Pauline Phillips

Pauline Phillips

Publicity photo in 1961
Born Pauline Esther Friedman
(1918-07-04)July 4, 1918
Sioux City, Iowa, U.S.
Died January 16, 2013(2013-01-16) (aged 94)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Pen name Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby")
Occupation Personal advice columnist,
author, radio host
Alma mater Morningside College
Spouse Morton Phillips (m. 1939–2013)
Children Edward Jay Phillips (1945–2011), Jeanne Phillips
Relatives Esther Pauline "Eppie" Lederer (twin sister)

Pauline Esther "Popo" Phillips (née Friedman; July 4, 1918 – January 16, 2013), also known as Abigail Van Buren, was an American advice columnist and radio show host who began the Dear Abby column in 1956. During her decades writing the column, it became the most widely syndicated newspaper column in the world, syndicated in 1,400 newspapers with 110 million readers.[1]

From 1963 to 1975, Phillips also hosted a daily Dear Abby program on CBS Radio. TV anchorwoman Diane Sawyer calls her the "pioneering queen of salty advice".[2]

Early life

Pauline Esther Friedman, nicknamed "Popo", was born in Sioux City, Iowa to Russian Jewish immigrants, Rebecca (née Rushall) and Abraham B. Friedman, owner of a chain of movie theaters.[3] She was the youngest of four sisters and grew up in Sioux City. Her identical twin, Esther Pauline Friedman (married name Lederer), was columnist Ann Landers.[3] Lederer had become Ann Landers in 1955, and inspired by her sister's example, Phillips soon followed suit by launching her own advice column.

In describing her family's emigration to America, Phillips says, "My parents came with nothing. They all came with nothing." She adds that her parents never forgot first seeing the Statue of Liberty:

It's amazing the impact the lady of the harbor had on them. They always held her dear, all their lives.[4]

Her sister, Esther, recalls their home life: "My father was the sort of man people came to for advice. My mother couldn't turn away anyone with a hard-luck story. Our house was always full of guests."[5] Phillips agrees, and understood that her parents had a clear effect on her own personality:

I was cocky. My contemporaries would come to me for advice. I got that from my mother: the ability to listen and to help other people with their problems. I also got Daddy's sense of humor.[4]

They are both alumnae of Central High School [6] in Sioux City and Morningside College, where they both studied journalism and psychology, along with writing a joint gossip column for the college newspaper.[3] They both played the violin. In July 1939, they were married in a double-wedding ceremony on July 2, two days before their 21st birthday [Source: Eppie: The Story of Ann Landers, by Margo Howard (her daughter), p. 45.].[7] She married Morton Phillips of Minneapolis, and had two children, a son, Edward Jay Phillips, and a daughter, Jeanne Phillips.[8]


Pauline's writing career that led to Dear Abby began in January 1956, when she was 37 and new to the greater San Francisco area. Sometime during this period she phoned the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and said she could write a better advice column than the one she had been reading in the newspaper.[8][9] After hearing her modest credentials, editor Stanleigh "Auk" Arnold gave her some letters in need of answers and said to bring back her replies in a week; Phillips got her replies back to the Chronicle in an hour and half. In an interview with Larry King, she said she had no work experience, lacking even a social security number. The editor, however, asked if she were a professional writer. He said her writing was "fabulous', and she was hired that day.[8][10]

She went by the pen name Abigail Van Buren, after the Old Testament prophetess from the Book of Samuel: Then David said to Abigail ... ‘Blessed is your advice and blessed are you.[3] "Van Buren" was used after the president, Martin Van Buren.[11]

Phillips says that because she applied for the columnist job without notifying her sister first, it created bad feelings between them for many years. Each wrote her own advice column, and as competing columnists, they sometimes clashed; in 1956, Phillips offered her column to the Sioux City Journal at a reduced price, provided the paper refused to print her sister's column.[7] The sisters ostensibly reconciled in 1964, although some suggest the acrimony between them remained.[12] In 1958, after only two years writing their columns, they became "the most widely read and most quoted women in the world," according to Life magazine.[5]

Writing style

Although newspapers had included gossip and personal columnists for over a century, the two sisters added "something special," writes Life, in that they were the first to publish letters and their replies covering a wide range of personal problems. From as many as 9,000 letters in a single week in their initial years, they responded with answers to people from all walks of life, including doctors, lawyers, and clergymen, as well as from pregnant teenagers, harassed husbands, unwed mothers, alcoholics, gays, and mistresses.[5] Setting their column apart even more from columnists of earlier decades was their particular style of writing, replying with "vaudeville punch lines" yet always rooted in common sense.[5] Phillips is described thusly by the New York Times:

With her comic and flinty yet fundamentally sympathetic voice, Mrs. Phillips helped wrestle the advice column from its weepy Victorian past into a hard-nosed 20th-century present.[3]

Phillips was considered liberal minded politically, yet personally conservative. She remained reluctant to advise unmarried couples to live together, for instance, until the 1990s, yet she adapted readily to social changes.[3] One example:

Dear Abby: Our daughter-in-law was married in January. Five months later she had a nine pound baby girl. She said the baby was premature. Tell me, can a baby this big be that early? Wondering

Dear Wondering: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.[5]

Both Phillips and her sister were considered remarkable women soon after starting their careers, recognized for being bright and entertaining, and writing with "an earthy wit, audacity and awesome self-confidence," often exemplified in Phillips' "crackling one-liners." [5] The editor of the Chicago Sun-Times described their skill as "beyond mere shrewdness—a quality very close to genuine wisdom."[5] Amy Dickinson, a syndicated advice columnist who styles her columns after Dear Abby, says that Phillips was a "master" in her ability to write with both "genuine honesty" and "compassion," while at the same time being able to respond with "tough love" when needed:[13]

Dear Abby: What is the cure for a man that has been married for 33 years and still can't stay away from other women? His Wife

Dear Wife: Rigor mortis.[5]

Dear Abby: Which is better? To go to a school dance with a creep or to sit home? All Shook Up

Dear Shook: Go with the creep, and look over the crop.[5]

The letters that Phillips and her sister each picked for publication were meant to give the public glimpses of "the most intimate of human difficulties," which contributed to their immediate acceptance. Life magazine explains:

This careful selectivity, together with their own brevity, understanding and the abrasive humor of the answers, has earned the twins a phenomenal following of readers, even among people with no important problems of their own. They are discussed at the country club bridge table and the faculty tea, as well as in the beauty parlor, and are read by men as well as by women.[5]

Phillips stated that the most sensitive letters she received were never published, but were instead replied to individually. Sometimes she would write a brief note on the letter itself, letting one of her secretaries respond fully using her advice. If a person seemed suicidal from their letter, she would call them on the phone.[4] As noted by Life:

The most demanding of the problems never reach their columns. Homosexuals, people in mortal fear that their minds are slipping, women in terror of sex aberrants, wives afraid of brutal husbands, sinning clergymen—all write without reticence, asking for help. Both sisters write personal letters to these unfortunates. In some cases they rush telegraphic advice.[5]

Public relations

As part of their work both sisters engaged with other editors, publishers, and the general public whenever they could. "Neither ever forgets a name," and they were uninhibited public speakers: they "whirl around the country appearing on radio and television and—dressed like visiting movie actresses—holding thousands of housewives spellbound in speeches at theaters and auditoriums."[5]

Personal life and beliefs

Like her sister, Phillips was considered "the embodiment of female orthodoxy." They made their husbands and families a high priority in their lives, feeling that "marriage must be permanent, even when disturbed by masculine lunacy." Phillips typically spoke in glowing terms about her husband in public, calling him "loveboat" or smooching with him in restaurants. This attitude carried over into their columns in the late 1950s, with Phillips considering women who were unable to make their marriages work as "faintly ridiculous." Her "code of conduct" was "husband and children first."[5] In her later years, she did not avoid suggesting divorce when a relationship became "intolerable", and considered how a bad marriage might affect children: "When kids see parents fighting, or even sniping at each other, I think it is terribly damaging."[4]

Both Phillips and her sister enjoyed socializing with celebrities, and because of their notoriety, celebrities liked being seen with either of them. Among Phillips' friends soon after she began her column were politicians, including Senators Hubert Humphrey and Herbert Lehman; and entertainers, including Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.[5]

They also admired Bishop Fulton Sheen, whom they met when learning about Catholicism while studying about other religions. The bishop admired them both in return due to their ability to remain "unawed" and unaffected by the fame of others. Phillips, who was Jewish, commented: "He's one of the greatest men I ever met, but he'll be a Jew before I'm a Catholic."[5] Phillips and Bishop Sheen corresponded often and she recalls their letters:

When we correspond, he ends his letters, "God love you, Yours in Christ." I end mine, "God love YOU, Daughter of Isaac, Abraham and Jacob."[5]

Phillips was an honorary member of Women in Communications, the American College of Psychiatrists, and the National Council of Jewish Women. She authored six books: Dear Abby, Dear Teenager, Dear Abby on Marriage, Where Were You When President Kennedy was Shot?, The Dear Abby Wedding Planner, and The Best of Dear Abby. The Dear Abby Show aired on the CBS Radio Network for 12 years.[14] When asked near the end of her career whether her years of writing the column were a lot of work, she said, "It's only work if you'd rather be doing something else." She felt that her career had been "fulfilling, exciting and incredibly rewarding."[4]

From 1987 until her mother's retirement, her daughter Jeanne co-wrote the column. In 2002, when Phillips' Alzheimer's disease made it impossible for her to continue writing, Jeanne assumed all the writing responsibilities of Dear Abby. After the family's announcement of Pauline's illness, assumed the pen name Abigail Van Buren.[8][9][15]


Phillips died on January 16, 2013, at the age of 94, after having battled Alzheimer's disease for 11 years.[9][16] She was survived by her husband of 73 years, Morton Phillips, daughter Jeanne Phillips, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Her son, Edward, died in 2011 at the age of 66.[3]


Books about Dear Abby

Books by Abigail Van Buren

See also


  1. "Pauline Phillips, longtime Dear Abby advice columnist, dies at 94". CNN News. January 17, 2013.
  2. Sawyer, Diane (January 17, 2013). [Video on YouTube "'Dear Abby' Columnist, Pauline Phillips, Dies at Age 94"] Check |url= value (help). ABC News.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Pauline Phillips, Flinty Adviser to Millions as Dear Abby, Dies at 94". The New York Times. January 17, 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Dear Abby, advice columnist, sister of Ann Landers, dies at 94". The Chronicle Herald. Canada. January 17, 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Life magazine, April 7, 1958 pp. 102–112
  6. "Central High School".
  7. 1 2 Ewing, Jody (August 23, 2001). "Daughter Helps Keep 'Abby' Ink Flowing". Ewing, Jody. Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Johnson, Dr. Tim (February 12, 2010). "'Dear Abby' Struggles With Alzheimer's". ABC News. Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  9. 1 2 3 Fisher, Luchina. "'Dear Abby' Advice Columnist Dies". ABC News Blogs. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  10. video interview: "'Dear Abby' talks about her big break" on YouTube, CNN
  11. Ander, Marsha S. (June 8, 1991). "At 72, 'Dear Abby' Says Retirement Is A Dirty Word". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Archived from the original on September 14, 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-14.
  12. Judd, Robin. "Ann Landers biography". Jewish Virtual Library.
  13. video interview: "Remembering Pauline Phillips, 'Dear Abby'" on YouTube, PBS Newshour interview with Amy Dickinson, January 17, 2013
  14. Universal Press Syndicate historical files.
  15. "Dear Abby creator has Alzheimer's, family announces". Chicago Tribune. August 7, 2002. Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  16. "Pauline Phillips, Flinty Adviser to Millions as Dear Abby, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
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