Mildred Wirt Benson (July 10, 1905 – May 28, 2002) was an American author of children's books, in particular several Nancy Drew mysteries. Writing under Stratemeyer Syndicate pen name Carolyn Keene from 1929 to 1947, she contributed to 23 of the first 25 originally published Nancy Drew mysteries. She was one of 28 individuals who helped produce the Syndicate's Nancy Drew mystery books from 1929 to 1984. Edward Stratemeyer hired Mildred Benson in 1926 to assist in expanding his roughly-drafted stories with Syndicate directed, juvenile text in order to satisfy increasing demand for his series.
Benson was born Mildred Augustine in Ladora, Iowa, and was married to Asa Wirt and, after Wirt's death, to George Benson, editor of the Toledo Blade newspaper of Toledo, Ohio. She was a graduate in journalism from the University of Iowa. She worked for 58 years as a journalist and was still writing a weekly column for the Toledo Blade at 96 at the time of her death from lung cancer.
Published book rights were owned by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and are currently owned by Simon & Schuster. As with all Syndicate ghostwriters, Benson was paid a flat fee of $125 to $250 for each Stratemeyer outline text; the equivalent of three month's pay for a newspaper reporter at that time. At Edward Stratemeyer's death, under the terms of his will, all Syndicate ghostwriters, including Benson, were sent one fifth of the equivalent of the royalties the Syndicate had received for each book series to which they had contributed.
As with all Syndicate ghostwriters, under the terms of her contract Benson signed away all rights to her texts and any claim to the Syndicate pen name, Carolyn Keene. She was, however, permitted to reveal that she wrote for the Syndicate. This was required as the stories were owned and written by the Stratemeyers, and they had to protect their Syndicate pen names and preserve series continuity as contributors to the series came and went. Simon & Schuster currently maintain the same system.
However, in 1980 Mildred Benson's testimony, which she offered in a court case involving the publishers, 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.
The character of Nancy Drew was conceived by Edward Stratemeyer who provided Mildred Wirt with index card thumbnail sketches. Mildred Wirt Benson was the first ghostwriter to expand Edward's roughly-drafted Nancy Drew plots, writing the first five books. Texts were then edited and rewritten as required, and the Syndicate approved and had all final books published under the Syndicate's name. Subsequent Nancy Drew stories (with some exceptions), for which Benson provided text, were all re-written by Edna Stratemeyer Squier and, primarily, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, after their father's death in 1930.
In 2001, Benson received a Special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her contributions to the Nancy Drew series.
Benson's favorite Nancy Drew story was The Hidden Staircase, the second mystery in the series. Benson also wrote many other series, including the Penny Parker books, which were published under her own name.
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