Pioneer Mildred Wirt Benson was 'the first author to ever write under the name "Carolyn Keene,"' writing for the Nancy Drew series among other endeavors. Benson was just 24 years old when the first Nancy Drew book was published, and right from the start she pushed the envelope, writing Nancy as an atypical heroine distinct from other 'house types'.
In the end, 'Benson ghost-wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books', earned her pilot's license, remained an active athlete, traveled well into her sixties, and continued to work as a writer until her death at 96 years old. Her legacy lives on through her ground-breaking feminist work with Nancy Drew, but it is also important to remember that the woman behind the series 'was a real force to be reckoned with'.
Benson is an example of how to take part in meaningful work early on and continue to make a difference throughout her life.
Benson famously preferred her other girl detective, Penny Parker, who in many ways was Nancy’s younger, edgier counterpart. Brash, brazen Penny bears far more resemblance to the pre-revision Nancy Drew, and even more so to Benson herself; in addition to solving mysteries, Penny is a reporter with the same sense of adventure that Benson had during her life. I’m the first to champion Nancy Drew’s importance on the YA lit that followed her—her legacy lives on tenfold in modern girl detectives, the Cam Jansens and Sammy Keyes-es that children and teens still read about alongside their 1930s predecessor. But it is still a shame that Nancy Drew, not Penny Parker or even Mildred Wirt Benson, is the only one who is remembered today.