Pauline Phillips, the woman known to the world as the advice columnist behind “Dear Abby,” has died at the age of 94. Phillips, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, died in Minneapolis on Jan. 16, after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Phillips’ wrote under the pseudonym Abigail van Buren, taking the name Abigail from the Bible and Van Buren from American history, according to the Associated Press.
She began writing the column, which first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, in 1956, and “Dear Abby” was syndicated in more than 1,200 newspapers and had 95 million readers at its height.
Her sister, Eppie Lederer, wrote a similar column under the name Ann Landers; Lederer died in 2002.
The sisters’ columns offered a rare window into Americans’ private lives and a forum for discussing marriage, sex and the swiftly changing mores of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, AP noted. But the two columns differed in style — while Ann Landers responded to questioners with homey, detailed advice, Abby’s replies were more flippant and occasionally risqué (some were collected for her 1981 book, The Best of Dear Abby [Andrews McMeel Publishing]).
According to the New York Times, “It is difficult to overstate the column’s influence on American culture at midcentury and afterward: in popular parlance, Dear Abby was for decades an affectionate synonym for a trusted, if slightly campy, confidante.”
Phillips’ daughter, Jeanne Phillips, took over the column in 2002 after a few years of sharing the byline.
Philips was born Pauline Esther Friedman on July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa. Two days before their 21st birthday, the sisters had a double wedding — Pauline married Morton Phillips, a businessman, and Esther married Jules Lederer, a business executive and later founder of Budget Rent-a-Car.
The Phillipses lived in Minneapolis, Eau Claire, Wis., and San Francisco. In addition to their daughter, Jeanne, they had a son, Edward Jay, who was the chairman and chief executive officer of Minneapolis-based Phillips Beverage Company; he died in 2011 (4-29-11 AJW).
After Phillips was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Edward Phillips engineered a $10 million donation for research at the Mayo Clinic.
Phillips is survived by her husband of 73 years, Mort Phillips; daughter, Jeanne; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.