Monday, July 4, 2011

Abigail Van Buren and Ann Landers (July 4, 1918)

For a while in the mid-20th century, Dear Abby and Dear Ann Landers, the two rival newspaper advice columns, dictated matters of morals, customs, and propriety. For example, which way should the toilet paper roll unfurl, from the top or the bottom? What's the best way to make meatloaf? Should you break up with your husband -- or reconcile? Do you need to seek professional help for your problems? They had opinions, advice, and referrals to various helping organizations. They received queries from the masses, they talked to the masses, and the masses said "yes." People talked about the issues they dealt with, and argued about their views. I think the place of the advice column was eventually replaced by Oprah and other TV deities. I suspect that currently there's a transition to web-based advice sources.

Ann and Abby, the two rival advice-givers were twins, born in Sioux City, Iowa, into a Jewish family. Esther Pauline Lederer (née Friedman) wrote as Ann Landers, and eventually used the name as her own. Her twin sister Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips wrote the Dear Abby column.

Did their Jewish background have anything to do with their success? Maybe, maybe not. Their predecessors included the famous "Bintel Brief" advice column in the Yiddish Daily Forward, but I have no idea if they were influenced by it. Are they heroes or anti heroes? Maybe some of each.

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