Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, 25BA, 27MA, the first woman to receive a master's degree in journalism from the UI, has touched the lives of millions through her creation of female characters not bound by traditional roles.
A native of Ladora, Benson launched her writing career early in life, publishing her first short story at the age of 12. Although she wrote more than 130 children's books from 1927 to 1959, Benson is best known as a ghostwriter for the Stratemeyer Syndicate's Nancy Drew series.
Writing under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, Benson created the Nancy Drew character, an intelligent, spunky, independent, teenage sleuth who caught the imagination of American girls in the 1930s and has remained popular ever since. Beginning with The Secret of the Old Clock, published in 1930, Benson wrote 23 of the first 30 books in the series.
Mildred Benson is as spirited as the Nancy Drew character she developed. About the time Benson stopped writing fiction in the mid-1960s, she embarked on another adventure—flying. Benson eventually became a commercial pilot and until a few years ago owned her own plane. Prompted by her interest in pre-Columbian Mayan Indian archaeology, Benson also undertook nearly a dozed expeditions to remote sites in Central America.
Today, Benson is a full-time reporter and columnist for the Toledo Blade. A 1992 inductee into the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication Hall of Fame, Benson was also invited back to campus in April 1993 to sever as a guest of honor for the first-ever Nancy Drew Conference.
Benson is a member of the UI Alumni Association.
Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.