This post is written on Harriet Stratemeyer Adams’ 124th birthday (eldest daughter of author Edward Stratemeyer).
Edward Stratemeyer founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1905. Although he had the idea earlier and wrote about the idea, the first book assignments produced through the Syndicate process were ordered in 1905 and published in 1906. He ran the company for 25 years until his death in May 1930.
At this point, his wife Magdalene, was a semi-invalid and in no position to continue the company or even to handle the estate. This was known by Edward some time before he died and he wrote a note asking his daughters Harriet and Edna to be the executor of his estate and gave some instructions to them. He did not express any suggestion that they might continue his company, however.
Initially Harriet and Edna were consumed with the details of the estate and kept Harriet Otis Smith, Edward’s assistant since 1914, to keep the Manhattan offices open. The sisters directed Smith not to start any new business and to keep them informed of matters.
The sisters planned to find a buyer for the Syndicate and they interviewed a few people and considered others. Ultimately, they found that the business was not one that could be sold or abandoned, especially if they wanted income from the sales of the books their father had produced.
In the summer of 1930 they set out to understand the Syndicate business and make plans to continue it. This included getting advice from Smith and having meetings with the publishers Stratemeyer had been working with. There were a number of false steps but in time they started new series (like Kay Tracey and the Dana Girls) and kept many of the old ones going through the tumultuous periods of the Great Depression and World War II.
Once they had decided to continue the Syndicate, it made sense to them to move the offices from Manhattan (near the publishers) to East Orange, New Jersey (near their homes). However, Miss Smith did not care to move or commute. Her role was replaced with a new assistant, Agnes Pearson.
By 1942 Edna had moved to Florida with her husband and daughter. She participated in major business decisions but the day-to-day operation was left to Harriet. This difference became a source of disagreement between the sisters since Harriet felt that she should either be allowed to buy her sister out or receive a salary for her work.
After World War II, Harriet brought in new writers to work on the Syndicate series. One of these was Andrew E. Svenson. He had been introduced by long-time and highly-prolific Syndicate writer, Howard R. Garis. In time Svenson worked in the offices in East Orange.
The Baby Boom generation, generally children born between 1946 and 1952, started to buy and read series books in large numbers. Sales from 1956 to 1962 were very solid. After this they began to decline for all juvenile books, Syndicate and otherwise. Color TV began to call for the leisure time of young people who would have previously read series books.
The Bobbsey Twins were the first series to get significant revisions in 1950 at the suggestion of the publisher, partly to address the situation of the failure to renew the copyrights for the first three volumes. Revisions of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books were published in 1959 and the early volumes were redone through 1977.
And yet, the Syndicate’s core series continued through the 1960s and 1970s and all of the social upheaval occurring in them. The sales per volume declined and Harriet attributed this to a lack of promotion by Grosset & Dunlap. She tried unsuccessfully many times to renegotiate the contract in a way that would generate better sales and more income for the Syndicate. This led to accepting the overture of Simon & Schuster to issue new volumes and the 1980 lawsuit over which publishers should be able to publish the new volumes in these famous series.
Harriet died on her Birdhaven Farm near Califon, New Jersey in March 1982. The Syndicate continued for a couple years before it was sold outright to Simon & Schuster.
Edward ran his Syndicate for 25 years. Harriet was in charge of it for more than 51 years — more than double Edward’s tenure. While he probably would have been surprised by this, I can’t help but think that he would have also been proud of his daughters and especially Harriet who was the CEO of a multimedia company in a time when women were not known for doing that sort of thing.
Many people, famous and otherwise, cite the influence that Nancy Drew had on their lives. Yet, if they knew more about Harriet, they might admire her just as well.