Ask Ann Landers

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Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, in Chicago, 1983

Ann Landers was a pen name created by Chicago Sun-Times advice columnist Ruth Crowley in 1943 and taken over by Eppie Lederer in 1955.[1] For 56 years, the Ask Ann Landers syndicated advice column was a regular feature in many newspapers across North America. Due to this popularity, 'Ann Landers', though fictional, became something of a national institution and cultural icon.

Ruth Crowley: the original 'Ann Landers' (1943–1955)[edit]

The creator of the 'Ann Landers' pseudonym was Ruth Crowley, a Chicago nurse who had been writing a child-care column for the Sun since 1941. She chose the pseudonym at random — borrowing the surname 'Landers' from a family friend — in order to prevent confusion between her two columns. Unlike her eventual successor Esther Lederer, Crowley kept her identity as Landers secret, even enjoining her children to help her keep it quiet.[2] Crowley took a three-year break from writing the column from 1948 until 1951. After 1951 she continued the column for the Chicago Sun-Times and in syndication (since 1951[2]) to 26 other newspapers until her death, aged 48, on July 20, 1955. Crowley spent a total of nine years writing advice as 'Ann Landers'.

Interim writers (July– October 1955)[edit]

In the three-month period after Crowley’s death, various writers, including Connie Chancellor, took over the column.[2]

The Esther Lederer years (1955–2002)[edit]

Esther "Eppie" Pauline Friedman Lederer, a.k.a. 'Ann Landers', 1961

By including expert advice from authorities, which none of her competitors did, Lederer won a contest to become the new writer of the column, debuting on October 16, 1955.[3] The column opened with a letter from a "Non-Eligible Bachelor," who despaired of getting married. Her advice was, "You're a big boy now...don't let spite ruin your life."[4] Lederer went on to advise thousands of other readers over the next several decades. Eventually, she became owner of the copyright. She chose not to have a different writer continue the column after her death, so the "Ann Landers" column ceased after publication of the few weeks' worth of material which she had written before her death.[5]

Sometimes she expressed unpopular opinions. She repeatedly favored legalization of prostitution and was pro-choice, yet denounced atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair.[6] In 1973, she wrote in support of the legalization of homosexual acts, saying that she had been "pleading for compassion and understanding and equal rights for homosexuals" for 18 years,[7] and in 1976 writing that she "fought for the civil rights of homosexuals 20 years ago and argued that they should be regarded as full and equal citizens.[8] Nevertheless, for years, she described homosexuality as "unnatural," a "sickness," and a "dysfunction."[9][10][11] Not till 1992 did she eventually reverse her opinion, and even then only after reviewing research and receiving nearly 75,000 letters that gays and lesbians wrote to her saying that they were happy being gay, writing that "it is my firm conviction that homosexuality is not learned behavior," adding that while being gay could be suppressed, it could not be altered.[12][13]

Even so, in 1996, she wrote regarding gay marriage, "Before you gay-rights folks land on me with both feet ... I cannot support same-sex marriage, however, because it flies in the face of cultural and traditional family life as we have known it for centuries."[14]

Controversies[edit]

Pope John Paul II and Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.[edit]

In 1995, Eppie commented thus in The New Yorker about Pope John Paul II: "He has a sweet sense of humor. Of course, he's a Polack. They're very anti-women." Polish-Americans responded with outrage. She issued a formal apology, but refused to comment further. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel canceled her column after that incident. In that same article, she had noted that President John F. Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., was anti-Semitic.[15]

Halloween candy panic[edit]

A 1995 "Ann Landers" column said, "In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy. It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers." The vague warning was criticized for causing fear dishonestly, as there have been no documented cases of children receiving poisoned candy during door-to-door Halloween trick-or-treating.[16]

Mistaken legal advice[edit]

In her March 28, 1965, column, regarding ownership of wedding gifts, Lederer wrote that "the wedding gifts belong to the bride." She went on to state that the bride should "consult a lawyer about the checks. In some states this could be considered community property." The advice was mistaken because only gifts given after the marriage would be considered community property in some states (or else because wedding gifts—if so designated—can be considered back-dated gifts to the bride). The column has provided teaching material for law professors and law students.[17]

Wedding rice and birds[edit]

In a 1996 column, she "informed" her readers that they should avoid throwing rice at weddings, lest birds eat it and explode. Such advice was erroneous, as milled rice is not harmful to birds.[18]

Annie's Mailbox[edit]

After Lederer died in June 2002, her last column ran July 27. Lederer's daughter Margo Howard (who wrote Dear Prudence) said the column would end according to Lederer's wishes. Creators Syndicate President Rick Newcombe said Lederer's editors, Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, should start a column of their own. Though Mitchell and Sugar were reluctant, many readers wanted the column to continue. Thus began the "Annie's Mailbox" column in approximately 800 newspapers. Newspapers were given three possible choices: classic Ann Landers, Annie's Mailbox, and Dear Prudence.[19][20] "Annie's Mailbox" is still syndicated in numerous newspapers throughout the US.

Dear Abby[edit]

A few months after Eppie Lederer took over as Ann Landers, her twin sister Pauline Phillips introduced a similar column, Dear Abby, which produced a lengthy estrangement between the two sisters.[21] Pauline Phillips wrote her column until her retirement in 2002 when her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, took over.

Further reading[edit]

  • Howard, Margo. Eppie: The Story of Ann Landers. New York: Putnam, 1982. ISBN 0-399-12688-0.
  • Pottker, Janice, and Bob Speziale. Dear Ann, Dear Abby: The Unauthorized Biography of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1987. ISBN 0-396-08906-2.
  • Aronson, Virginia. Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. Women of achievement. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000. ISBN 0-7910-5297-4. (children's book).
  • Landers, Ann, and Margo Howard. A Life in Letters: Ann Landers' Letters to Her Only Child. New York, NY: Warner Books, 2003. ISBN 0-446-53271-1.
  • Gudelunas, David. Confidential to America: Newspaper Advice Columns and Sexual Education. Edison, NJ: Transaction, 2007. ISBN 1-4128-0688-7.[2]
  • Rochman, Sue. Dear Ann Landers. Fall, 2010. CR magazine (magazine profile)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ann Landers: Biography from Answers.com". Answers Corporation. (c) 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gudelunas, David (2007). Confidential to America: Newspaper Advice Columns and Sexual Education. Edison, NJ: Transaction. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-4128-0688-6. 
  3. ^ Jack Shafer (February 5, 2009). "What Would Ann Landers Advise? Ann's daughter, advice columnist Margo Howard, gets ugly with advice columnist Amy Dickinson". Slate Magazine. 
  4. ^ "Ann Landers," The Post-Register (Idaho Falls), October 16, 1955, pB-2
  5. ^ Advice for the Lonely Hearts Time, January 19, 1981. Accessed online May 24, 2007.
  6. ^ Ann Landers in favor of legalizing Prostitution Sex Worker Support Cyber Center. Accessed online January 10, 2008
  7. ^ Not Accepted, Ann Landers, January 8, 1973
  8. ^ Ann Landers – July 23, 1976
  9. ^ The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959–1973). Washington, D.C.: Jan 9, 1973. p. B11. Available on ProQuest.
  10. ^ The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959–1973). Washington, D.C.: Mar 2, 1973. p. B8. "I am with the psychiatrists who believe homosexuals are sick and that sex between two men or two women is unnatural."
  11. ^ The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959–1973). Washington, D.C.: Apr 24, 1973. p. B6. "I have rethought my position and I believe my original conclusion is correct. Homosexuality is unnatural. Individuals who prefers members of their own gender as sex partners are sick."
  12. ^ Homosexuals prefer their lifestyle, Ann Landers, April 27, 1992
  13. ^ Good-bye, Eppie, Chicago Free Press, Paul Varnell, September 11, 2002
  14. ^ "Ask Ann Landers," Chicago Tribune, July 21, 1996
  15. ^ Tabor, Mary B.W. (1996-01-17). "Book Notes". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-23. 
  16. ^ Halloween Poisonings Snopes.com, October 27, 2005. Accessed online January 10, 2008.
  17. ^ Reppy & DeFuniak, Community Property in the United States, pages 137–138 (Bobbs-Merrill 1975).
  18. ^ Snopes website
  19. ^ "Ann Landers Last Column". CBS News. 2002-07-27. Retrieved 2013-01-08. 
  20. ^ Astor, Dave (2003-01-13). "Who's Answering 'Annie's Mailbox'?". Editor & Publisher. 
  21. ^ Judd, Robin. "Ann Landers biography". Jewish Virtual Library. 

External links[edit]