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Release: June 28, 2002

Nancy Drew author lives on in Iowa Women's Archives

Despite the death of Nancy Drew author Mildred Benson last month, her memory lives on in an exhibit about the writer in the Iowa Women's Archives (IWA) at the University of Iowa Libraries.

Visitors to the archives can view a photograph of Benson doing a swan dive off a local bridge into the Iowa River while she was enrolled as a student at the university in the 1920s. Also on display is her memory book, which provides clues to her experiences as an Iowa high school and college student. Benson graduated from the university in 1925 and worked briefly as a reporter before returning to the UI in 1927 to earn a master's degree in journalism. Dance cards, photos of Benson with the Cosmopolitan Club and the Seals swim club, and newspaper articles announcing her xylophone performances evoke images of the active young woman who developed the spunky character of Nancy Drew for the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

Her memory book of her time spent at the University of Iowa is just one of the items in the Mildred Wirt Benson collection in the Iowa Women's Archives. The collection on Benson, the first person to receive a master's degree in journalism from the University of Iowa, is unique to the university, said IWA Curator Karen Mason.

"I don't know of any other collection that is as extensive as ours that is also available to the public," Mason said. "What makes this collection interesting is that it illustrates so many facets of her life and work. When you look at her memory book and her childhood writings, you can see where the adventurous Nancy Drew came from -- but you see so much more than that, too."

The Mildred Wirt Benson papers measure one linear foot and date from around 1915 to the present. The collection includes examples of Benson's fiction writing (illustrating the various stages of writing a series for a syndicate), as well as her newspaper work. Also included is considerable information of a bibliographic nature relating to the authorships of the Nancy Drew books and a memory book that includes her high school years as well as college career.

Benson is best known as the author of 23 of the Nancy Drew books. But she wrote more than 100 series books for adolescent girls and boys under her own name and pen names and had a long career as a journalist at the Toledo Blade. The special collections department, also in the University's Main Library, holds an extensive collection of her books.

The Iowa Women's Archives and the special collections department are located on the third floor of the Main Library. Archives hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 5 p.m.