Nancy Drew & National Women’s History Month

March is National Women’s History Month. In 1987, Congress first declared the month as a time to reflect upon the great contributions of women in both history and contemporary society. One of the more unlikely heroines to be celebrated is not drawn from real life, but from the world of fiction. Nancy Drew has served as a juvenile role model to countless American women since 1930 when the mystery series was first published.  American first ladies and political figures such as Laura Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder along with current and former Supreme Court Judges Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor have acknowledged the positive influence that Nancy Drew had on their early lives. She was a remarkably independent young woman who was not afraid to be smart, who was brave and daring, and embraced adventure. Media stars such as Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, and Gayle King have likewise credited Nancy Drew as being an intrepid young woman, a genuine go-getter, and an affirmative influence on their childhood and teen years. 
 
Despite the fact that for decades the character of Nancy Drew has been portrayed as being from a wealthy, elitist background and her dozens of books have mostly been  almost totally lacking in diversity, she has had one crowning asset that has appealed to even readers from different racial, ethnic, religious, economic and social backgrounds. She possesses an irresistible attribute: Nancy Drew is a GIRL! Moreover, she is a girl who can drive a car (a blue convertible), change a tire, and repair an engine. She is a sure shot with a pistol, brave and never afraid of the dark, and she defeats evil men at least twice her age. She has won the admiration of adults including the press, law enforcement officers, and even judges. In popular culture, especially for most of the twentieth century, boys dominated juvenile popular fiction. Nancy Drew was not just courageous and successful as a detective. She was the essence of GIRL POWER!
 
Despite being a positive youthful role model for a great many women who have become exceptionally successful in their adult lives, readers need to be aware that the character of Nancy Drew is white, presumably wealthy, and has friends and associates with similar lifestyles. Except for a few examples such as the newest Nancy Drew film, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, 2019) few African Americans, for example, appear in vital and positive roles. Incidentally, this most recent theatrical release was co-produced by Ellen DeGeneres, yet another Nancy Drew fan.
 
In 2009, The New York Times published an article by Jan Hoffman, “Nancy Drew’s Granddaughters,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/fashion/19drew.html). The article is a catalog of famous American women who grew up wanting to be like Nancy Drew, their childhood hero. Former long-term congresswoman Pat Schroeder is quoted: “I needed Nancy Drew. She was smart and she didn’t have to hide it. She showed me there was another way to live.” Schroeder emulated her fictional hero. She earned her pilot’s license at age 15 and became a feminist politician from Colorado. Her own fans across the United States strongly urged her to wage a campaign to become the Democratic Party presidential nominee. 
 
 
Book Reviews
 
Keene, Carolyn. The Secret of the Old Clock. Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1930, 1959; Simon & Schuster, 1987. The 1959 re-issue edition was used for this review.
 
The very first Nancy Drew mystery introduces the intrepid teen sleuth in an exciting multi-faceted adventure story that involves two wills, one bogus and one missing, but both worth a fortune; a trio of ugly and burly thieves who specialize in stealing the valuable furniture and treasures of summer vacation homes; a social-climbing and unpopular River Heights family; and a missing family heirloom, an antique mantel clock that may well be the key to unraveling the entire whodunit. 
 
When readers first meet Nancy Drew her activities are primarily related to running important attorney-related errands for her father, but it does not take long for the teen heroine to become a full-fledged amateur detective living on the edge of danger and fear. As the plot unfolds in scenes such as those near Camp Avondale, a summer retreat for girls on Moon Lake, Nancy’s worldly skills also become known. She not only drives long distances by herself and hunts down tough thieves, but she can fix a flat tire and dismantle and repair a broken power boat engine. Never viewed as a pest, Nancy works closely with both the police and attorneys to prevent the escape of thieves and discovers the valid last will of Josiah Crowley that greatly enriches of the lives of his true beneficiaries. 
 
 
Keene, Carolyn. Hidden Pictures. Nancy Drew Diaries (Book 19). New York: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster, 2020). 
 
Fast forward 90 years from The Secret of the Old Clock, first published in 1930, to the present day. The Nancy Drew Diaries begin and end with Nancy’s own confidential journal entries. In Hidden Pictures, Nancy does not even reveal to girlfriends George and Bess that she has received an anonymously mailed newspaper clipping about a possible curse aimed at the current photography exhibit at the town museum of Shady Oaks that the young women are scheduled to visit. 
 
Is the curse real? Who is attempting to sabotage the DeSantos Exhibit and why? What has become of the two missing persons and how did they suddenly physically disappear only to apparently reappear in photographs in the museum display? Pure sleuthing equals shrewd intelligence regardless of the era in which mysteries take place. The things that make this brand new Nancy Drew conundrum different are the investigative tools at her disposal. Nancy, George, and Bess make the most of digital cameras and conduct online research complete with computer printouts while using the Internet to learn more about both DeSantos and Lawrence. WiFi, cell phones complete with flashlights, and laptop computers are the tools of amateur detectives in the year 2020. 
 
The most important virtue of Hidden Pictures is that it is proof positive that Nancy Drew will never grow old. Nancy Drew is a timeless fictional heroine. She will always be a young woman who is proud to be gifted and who generously uses her gifts to right wrongs at any time and in any place. 
 
 
Activities for Teachers and Homeschoolers
 
Ask students to read both Nancy Drew mystery novels reviewed here that feature basic story elements and essential characters across a span of 90 years. Students may compare and contrast the two adventures verbally in an essay or visually using side-by-side posters that pictorially highlight similarities and differences found in the two books. 
 
Encourage gifted young writers to plot, outline, and write a brand new mystery story that features Nancy Drew as a member of a minority population. Perhaps the new teen sleuth is African American. 
 
Nancy Drew is one of the most popular characters to ever appear in juvenile literature. Her girl pal George is passionate about computers as detective tools. The Internet is filled with websites devoted to the history and culture of the teen sleuth. Many online resources highlight Nancy Drew books and extensions such as film versions of her exploits, but additional entries examine the heroine of River Heights in scholarly articles about her role in popular culture. Inspire today’s young researchers to pursue a chosen line of inquiry about Nancy Drew using any and all contemporary 21st century resources. 
 

Stimulate talented students to combine geography sleuthing and writing skills. Ask them to attempt being a Caroline Keene ghostwriter and pen an original Nancy Drew story set in such exotic locales as Hong Kong, Mumbai, Nairobi, or Montevideo.