Pauline Phillips

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pauline Phillips
Publicity photo, 1961
Publicity photo, 1961
BornPauline Esther Friedman
(1918-07-04)July 4, 1918
Sioux City, Iowa, U.S.
DiedJanuary 16, 2013(2013-01-16) (aged 94)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Pen nameAbigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby")
  • Personal advice columnist
  • author
  • radio host
Alma materMorningside College
Morton Phillips
(m. 1939)
Children2, including Jeanne

Pauline Esther Phillips (born 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 well-known "Dear Abby" newspaper column in 1956. 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] She was also the paternal stepgrandmother of U.S. Congressman Dean Phillips.

Early life[edit]

Pauline 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 Phillips soon followed suit by launching her own advice column.

Phillips graduated from Central High School[4] in Sioux City and Morningside College, where she studied journalism and psychology. She and her twin sister wrote a joint gossip column for the college newspaper.[3] They were married in a double wedding ceremony on July 2, 1939, two days before their 21st birthday.[5][6] Pauline married Morton Phillips of Minneapolis, and had son Edward and daughter Jeanne.[7]


Phillips' writing career began in January 1956 when she was 37 and new to the San Francisco area. She phoned the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and said that she could write a better advice column than the one that she had been reading in the newspaper.[7][8] After hearing her modest credentials, editor Stanleigh Arnold gave her some letters in need of answers and told her to bring back her replies in a week; Phillips got her replies back to the Chronicle in an hour and a half. In an interview with Larry King, she said that she had no work experience, lacking even a social security number. The editor, however, asked if she was a professional writer. He said that her writing was "fabulous', and she was hired that day.[7][9]

She went by the pen name Abigail Van Buren, combining the Old Testament prophetess from 1 Samuel[3] with President Martin Van Buren.[10] Her twin sister was the author of the Ann Landers column, and the competition created acrimony between them for many years. In 1956, Phillips offered her column to the Sioux City Journal at a reduced price, provided that the paper refuse to print her sister's column.[6] The sisters ostensibly reconciled in 1964 but remained competitors.[11] They became "the most widely read and most quoted women in the world" in 1958, according to Life magazine.[12]

Writing style[edit]

Newspapers had included gossip and personal columnists for more than a century, but the two sisters added "something special", according to Life, in that they were the first to publish letters and replies covering a wide range of personal problems, replying with "vaudeville punch lines" rooted in common sense.[12] The editor of the Chicago Sun-Times described their skill as "beyond mere shrewdness—a quality very close to genuine wisdom."[12]

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 stated that she did not publish the most sensitive letters that she received, but instead replied to them 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.[13][12]

Personal life and beliefs[edit]

Phillips was considered "the embodiment of female orthodoxy." This attitude carried over into her column in the late 1950s, and she considered women "faintly ridiculous" if they were unable to make their marriages work. Her "code of conduct" was "husband and children first."[12] 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."[13]

Phillips supported gay rights, and season 1, episode 8 of the podcast Making Gay History is about her.[14]

Both Phillips and her sister enjoyed socializing with celebrities, and because of their notoriety, celebrities liked being seen with 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.[12] 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 was Jewish, and she commented: "He's one of the greatest men I ever met, but he'll be a Jew before I'm a Catholic."[12]

Phillips was an honorary member of Women in Communications, the American College of Psychiatrists, and the National Council of Jewish Women. Her columns were collected in 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.[15] She said that writing is "only work if you'd rather be doing something else."[13] She co-wrote the column with her daughter Jeanne from 1987 until her retirement. In 2002, Phillips' Alzheimer's disease made it impossible for her to continue writing, and Jeanne assumed all the writing responsibilities of Dear Abby.[7][8][16]


Phillips died on January 16, 2013, at age 94, after battling Alzheimer's for 11 years.[8][17] She was survived by her husband of 73 years, Morton Phillips, daughter Jeanne Phillips, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Her son, Edward, had died two years prior.[3]


Books about Dear Abby[edit]

  • Aronson, Virginia (2000). Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. Women of achievement. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-5297-4. (Children's book).
  • Pottker, Janice; Speziale, Bob (1987). Dear Ann, Dear Abby: The Unauthorized Biography of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. New York: Dodd, Mead. ISBN 0-396-08906-2.

Books by Abigail Van Buren[edit]

  • Dear Abby. Illustrated by Carl Rose. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, [1958].
  • Dear teen-ager. Illustrated by Roy Doty. [New York]: B. Geis Associates; distributed by Random House [1959].
  • Dear Abby on marriage. New York: McGraw-Hill, [1962].
  • The Best of Dear Abby. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1981. ISBN 0-8362-7907-7; 081613362X (lg. print.)
  • Dear Abby on planning your wedding. Andrews and McMeel, c1988. ISBN 0-8362-7943-3.
  • Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?: memories and tributes to a slain president as told to Dear Abby. Foreword by Pierre Salinger. Andrews and McMeel, c. 1993. ISBN 0-8362-6246-8.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pauline Phillips, longtime Dear Abby advice columnist, dies at 94". CNN News. January 17, 2013.
  2. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Sawyer, Diane (January 17, 2013). "'Dear Abby' Columnist, Pauline Phillips, Dies at Age 94". ABC News – via YouTube.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Pauline Phillips, Flinty Adviser to Millions as Dear Abby, Dies at 94". The New York Times. January 17, 2013.
  4. ^ "Central High School". Archived from the original on October 17, 2007.
  5. ^ Eppie: The Story of Ann Landers, by Margo Howard (her daughter), p. 45.
  6. ^ a b Ewing, Jody (August 23, 2001). "Daughter Helps Keep 'Abby' Ink Flowing". Ewing, Jody. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d Johnson, Dr. Tim (February 12, 2010). "'Dear Abby' Struggles With Alzheimer's". ABC News. Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c Fisher, Luchina (January 17, 2013). "'Dear Abby' Advice Columnist Dies". ABC News Blogs. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  9. ^ video interview: "'Dear Abby' talks about her big break" on YouTube, CNN
  10. ^ 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 July 9, 2019. Retrieved September 14, 2011.
  11. ^ Judd, Robin. "Ann Landers biography". Jewish Virtual Library.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Life magazine, April 7, 1958 pp. 102–112
  13. ^ a b c "Dear Abby, advice columnist, sister of Ann Landers, dies at 94". The Chronicle Herald. Canada. January 17, 2013.
  14. ^ "Season One". Making Gay History. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  15. ^ Universal Press Syndicate historical files.
  16. ^ "Dear Abby creator has Alzheimer's, family announces". Chicago Tribune. August 7, 2002. Retrieved September 26, 2010.
  17. ^ Fox, Margalit (January 17, 2013). "Pauline Phillips, Flinty Adviser to Millions as Dear Abby, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved January 17, 2013.

External links[edit]