Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson was born July 10, 1905 in Ladora, Iowa.
Later she wrote of her childhood, “I always wanted to be a writer from the time I could walk, I had no other thought except that I wanted to write.”
Mildred began writing children’s stories when she was in grade school and won her first writing award at the age of 14.
She earned her degree in English from the University of Iowa in 1925, returned and earned her master’s degree in journalism in 1927.
In 1926, Edward Stratemeyer hired Mildred to assist in expanding his roughly drafted stories in order to satisfy increasing demand for his series.
Edward Stratemeyer, had started the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1899 when he wrote The River Boys series of books under a pseudonym.
Stratemeyer’s business acumen was in realizing that there was a huge, untapped market for children’s books. At a time when most children’s books were aimed at moral instruction, the Stratemeyer Syndicate specialized in producing books that were meant primarily to be entertaining.
He went on to conceive and publish such popular series as the Bobbsey Twins in 1904, Tom Swift in 1910, and the Hardy Boys in 1927.
When Stratemeyer came up with the idea for the character Nancy Drew, he turned to Mildred as his syndicate ghostwriter.
He provided Mildred with index card thumbnail sketches. She then expanded the roughly-drafted Nancy Drew plots into novels. The manuscript was then edited and rewritten as required and published under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene.
The first four Nancy Drew novels that Mildred wrote were published in 1930; The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery, and The Mystery at Lilac Inn.
As with all syndicate ghostwriters, Mildred was paid a flat fee of $125 to $250 for each Stratemeyer-outlined text, the equivalent of three months’ pay for a newspaper reporter at that time. Under the terms of her contract, Mildred signed away all rights to her texts and any claim to the Syndicate pen name of Carolyn Keene. She was, however, permitted to reveal that she wrote for the Syndicate. The Stratemeyer Syndicate protected their author pen names to preserve series continuity as contributors to the series came and went.
Mildred married Asa Wirt, who worked for the Associated Press, and, after his death in 1947, Mildred married George A. Benson, editor of the Toledo Blade newspaper of Toledo, Ohio in 1951. Benson then died in 1959.
Mildred wrote 23 of the first 30 originally published Nancy Drew mysteries.
She went on the write many other series, including the Penny Parker books, which were published under her own name and which she told interviewers were her favorites. They were the adventures of a young newspaper reporter, and Benson herself continued writing for newspapers until her death.
She wrote under a dozen names and published more than 130 books, according to the Mildred Wirt Benson Works page at NancyDrewSleuth.com.
When Edward Stratemeyer died, under the terms of his will, all Syndicate ghostwriters, including Mildred Benson, were sent one fifth of the equivalent of the royalties the Syndicate had received for each book series to which they had contributed.
However, in 1980, Mildred’s testimony, which she offered in a court case involving the publisher, revealed her identity to the public as a contributor to the Nancy Drew mystery stories. With only this, and without access to the Stratemeyer Syndicate archives now held at the New York Public Library, the public presumed that she had a primary authorship claim to the Nancy Drew stories and pen name Carolyn Keene, who also “wrote” the Dana Girls series.
In 2001, Mildred received a Special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her contributions to the Nancy Drew series.
Mildred Benson wrote under a dozen names and published more than 130 books, she also worked for 58 years as a journalist, writing a weekly column for the Toledo Blade and continued to work full-time until a few months before her death.
She died May 28, 2002 from lung cancer, at the age of 96.
Now WE know em