Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
nancy, drew, stratemeyer, girls, female protagonists, girls literature
Nancy Drew, America’s beloved girl sleuth, appeared on the American literary scene in 1930 with her blue roadster, fashionable clothes, and companion desires for adventure and charity – complete with Übermenschen capabilities, intelligence, feistiness, and beauty to spare. One of the last creations of literary giant Edward Stratemeyer and his Stratemeyer Syndicate, Nancy Drew was first written by Iowa journalist and Syndicate author Mildred Augustine Wirt. Nancy’s creation story is explored in part through the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, where old letters and releases detail Nancy’s origins and creation, as well as the true identities of the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, the authorial signature listed on all the Nancy Drew books. Wirt laid revolutionary foundations in Nancy Drew, establishing her as a girl who wanted to live her life, pursue her own pleasures, and never let marriage or insecurity get in her way – a stark contrast with previously-published books, where domestic sensibilities and feminine constructs inveigled girls into believing that a solely domestic life was the only acceptable option. Nancy Drew was born into the world of and epitomized the “New Woman” of the twentieth century, inspiring her readers to likewise follow their passions and become “New Women.” After the death of Edward Stratemeyer in 1930, soon after Nancy’s debut, Wirt and Nancy Drew’s second author, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, collaborated to continue Nancy’s adventures. After writing twenty-three of the first thirty stories, Wirt’s last Nancy Drew book appeared in 1948 (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, #25). Nancy’s watershed qualities were toned down beginning in 1959, when the earlier Nancy Drew Mystery Stories underwent revisions: the stories were shortened, racist and racy aspects were edited out, and Wirt’s Nancy was “feminized” to be much more sweet and docile and less headstrong and autonomous. These revisions were ordered and carried out almost exclusively by Adams, Edward Stratemeyer’s daughter and one of the owners of the Syndicate after his death. While the differences between the original 1930 Nancy and the revised 1959 Nancy have been noted by scholars, case studies of the original and revised texts have never been done before. This thesis contains in-depth case studies of Nancy Drew’s first two adventures, The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase; the findings corroborate the claims of scholars, providing examples and analyses of these differences. The psychology of girlhood consists of (among many things) the constant negotiation of a girl’s identity between societal demands for femininity and a desire to pursue her own pleasures; later, it is also tinged by a struggle between childhood and adulthood. In Nancy Drew, these conflicts of identity are always successfully reconciled through Nancy’s absolute self-possession and constant struggle with (and forever success in) achieving life fulfillment. This is the Nancy Drew archetype; the archetype and the elements that constructed it have ensured not only the existence and success of Nancy Drew, but has also made contemporary girls’ literature of today possible. Today, the archetype appears in several characters of contemporary girls’ literature, including Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Samantha Parkington (The American Girls Collection), and Princess Cimorene of Linderwall (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles): these female protagonists are Nancy Drew’s daughters.
Han, Shayna, "The Psychology of Girlhood: The History of Nancy Drew, the Rise of the Nancy Drew Archetype, and Nancy Drew’s Daughters" (2015). Honors Theses. 322.