Pauline Phillips, the original Dear Abby, dies at 94

On this day in 2013, Pauline Phillips, who for more than 40 years wrote the “Dear Abby” newspaper advice column, dies at age 94 in Minneapolis after battling Alzheimer’s disease. Using the pen name Abigail Van Buren, Phillips made her “Dear Abby” debut in 1956, and over the ensuing decades dispensed witty advice on a broad range of topics, from snoring to sex. With a daily readership eventually topping 110 million people, “Dear Abby” became the world’s most widely syndicated newspaper column, appearing in some 1,400 newspapers and generating around 10,000 letters per week.

Pauline Esther Friedman, nicknamed Popo, was born July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa. Her identical twin, Esther Pauline Friedman, dubbed Eppie, would grow up to pen the “Ask Ann Landers” advice column. The twins, whose Russian Jewish immigrant parents owned a chain of movie theaters, attended Sioux City’s Morningside College, where they studied journalism and psychology and wrote a gossip column for the school paper. They dropped out of college to marry in a double ceremony in 1939, shortly before their 21st birthday. Pauline wed Morton Phillips, a businessman from a wealthy family, while her twin tied the knot with Jules Lederer, who would later found Budget Rent a Car.

In 1955 Lederer took over the “Ann Landers” column for The Chicago Sun-Times and soon turned to her sister for help answering some of the letters she received from readers. Phillips, who was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she was raising a family and involved in various philanthropic activities, enjoyed responding to these letters and decided she wanted an advice column of her own. She contacted The San Francisco Chronicle and told an editor there she believed she could write a better advice column that the one the paper published. The editor told her to stop by sometime, and the next morning Phillips showed up at the paper’s offices. Skeptical about Phillips’ qualifications, the editor told her to come up with her own responses to some of the letters that appeared in back issues of the paper. Phillips did so that same day and promptly was hired for the job, at $20 a week.

In selecting her pen name, Phillips took Abigail after a character from the Bible and Van Buren after the eighth U.S. president, whose name she liked. The first “Dear Abby” column debuted on January 9, 1956, and was an instant hit with readers. A rift soon developed between Phillips and Lederer as a result of their competing columns, and the two were estranged for a number of years; however, both women became two of the most successful and influential columnists of the 20th century. Over the decades, Phillips tackled a variety of serious and controversial subjects, including abortion (she was pro-choice) and homosexuality (by the early 1980s, she publicly supported gay people). Additionally, Phillips was known to check in by phone with letter writers who sounded particularly distressed.

In 1987 Phillips’ daughter, Jeanne, began co-writing “Dear Abby” with her mother. In 2002 Jeanne Phillips officially took over the column. That same year, Lederer died at age 83 and Pauline Phillips’ family announced she had Alzheimer’s. Phillips died on January 16, 2013.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Shah flees Iran

Faced with an army mutiny and violent demonstrations against his rule, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran since 1941, is forced to flee the country. Fourteen days later, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic revolution, returned after 15 more

The Persian Gulf War begins

At midnight in Iraq, the United Nations deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expires, and the Pentagon prepares to commence offensive operations to forcibly eject Iraq from its five-month occupation of its oil-rich neighbor. At 4:30 p.m. EST, the first fighter aircraft more

Prohibition is ratified by Congress

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” is ratified by Congress on this day in 1919. The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century, when more

Johnson approves Oplan 34A

President Johnson approves Oplan 34A, operations to be conducted by South Vietnamese forces supported by the United States to gather intelligence and conduct sabotage to destabilize the North Vietnamese regime. Actual operations began in February and involved raids by South more

Agreement to open peace talks reached

An agreement is reached in Paris for the opening of expanded peace talks. It was agreed that representatives of the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front would sit at a circular table without nameplates, flags or markings. The talks had more

Bush waits for deadline in Iraq

On this day in 1991, President George Herbert Walker Bush waits to see if Iraq will withdraw from Kuwait by midnight, a deadline mandated by the United Nations, or if war will ensue. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and hard-line Iraqi nationalists did believe Kuwait should be part more

Avalanches bury buses in Kashmir

Avalanches sweep two buses off the highway between Srinagar and Jammu in Kashmir, India, on this day in 1995. Two more days of avalanches in the area eventually killed more than 200 people; 5,000 others had to be rescued. January 1995 produced unusually heavy snow in the Kashmir more

The Moon Maniac

Albert Fish is executed at Sing Sing prison in New York. The “Moon Maniac” was one of America’s most notorious and disturbed killers. Authorities believe that Fish killed as many as 10 children and then ate their remains. Fish went to the electric chair with great anticipation, more

Soviets send troops into Azerbaijan

In the wake of vicious fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Azerbaijan, the Soviet government sends in 11,000 troops to quell the conflict. The fighting–and the official Soviet reaction to it–was an indication of the increasing ineffectiveness of the central more

Crittenden Compromise is killed in Senate

On this day in 1861, the Crittenden Compromise, the last chance to keep North and South united, dies in the U.S. Senate. Proposed by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, the compromise was a series of constitutional amendments. The amendments would continue the old Missouri more

Hitler descends into his bunker

On this day, Adolf Hitler takes to his underground bunker, where he remains for 105 days until he commits suicide. Hitler retired to his bunker after deciding to remain in Berlin for the last great siege of the war. Fifty-five feet under the chancellery (Hitler’s headquarters as more