Anita Avery Girl Detectives Collection

Identifier: MSS.1024

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

The Anita Avery Girl Detectives Collection is divided into seven series:

Correspondence — Letters, articles, and photographs sent or copied and forwarded to Anita Avery, predominantly concerning Margaret Sutton, author of the Judy Bolton series

Fan Culture — Newsletters and publications of members of the Society of Phantom Friends, a fan club focused on Judy Bolton and other girls’ series

Conference Materials — Materials from a conference held at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse June 22-24, 1984: "Eighty Years of Juvenile Series Fiction, or How Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Friends Have Affected Four Generations"

Miscellaneous Literature — Reproductions of non-Judy Bolton books by Margaret Sutton, generated by the author and sent to Anita Avery in the mid-1980s; also a 2011 publication of the early typescripts that later evolved into Judy Bolton stories

Ephemera — Miscellaneous materials related to the collection

Memorabilia — Various Nancy Drew memorabilia dating from the 1930s-2010s

Audiovisual Material — An audiobook, a VHS tape, and several DVDs of Nancy Drew adaptations


  • 1939-2019. Majority of material found within 1979-1986

Conditions Governing Access

This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact

Historical Note - Girl Detectives Fiction

Like many literary genres, girl detectives fiction evolved gradually, seemingly a convergence of detective novels and the emergence of series books marketed toward children, which both developed during the mid-19th century. The first female sleuths in fiction appeared in the 1860s: Andrew Forrester’s The Female Detective and W.S. Hayward’s Revelations of a Lady Detective. Both novels predate Sherlock Holmes.

Some of the earliest examples of books featuring young female characters solving mysteries include Anna Katherine Green’s 1915 novel The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange, The Daring Twins: A Story for Young Folk (1911), its sequel Phoebe Daring (1912), and The Bluebird Books series (1916-1924), all by L. Frank Baum—the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—writing under the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne.

Nancy Drew, the world’s most famous girl detective, burst onto the scene in 1930 with The Secret of the Old Clock and has since starred in hundreds of books, several feature films, TV series, and video games. The character was created by Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate publishing company, who also created the Hardy Boys and wished to market a similar series to girls. As with other Stratemeyer Syndicate books, Edward Stratemeyer (and later his daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, who took over the company after his death) hired various ghostwriters to pen the series, all under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene,” paying them a flat fee to draft a fleshed-out novel from a three-page outline and character sketch. Most notably, journalist Mildred Wirt Benson is known to have written 23 of the original 30 Nancy Drew books.

Nancy Drew’s immediate success and popularity drove demand for other girl detectives series books. Featured in the Anita Avery collection, in addition to Nancy Drew, are the Judy Bolton mystery series (1932-1967), Cherry Ames (1943-1968), Vicki Barr (1947-1964), the Dana Girls (1934-1979), and Trixie Belden (1948-1986).

Biographical Note - Margaret Sutton

Margaret Sutton, born Rachel Irene Beebe in 1903 in Potter County, Pennsylvania, was the author of numerous childrens’ books and works of juvenile fiction. She is best known as the author of the Judy Bolton mystery series. She graduated from Rochester Business Institute in 1920 and worked as a stenographer and in the printing industry before commencing her writing career. In 1924 she married William Henry Sutton, with whom she had five children. A decade after his death in 1965, Sutton married Everett Hunting and officially took the name Margaret S. Hunting.

From 1932-1967, Sutton wrote 38 volumes of the Judy Bolton mystery series, beginning with The Vanishing Shadow. Published by Grosset & Dunlap, it remains the longest running single-authored juvenile series, with over five million copies sold. The series struggled in later years, however, which Sutton believed was the result of Grosset & Dunlap caving to pressure from the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the publishing company behind the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. She wrote, “You may ask why Judy went out of print and Nancy Drew didn’t. The answer is simple. Because Nancy Drew was written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate…the company had more power than a single author and were able to influence the publishers more. Thus Judy was beginning to be phased out in favor of Nancy as early as 1960. The books were no longer advertised and distributed as well as the syndicate books. But they were loved, and still are, by readers who still collect them” (see Box 1, Folder 3).

Sutton died in 2001 in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania. Her books still enjoy a dedicated fanbase, and her hometown, Coudersport, celebrates her legacy with the Judy Bolton Days festival, held annually in October.


5 Linear Feet (2 Hollingers, 6 flat boxes)

Language of Materials



The Anita Avery Girl Detectives Collection contains correspondence, ephemera, memorabilia, and audiovisual material related to juvenile mystery series published throughout the mid-20th century. The material in this collection complements a collection of rare books by the same name that was donated by Anita Avery.


This collection is arranged into seven series, with items organized chronologically within series. Deferred to donor's notes regarding approximate dates when the item itself is undated. Where photographs or articles were enclosed with correspondence, those items have been kept together in the same folder.

Physical Location

Offsite Storage, Special Collections & Archives

Finding Aid for the Anita Avery Girl Detectives Collection
In Progress
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


About this Site

This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

Requesting Materials

Each finding aid contains a link to request materials from the collections. Collections can also be requested by emailing the repository directly through the library website. Each repository has its own location, hours, and contact information. Please consult the repository with questions about using the materials. Collections are non-circulating and must be used in the repository’s reading room. In many cases, the collections are stored off-site and require advance notice for retrieval.