In the past when newspapers were a thing that most people read physical copies of, consultation columns were a mainstay and a regular feature in major newspapers and magazines around the world. They have answered all sorts of questions from anonymous consultants, expecting a neutral approach to the problem at hand.
The consultation columns began in the 1890s – although some reports date back to the early 1690s – as pioneers of today’s forums and online communities. Before people post their questions to the public and receive advice from anyone willing to give it (whether you like it or not), people write to advice columnists.
In the United States, more specifically, people wrote to columnists like Dear Abby and Ask Ann Landers.
They are two of the most famous advice columnists to emerge from that particular era, and they have dominated for half a century. Dear Abby, Originally published San Francisco Chronicle, Was the most widely syndicated newspaper column of the time with 110 million readers. In 1990, Dear Abby received 55,000 letters. Ask Ann Landers, originally published Chicago Sun-Times, Had 90 million readers. Their columns presented a unique opportunity, not just for mentors, but for readers: they often created conversations on controversial topics. Themselves were also somewhat controversial.
Because Abby and Ann were twin sisters.
These are definitely not their real names. The twins were born in 1918 in Sioux City, Iowa to Pauline and Esther’s “AP” Friedman. Their parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who came to the United States in 1908 and had two older sisters, Helen and Dorothy.
The twins didn’t start writing columns until they were in their 30s, and before that, they were exceptionally close. They studied in the same college. Worked together in the college newspaper (they ran gossip columns; I know, you didn’t see one come). On their 21st birthday in 1939, they held a double ceremony to marry their husbands. Wearing uniform wedding dress. They both moved to Eo Clare, Wisconsin in the 1940’s when their husbands got jobs at the same company.
They weren’t just twin sisters: they were best friends. But soon after Eo went to Claire, a shadow darkened the door of their relationship and it was alleged that it started with growing wealth inequality between the two sisters. Pauline’s husband’s family bought a controlling interest in the company she worked for, and the move proved to be a financial game changer for them. AP and her husband were not so fortunate, and the intimacy they enjoyed as the socio-economic divide widened.
The advice column was the final straw.
In the early 1950s, AP and his family moved to Chicago. He became aware that Chicago Sun-TimesIts current advice is that the columnist is retiring, and applied for the role. AP’s strong writing skills and extensive bonding, which she acquired after years of political activism and volunteering, secured her job and she began writing in 1955 as Ann Landers. Ask Ann Landers has become a new, unique voice of wisdom, one who, as a lawyer, speaks openly against racism and anti-Semitism, just as a counselor. And while Anne Landers’ first voice reflected the AP’s social conservatism, especially in the vicinity of gender roles, Anne Landers in the 1970s and beyond has become increasingly feminist and pro-choice.
Three months after AP Ann Landers, Pauline also decided to start a consultation column. He helped his sister write the side response, as the overflow was too much for AP to manage alone. It made Pauline realize that she could be one of them.
He and his family moved to Hillsboro, California, later that year. Contacted Pauline’s editor San Francisco Chronicle Their new advice is to pitch themselves as columnists, who can do better than their current ones. He named this columnist Abigail Van Buren, or Abby for short. He wrote sample responses to previously published columns and that was it. Dear Abby became hugely popular and adapted to a counselor-like personality like Ann Landers, a humorous humorous dose with a healthy dose.
Was this the place of two equally talented advice columnists in this country who have become twin sisters? The sisters weren’t sure. From the outset, AP saw Pauline’s move as insulting and even hostile to her flourishing career. And although they did not want to stand against each other, the media at the time took their competing columns and ran with them, comparing their writing styles and preferring one over the other (e.g. Times Reports that the favorite Abby was “slipperier, faster and flipper” than Ann Landers). To keep the rivalry to a minimum, they sought a ceasefire by agreeing not to fight for syndication against each other in other U.S. cities.
Everything went down the drain, especially on a newspaper: the newspaper of their own city. In 1956, it turned out that Pauline had allegedly offered the beloved Abby a low rate in the Sioux City Journal: they did not promise to run Ann Landers.
The sisters have not spoken for ten years.
Life The magazine reported on their estranged relationship in 1958. Although the twins still clearly love each other, they have not been able to overcome the growing annoyance due to constant comparisons and have happily thrown insults at each other for seeing the world. The magazine called it “the most ferocious female conflict since Elizabeth Mary, the Queen of Scots, was sent to the cut block.”
Excluding each other, and despite the competition between the two of them, their careers improved. Appy, as Ann Landers, received more than 1,000 speaking invitations in just the first four years of taking charge of the consultation column and had 100 appearances in 30 cities. Dear Abby has become the most widely syndicated column in the world with over 1,400 newspaper appearances. He received so many letters that he hired four full-time mail openers, six letter respondents, and a research assistant.
And yet not what they wanted: the rivalry bothered them. Abby wrote, “My career has improved, but I’ve been wandering around with a hole in my heart.”
The sisters reunited in public in 1964 for their 25th wedding anniversary, reconciling some of their differences, but the feud never died out. The AP claims that not a single favorite Abby column was read in the 1979 TV appearance; Two years later, in a magazine interview, Pauline called her sister inferior and jealous.
Although their shared history and intimacy could not be completely banished by the hard feelings brought by their columns – they had periods where they regularly faxed each other – it was never seen that they completely repaired their relationship.
This enmity continued till the last day of life. AP died of multiple myeloma in 2002 at the age of 83. Her daughter, Margo, expresses her anger at Pauline’s daughter Jean, publicly expressing her grief over her aunt’s death. Dear Abby’s distributor AP also offered her sister a free farewell letter to clients of all Ann Landers newspapers. Noting that his mother had no relationship with Jean and had not seen him in decades, Margo called it a “cross” effort to acquire new clients. Pauline died of Alzheimer’s disease that year and took over the role of Gene’s favorite Abby Column, and Pauline died in 2013 at the age of 94.
It was a contest that the sisters repeatedly reconsidered after making their column and one that went to their daughters. For all the wonderful, insightful advice that the sisters have been able to give to thousands of people over the decades, one would expect the twins to take some of their own advice to heal their relationship with each other.