WHEN TEENAGE female heroes were hard to find, a sixty-seven-year-old fiction publisher in his last year of life had a novel — actually a series of novels — idea. Edward Stratemeyer, the brain behind The Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys books, suggested a series of stories starring “an up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy.” In a memo, he said the girl should be the sixteen-year-old daughter of a district attorney. Her name: Stella Strong.
Although the heroine’s name changed, Stratemeyer’s vision came to pass with the publication of three Nancy Drew books on April 28, 1930 — 49 days after his death.
Supposedly penned by a Carolyn Keene, most of the early novels were actually written by a Toledo Blade reporter named Mildred A. Wirt. The tales usually had young Nancy sniffing out a non-deadly crime — there were no murder mysteries in the first 56 books — while racing around fictional River Heights in her stylish blue roadster. Perpetually popular with young readers, Nancy Drew books, consisting of more than 370 different titles, had sold 65 million copies in the U.S. and 200 million worldwide through 2010.
Nancy’s age was advanced from sixteen to eighteen in 1959. The fictional sleuth has been cited as a role model by, among others, Bette Davis, Barbara Walters, Hillary Clinton, Mary Tyler Moore, Fran Lebowitz, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.