Intrepid girl detectives and student nurses: Nancy Drew & the gang

When I asked about books that made a strong impression when you were growing up, many of you mentioned the Nancy Drew Mystery Series.

The Hidden StaircaseI was a Nancy Drew reader, too. I bought the first dozen or so books one by one and tried to read them in order, but soon gave up because my reading habits outpaced my cash flow. So I borrowed them from the library and a friend and fellow Nancy Drew fan.

That same friend tells me she is now collecting Nancy Drew dust jacket covers, which are quite valuable.

Another friend and blog reader told me about a slew of girl detective series I’d never heard of: Trixie Belden, Kay Tracey, Judy Bolton, Melody Lane, and Connie Blair, among others. Vicki Barr, airline stewardess and amateur detective, investigated all manner of criminal activity in her travels.

I must have encountered some of these heroines on library shelves, but I remained loyal to Nancy.

Browsing around the Internet for more girl heroines, I came across the nurses. Remember them? Cherry Ames and Sue Barton? Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. Sue Barton, Senior Nurse. Visiting Nurse. Rural Nurse. Neighborhood Nurse. Superintendent of Nurses. I remember months of intensely reading the Sue Barton books during my wanting-to-be-a-nurse phase, after I’d ratcheted down from my original ambition to be a brain surgeon. Sue Barton

Feminist and literary scholars have written about Nancy Drew and other heroines as developing and changing female prototypes. According to some, Nancy evolved from a feisty, independent, fearless young woman in the early years of the series, around 1930, to a more conventional, passive one in the 1960s, when she was often portrayed as a potential victim of harm. Her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, began to play a more prominent role, whereas in earlier books Nancy usually worked alone or with her female chums, George and Bess.

The way I remember her, Nancy could do anything, perfectly. She was strong,  supremely confident, and competent. At sixteen, she had her own car (a blue roadster). Her father let her go anywhere and do just about anything.

Laura Bush, Barbara Walters, Beverly Sills, three female Supreme Court justices, and other prominent female figures have said Nancy Drew was a role model.

What impressed me most, I think, was Nancy’s freedom and independence as she made her way out in the world.

I took for granted I would have the same sort of life someday.


Nancy Drew is alive and well. The unofficial website has everything  you’d want to know about the series. There is even an annual Nancy Drew convention.

Did you have a favorite series? Tell us about it.


Best Short Animated Film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

If you haven’t seen it yet, take fifteen minutes to watch this year’s Oscar winner for best animated short.

It’s an affecting tribute to books and the curative powers of story, with a beautiful musical score.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is available as an app from iTunes.

3 thoughts on “Intrepid girl detectives and student nurses: Nancy Drew & the gang”

  1. I did the same thing with the Nancy Drew books! Cherry Ames was one of my favorites too – probably why I went to nursing school, Thanks for reminding me of these great books.

  2. I will have to look at Andrew Clements. Somehow I missed a lot of these when I was young. I really enjoyed looking at all of the old cover illustrations and reading quotes from these books as I was hunting around in the Internet. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I always liked the Trixie Belden series, because my library was one of those odd places that buys the knockoff series instead of the popular one. Though its not really a series, my favorite set of books was the Andrew Clements continuity, because all of his books show kids as powerful people doing really cool things, which any third-grader loves.

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