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Cherry Ames

Cherry Ames

Packed with wholesome values and cheerfulness, the Cherry Ames nursing mystery series was popular with girls in the mid-twentieth century. Cherry, a dark-haired, rosy-cheeked midwestern girl, was always perky and helpful, ready to lend a hand in a medical emergency and solve any mysteries that might spring up along the way. The books never claimed to have literary quality. Their creator, Helen Wells, admitted they were formulaic—not great literature, but great entertainment.

The series consisted of 27 books published by Grosset and Dunlap between 1943 and 1968, authored by Helen Wells and Julie Tatham. Aggressively marketed to girls, the books contained all sorts of consumer perks: the second book in the series was offered free with the first, and each book showed a banner on the last page advertising the next exciting adventure. The first 21 volumes were issued in colorful dust jackets showing Cherry in her uniform, proclaiming "It is every girl's ambition at one time or another to wear the crisp uniform of a nurse." (Indeed, this uniform was described over and over, along with Cherry's off-duty snappy outfits.) Early copies in the series had yellow spines, but the format was quickly changed to green spines, probably to avoid confusion with the ubiquitous Nancy Drew books. There was also a companion volume written by Wells in 1959, entitled Cherry Ames' Book of First Aid and Home Nursing.

In the early years, the novels were patriotic, pro-nursing tales in which Cherry called for other girls to join her and help win World War II. The later books were mysteries, with Cherry as a girl sleuth. Titlesfollowed the format of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and included Cherry Ames, Cruise Nurse, Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse, Cherry Ames, Mountaineer Nurse, among many others. Cherry's nursing duties brought her to such exotic locales as a boarding school, a department store, and even a dude ranch.

Wells (1910-1986), the creator of the series and author of most of the books, was no stranger to girls' series—she was also the author of the Vicki Barr flight attendant series and other books for girls. Tatham (1908—), wrote a few books in the middle of the series. Under the pseudonym Julie Campbell she also authored both the Trixie Belden and Ginny Gordon series.

The Cherry Ames series became internationally popular, with editions published in England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan. In England, books spawned a set of Cherry Ames Girls' Annuals. There was a Parker Brothers board game produced in 1959, "Cherry Ames' Nursing Game," in which players vie to be the first to complete nursing school.

By the 1970s, the Cherry Ames books were out of print and were being phased out of libraries. The character had a rebirth in the 1990s, however, when author and artist Mabel Maney created a series of wickedly funny gay parodies of the girl-sleuth series books, bringing out their (almost certainly unintentional) lesbian subtext. In her first book, The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse, the "gosh-golly" 1950s meet the "oh-so-queer" 1990s when lesbian detectives "Cherry Aimless" and "Nancy Clue" discover more than just the answer to the mystery.

—Jessy Randall

Further Reading:

Mason, Bobbie Ann. The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide. New York, Feminist Press, 1975.

Parry, Sally E. "'You Are Needed, Desperately Needed': Cherry Ames in World War II." Nancy Drew and Company: Culture, Gender, and Girls' Series. Edited by Sherrie A. Inness. Bowling Green, Ohio, Popular Press, 1997.

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