Welcome to Typewriter Tuesday, a series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Check back every Tuesday to learn more about these trusty machines and the writers who used them. Our newest special exhibit Tools of the Trade opened June 22 and features more than a dozen typewriters, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Many of the typewriters are on loan from the impressive collection of Steve Soboroff.
Today, we take a look at one of those typewriters, Mildred Benson’s 1972 Olivetti Linea 88B. If the name Mildred Benson is a mystery to you, read on to understand why.
“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 Benson was born a writer. And write, she did. She was the first ever student to graduate with a master’s in journalism from the University of Iowa in 1927, and was an esteemed reporter and author for many years. Yet, Mildred Benson also lived a double life – that of Carolyn Keene, ghostwriter of the original Nancy Drew series. She wrote 23 of the original 30 novels, whose depiction of an independent and courageous young woman proved emphatically influential, cementing Nancy Drew as a cultural icon.
After graduating Benson met Edward Stratemeyer in New York City, where she was hired as a ghostwriter to launch a new series about a teenage girl detective named Nancy Drew. She received a three-page outline regarding Drew’s character, and created a Nancy Drew that was wonderfully independent, determined, self-reliant, and resourceful. You could say that she was modeled after Benson herself. She continued to write the first novel, The Secret of the Old Clock, at the age of 24 under the name of Carolyn Keene. This pseudonym is the most likely culprit for why Benson perhaps does not get the recognition she deserves. In fact, many people today still do not realize that Carolyn Keene is not the true author.
By the 1970s, Benson had largely stopped writing fiction and transitioned to a full-time journalist. She continued to work for the Toledo Blade for most of her life. Even when her eyesight was failing, you could still count on finding Mildred Benson at her desk and ready for action. Benson’s determination to get a story left a lasting impression on all who met her, and she was notorious for parking herself outside the office doors of councilmen. “One such councilman was so desperate to avoid talking to her, the story goes, that he climbed out his office window rather than face her questions.”
Looking back on Nancy Drew, Benson said that the reason they were so popular was because:
“The girls were ripe for a change in literature. They were way overdue for a good, entertaining story, that broke away from the old style of writing. I think Nancy was the character the girls were waiting for. They were just waiting for someone to verbalize it.”
Not only did Mildred Benson create the sensational character that we all know and love, but she herself was a real life Nancy Drew. She was a writing powerhouse, esteemed journalist, and adventurer who defied expectations and continues to be an inspiration to us all.