Life lessons from Nancy Drew

  • “Convertibles are swell but they sure do call attention to your comings and goings.” — Nancy Drew in “The Haunted Showboat”
  • “Don’t force your date to go to a ballet or another activity that may not be to his liking if he was knocked unconscious earlier in the day.” — Nancy Drew in “The Double Jinx Mystery”
  • “The perfect man? Tall, handsome, good company, and lots of fun but serious and practical when help is needed.” — Nancy Drew in “The Invisible Intruder”
"Nancy Drew's Guide to Life"

"Nancy Drew's Guide to Life"

These insights are from “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life,” a tiny little tome that was a party favor given to members who attended the meeting of the The Ubiquitous Chicks Book Club last night at Melinda Meador’s Sequoyah Hills home. I am not a member of the club, but they invited me to drop by. I was, many years ago, a Nancy Drew fan.

Don’t get me wrong. The Ubiquitous Chicks normally read somewhat weightier fare. Recent selections have included “Dubliners” by James Joyce and “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner.

But the Nancy Drew night was a romp.

Attorney Melinda Meador, Monday's host, cooks while she expresses her opinion

Attorney Melinda Meador, Monday's host, cooks while she expresses her opinion

The Chicks normally make the book selection the theme for the evening’s dinner. When they read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” for instance, the hostess, CPA Martha McMurry, covered the dining room table with a blue tarp and served stew. “Think Dinty Moore!” she quipped, although it actually was a delicious homemade dish. When stock broker Sheena McCall hosted and the book was the pirate-themed “A High Wind in Jamaica” by Richard Hughes, she prepared a seafood feast and served it on her boat, “Bull Market.” PR whiz Ellen Robinson served up a New England dinner when the book to be discussed at her house was “The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton.”

So, for Nancy Drew night, appetizers were “Missing Map Cheese Wafers,” a recipe found in “The Nancy Drew Cookbook (Clues to Good Cooking).” Dinner was straight from my favorite Nancy Drew book, “The Hidden Staircase:” lamb chops, peas and mushrooms and, for dessert, that old-fashioned classic, Floating Islands.

Here’s the deal with Nancy Drew, “girl detective.” She was pre-feminism. But she was a girl who could take care of herself. She kind of showed that women could “do things.” She was confident and smart. But, as Martha McMurray said last night, “she’ll still resort to her feminine wiles when she needs to.”

Nancy Drew has been cited as an influence for prominent women ranging from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Ellen Robinson reads from Nancy Drew as Martha McMurry listens

Ellen Robinson reads from Nancy Drew as Martha McMurry listens

The night did hold one big disappointment. Turns out Nancy Drew’s author, Carolyn Keene, didn’t really exist. Beginning in 1930, as many as a dozen different people, men and women, wrote under that nom de plume. According to Wikipedia, the Nancy Drew mystery series, along with several others, was produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, run by Edward Stratemeyer. The first writer was a young journalist, Mildred Wirt, the first female to earn a a masters of journalism degree from the University of Iowa, who wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. She was paid $125 per book and gave up all rights to the work and agreed to maintain confidentiality.

In an interview some 50 years after she wrote the books, by then relieved of the confidentiality requirement, now Mildred Wirt Benson said she was not resentful of having to keep  her contribution a secret. “It was just a job to do,” she said. “Some things I liked and some things I did not like. It was a day’s work. I did it just like I did my newspaper work.” (For more than 45 years, Benson wrote first for the Toledo Times and then the Toledo Blade in Ohio. She died in 2002 at the age of 96.)

Dessert: Floating Islands

Dessert: Floating Islands

She said her version of Nancy Drew was a girl ahead of her time. “She was not typical,” Benson said. “She was what the girls were ready for and were aspiring for, but had not achieved.” She said that although her Nancy was independent and adventurous, she had a strong moral character. “I didn’t intend for Nancy to be a runaround,” she said in a 1999 interview.

Members of The Ubiquitous Chicks Book Club had a grand time Monday swapping stories about their favorite Nancy Drew episodes as they finished their wine. In addition to those mentioned, other members are Marnie Page, Susan Sgarlat, Johanna Dilworth and Kathleen Finch, who had to miss Monday’s meeting. They asked me to give a plug to Carpe Librum, the little independent bookstore in Bearden where they purchase their books. Their next selection: “The Tall Woman” by Wilma Dykeman. I think I’ll read it, too!

CPA Martha McMurry, left, and her mother Johanna Dilworth, who is a retired teacher from Webb School

CPA Martha McMurry, left, and her mother Johanna Dilworth, who is a retired teacher from Webb School

Susan Sgarlat, left, and Marnie Page enjoy dinner

Susan Sgarlat, left, and Marnie Page enjoy dinner

Sheena McCall digs into the lamb chops

Sheena McCall digs into the lamb chops

"Missing Map Cheese Wafers," left, a stack of Nancy Drew books at top, and "The Nancy Drew Cookbook"

"Missing Map Cheese Wafers," left, a stack of Nancy Drew books at top, and "The Nancy Drew Cookbook"

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17 Responses to Life lessons from Nancy Drew

  1. Tami Hartmann, on January 12th, 2010 at 5:51 pm said:

    What a hoot! I loved Nancy Drew and am sad to know that Carolyn Keene is a mere nom de plume. Remember The Secret of the Old Clock? My fav!

  2. Bob Wilson, on January 12th, 2010 at 6:25 pm said:

    Do I lose man points to say I still have a copy of The Secret of the Old Clock?

  3. Eric Smith, on January 12th, 2010 at 6:57 pm said:

    Not ashamed to say, I read Nancy Drew as well as the Hardy Boys when I was a sprout.

  4. Phyllis Patterson, on January 12th, 2010 at 7:16 pm said:

    I love the quotes. Definitely words to live by. I loved that Nancy Drew always word a “crisp white blouse”.

  5. Lauren Christ, on January 12th, 2010 at 7:22 pm said:

    Nancy Drew still lines the bookshelves in my girlhood bedroom in my parents’ house in Oak Ridge. Eventually they’ll belong to a niece or daughter so she can enjoy them as much as I did. I eventually graduated from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, and she’ll get that collection too!

  6. Dawn Ford, on January 12th, 2010 at 7:52 pm said:

    I read every book in the Nancy Drew series. When I was little I thought she was so smart, pretty and kind. I also love the Tall Woman. It resides on my bedside table. Enjoy ladies!

  7. Joan Cronan, on January 12th, 2010 at 9:15 pm said:

    I was a huge Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy fan -maybe that is why I love Perry Mason. Also do not forget the Bobbsey Twins_they were awesome.

  8. Jessica, on January 12th, 2010 at 9:23 pm said:

    If you loved the Nancy Drew books, then you might also be interested in playing the Nancy Drew PC games which are based on the books. The Adventure series is pretty challenging and the Dossiers is kind of like a logic hidden-object game, but you’ll still get your share of solving puzzles, interviewing suspects, and searching for clues in any of these games.

  9. Diana Morgan, on January 12th, 2010 at 11:40 pm said:

    I had the entire Nancy Drew series and in a fit of stupidity gave them all away. THEN I had two daughters.

    By the way, Bob Wilson, the Secret of the Old Clock was one of her best.

  10. Cynthia Moxley, on January 13th, 2010 at 12:12 am said:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! Very sweet. Diana: so sad!

  11. Suzy, on January 13th, 2010 at 4:25 pm said:

    Loved this, Cynthia! I, too, had all the books as a girl and loved them! And Bob, the Secret of the Old Clock was my favorite 🙂

  12. Allison, on January 13th, 2010 at 5:19 pm said:

    I love Nancy Drew. She is so stylish, yet she can solve any crime. I’ve read most of the books, including the rewritten ones and continued series from 56 to 100-whatever. I’ve played all the PC games and Wii game. I even own the Nancy Drew movie, the recent one and the ones with Bonita Granville.
    I actually find it interesting that Max Theriot kind of looks like Frankie Thomas.

    But since we’re mentioning other detective series, I might as well mention The Dana Girls. I’ve only read two books, but I intend on getting more.
    Oh, and there’s also another series I’m barely familiar with. My BFF gave a book to me during high school as a gift. The series is called Secret Seven Adventures by Enid Blyton. Has anyone heard of that series? And knows where I can get it? Because one book of the series is not enough for me. *Laughs.*

  13. Lusada, on January 13th, 2010 at 9:55 pm said:

    I am jealous. I would love to spend an evening reliving the joys of reading Nancy Drew. Loved them all. My special read though was my Mother’ s childhood books, The Outdoor Girls, supposedly by Laura Lee Hope. They were also produced by Stratemeyer but from 1913 – 1933. Anyone remember them?

  14. Gay Lyons, on January 14th, 2010 at 6:12 pm said:

    Getting a new Nancy Drew book was always such fun–and made me sad I was such a fast reader. Loved _TheSecret of the Old Clock_. I think it may have been the first one I read. Did anyone else read Donna Parker books?

  15. Libby Curry, on January 18th, 2010 at 3:03 pm said:

    My friends and I were in a Nancy Drew frenzy for a couple of years. Great memories. Does anyone remember reading “The Boxcar Kids” about some orphaned brothers and sisters that actually lived in a boxcar?

  16. Melinda Meador, on January 19th, 2010 at 12:20 pm said:

    Anyone who is interested in the various Stratemeyer series and others like them might want to check out “The Girl Sleuth” by Bobbie Ann Mason. She discusses everything from The Bobbsey Twins to Cherry Ames and Trixie Belden. It’s amazing to think how many of us were influenced by these books. I sent Cynthia’s story to my BFF in Houston, and she reminded me that, after reading all the NDs in 4th grade, she got her first typewriter and started writing her own mysteries. Today she’s one of the best securities fraud lawyers in Texas and still loves nothing better than a good mystery.

  17. Cynthia Moxley, on January 21st, 2010 at 9:50 pm said:

    Wow. Thanks, everyone! I had more comments on Nancy Drew than on some of the most serious posts I’ve written. Very cool.

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