Sunday, January 4, 2009


Harriet S. Adams Letters

For six years I corresponded with Harriet S. Adams, daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, the "Henry Ford of children series books," and creator of such literary characters as Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift and countless other children’s series books.

Mrs. Adams, along with her sister Edna, took control of the literary syndicate their father founded after his death in the early 1930s. Mrs. Adams directed most of syndicate activities till her death in the 1980s. The Stratemeyer Syndicate hired many ghost writers to write the actual books from storylines developed by the syndicate. Thus there was no actual Laura Lee Hope, author of the Bobbsey Twins, or Carolyn Keene, writer of Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls.

In the 1950s and 1960s, many of the earlier stories were revised to bring the storylines up to date with more modern trends or sensitivities. Mrs. Adams was responsible for much of the revisions, especially of the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books. And she wrote many herself. Thus she claimed to be "Carolyn Keene" or "Laura Lee Hope.

There is much debate and criticism within the series book fandom on the revisions and her part in it. Elsewhere in this blog, I offer my thoughts on the issue of whether Mrs. Adams tried to claim credit as the only Carolyn Keene, or whether her role was simply misinterpreted by media carelessness. I also offer some thoughts on her claim versus the claim of Mildred A. Wirt, the earliest author of Nancy Drew.

Two years after I started corresponding with Andrew Svenson, author of The Happy Hollisters, working under the name of Jerry West, I read a newspaper article about Mrs. Adams and her role in the creation of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and other syndicate series. I wrote to her and she replied in a letter on "Carolyn Keene" stationary. I count this letter as one of the highlights of my series book collection.

In that letter she included a blank piece of Carolyn Keene stationary, by mistake. Along with the letter, she sent me her own "Carolyn Keene" and "Laura Lee Hope" signatures (see scans). She also later sent me a signed photo of herself. Note on the letter under the syndicate heading the name of Andrew Svenson in the upper left portion of the stationary. He was a syndicate partner by then. I did not know until the 1970s that Svenson was Jerry West, author of the Happy Hollisters.

In the April 30, 1969, letter pictured on this page, Mrs. Adams writes:

Indeed I am still writing NANCY DREW and BOBBSEY TWINS books. Not only is an additional volume to each series coming out every year, but early books are being rewritten or revised to conform with today's customs. Cars have changed, laws concerning adoption have come into vogue, and also using Negro dialect is taboo. So you see I keep very busy.
What school did I go to? Public schools first and then Wellesley College.
The name of the latest HARDY BOYS book is the Arctic Patrol Mystery. The scene is laid in Iceland. The newest BOBBSEY story is the Doodlebug Mystery.
So far as I know there aren't any clubs which you could join. Many young readers in various areas have formed their own clubs. Perhaps you would like to do this in your school or town?

In May 1968, I received another letter from Mrs. Adams, in which she wrote:

Thank you for your nice letter. In answer to your questions, I'm fine too, and a new edition of The Bobbsey Twins' Adventures with Baby May has just been put on the market.
The old story similar in name was allowed to go out of print because of new laws regarding the adoption of babies. If you find a waif on your doorstep, you must immediately notify the police, who will take it.
I hope you will read the new story which is quite different from the original.

"Quite different" was an understatement. The original The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May (copyright 1924) was changed to The Bobbsey Twins and Adventures with Baby May. Instead of the Bobbsey family finding a baby left on their doorstep, they found a baby elephant.

In my last letter from Mrs. Adams, May 1973, she mentioned a trip she was about to take "cruising the Atlantic Ocean on what promises to be a very exciting trip--to see the total solar eclipse off the west coast of Africa!"
It has been reported that she planned to use that trip as part of a rewrite for an earlier Nancy Drew story. Instead, the trip was the basis for the newest Bobbsey Twins book, The Bobbsey Twins on the Sun-Moon Cruise (copyright 1975), written by partner Nancy S. Axelrad. Mrs. Adams did edit the manuscripts. Employee Grace Grote wrote the Doodlebug Mystery.

I am fortunate to have been able to correspond with Mrs. Adams and Mr. Svenson, a contact few fans ever achieved. I am grateful they were willing to take the time to reply to my letters. I imagine they answered quite a few fan letters. See a separate section of this blog for my Jerry West Letters.

1 comment:

  1. Just curious...She responded to a letter of mine back in the late 70's or early 80's before her death. Are they collectibles now? Is the autograph worth something? Just curious.