born 3 December 1892, Newark, New Jersey; died 1981

Wrote under: Victor Appleton II, May Hollis Barton, Franklin W. Dixon, Laura Lee Hope, Carolyn Keene, Ann Sheldon, Helen Louise Thorndyke

Daugther of Edward and Magdalene Van Camp Stratemeyer; married Russell Vroom Adams, 1915; children: two daughters

Better known under a variety of pen names, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams may well be the most prolific woman writer of all time. Author of the perennially popular Nancy Drew mysteries for young girls and the equally popular Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, Jr., series for young boys, she also wrote numerous volumes in the Bobbsey Twins, Honey Bunch, and Dana Girls series. All of these, along with the famous Rover boys, were originated by her father who founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1901. A "writing factory" located in Maplewood, New Jersey, it still turns out the most successful series books ever written for American youngsters roughly eight to 14 years of age. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series alone sell 16,000,000 copies a year.

When he died in 1930, Stratemeyer left to his daughters, Harriet and Edna, the job of keeping up the 17 sets of series then in print. Edna remained in the business for 12 years; Harriet remained a senior partner well into her 80s, working with three junior partners to update earlier titles to create new volumes. Adams herself wrote nearly 200 volumes, including most of the titles in the Nancy Drew series, along with rewrites of the first three originated by her father: the young sleuth's blue roadster with running boards had to be replaced, as well as outdated hair styles and various dialects which the modern reader would find offensive.

Characters produced by the Stratemeyer Factory are either good or bad because, Adams maintained, mixed characters don't interest children. Plots are spun according to a strict formula guaranteed to satisfy adolescent fantasy: action and suspense packed into 20 cliffhanging chapters. Only eighteen years of age, Nancy Drew is omniscient and omnipotent, solving mysteries that baffle adults, professional detectives, and the well-intentioned police who, however hard they try, are never as quick-thinking and fast-acting as Nancy.

A 1914 graduate of Wellesley College, an English major with deep interests in religion, music, science, and archeology (her favorite Nancy Drew, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher, is based on "astounding" archeological discoveries and deductions among the Inca ruins), Adams was an active alumna and a 1978 winner of the Alumnae Achievement Award. Wellesley's motto, "Non Ministrari Sed Ministrare" (not to be ministered unto but to minister), had been Adams's own guiding principle and the lesson she hoped to teach young readers who gathered in schools and libraries all over the country to hear her speak. "Don't be a gimme, gimme kind of person," she told them in an amusingly loose translation of the Latin, "Do something yourself to help other people."

Adams traveled widely (South America, Hawaii, Africa, the Orient), using the foreign settings to provide "authentic backgrounds" for her stories, especially for the Nancy Drews. Indeed, Nancy—whom she regarded as "a third lovely daughter" (in addition to her two real-life daughters)—was rarely out of Adams' thoughts when she took a trip.

Adams' books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and, although considered nonliterary, are now staples in most children's libraries. In late 1977 the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were adapted for television (Nancy Drew films had been made in the 1930s), although Adams did not write the scripts. She did, however, require the television programs to observe the same high standards as the books: no profanity, no sex (as a concession to the new morality, however, Nancy's boyfriend Ned is now allowed to give her a quick goodbye hug and kiss), no extreme violence (a villain's moderately heavy blow on the head which temporarily renders Nancy unconscious is not considered "extreme"), no racism, and no "religious confrontations."

Adams received public recognition in the late 1970s such as the 1978 Certificate of Appreciation from the New Jersey Congress of Parents and Teachers and, in the same year, honorary doctorate degrees from Kean and Upsala Colleges in New Jersey. To encourage more serious study and writing of children's books, Adams endowed a chair at Wellesley to be known as the Harriet Stratemeyer Adams Professor in Juvenile Literature. Continuing to work nearly to the end of her life, Adams died in 1981.

Other Works:

As Victor Appleton II, The Tom Swift, Jr., Series (21 titles, 1935-1972). Including: Tom Swift and His Planet Stone (1935), Tom Swift and His Giant Robot (1954), Tom Swift and the Spectromarine Selector (1960), Tom Swift and the Visitor from Planet X (1972).

As May Hollis Barton, The Barton Books for Girls Series (15 titles, 1931-1950). Including: Sallie's Test of Skill (1931), Virginia's Ventures (1932).

As Franklin W. Dixon, The Hardy Boys Series (20 titles, 1934-1973). Including: The Mark on the Door (1934), The Clue in the Embers (1955), The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior (1964), The Mystery at Devil's Paw (1973).

As Laura Lee Hope, The Bobbsey Twins Series (15 titles, 1940-1967). Including: The Bobbsey Twins in the Land of Cotton (1940). The Bobbsey Twins on a Bicycle Trip (1955). The Bobbsey Twins and the Cedar Camp Mystery (1967).

As Carolyn Keene, The Dana Girls Series (32 titles, 1934-1978). Including: By the Light of the Study Lamp (1934), Secret of the Swiss Chalet (1958), The Phantom Surfer (1968), The Curious Coronation (1976), Mountain Peak Mystery (1978). The Nancy Drew Mystery Series (56 titles, 1930-1978). Including: Secret of the Old Clock (1930), The Hidden Staircase (1959), The Mystery of the Fire Dragon (1961), The Mysterious Mannequin (1970), The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking (1973), The Mystery of Crocodile Island (1978).

As Ann Sheldon, The Linda Craig Series (4 titles, 1960-1966). Including: Linda Craig and the Mystery in Mexico (1964).

As Helen Louise Thorndyke, The Honey Bunch Series (7 titles, 1945-1955). Including: Her First Trip to a Lighthouse (1949), Her First Trip to Reindeer Farm (1953).


Berryman, M. A., "Harriet Stratemeyer Adams & the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories: Feminist Gender Tales 1930-1990, The Construction and Destruction of a Heroine," (thesis, 1990). Keene, C., "Nancy Drew" in The Great Detectives, Penzler, O., ed. (1978). Prager, A., Rascals at Large, or, The Clue in the Old Nostalgia (1971).

Reference Works:

ANB (1999). CA (1968).

Other reference:

Boston Globe (6 Jan. 1976). Family Circle (Aug. 1978). NYT (27 March 1977). NYHT (14 April 1946). People (14 May 1977). TV Guide (25 June 1977). WSJ (15 Jan. 1975). The Secret of Nancy Drew (film, 1982).


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Adams, Harriet Stratemeyer

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