(1918 - 2002)
Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer, better known as Ann
Landers, was a world-famous American Jewish advice columnist.
For half a century, the
Ann Landers advice column helped lovelorn teens, confused parents, couples
on the brink of divorce, grieving widows, and a myriad of others in
need of counsel. Translated into over twenty languages Landers's "Dear
Abby" column reached millions of readers with her clear, witty
and sometimes sarcastic columns.
Her parents, Abraham and
Rebecca Friedman, were Russian Jewish immigrants who arrived in the
United States in 1908. They moved to Sioux City, Iowa, in 1910, where
two daughters, Helen and Dorothy, were born. Like many Russian Jewish
immigrants of that time, the family slowly earned enough money to leave
the poorer section of the city, first by peddling chickens from a pushcart
and then, by 1911, by amassing enough earnings to buy into a grocery
store. When Esther Pauline was born on July 4, 1918, her parents owned
a small house in Sioux City. When she was in her early teens, her father
became part owner of a movie and vaudeville theater. Active in the Jewish
community of Sioux City, Abraham Friedman's civic stature grew as he
acquired other theaters and diversified his business interests.
Esther Pauline was born only seventeen minutes apart from her twin,
Pauline Esther (later known as columnist Abigail Van Buren). The two
girls experienced many important events simultaneously, participated
in similar activities, and shared the same interests. The twins attended
Central High (during their four years there they were refused admission
to an all-girls club because of their religion), graduated in 1936,
and matriculated at a small college nearby. After her twin became engaged
to Mort Phillips, Esther Pauline met her future husband, Jules Lederer.
She and her sister had a double wedding in their Sioux City synagogue
on July 2, 1938. The Lederers had one daughter, Margo, and were divorced
in 1975. Ann Landers made her impending divorce public to her readership
on what would have been her thirty-sixth wedding anniversary.
Because Jules Lederer
was a salesman, the family traveled a great deal. They lived in New
Orleans until Lederer was offered a job in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. There,
Esther Lederer became active in politics, serving as Democratic Party
county chair. After moving to Chicago, she contacted family friend Wilbur
Munnecke, the executive and business manager of Field Enterprises, in
order to inquire whether Sun Times columnist Ann Landers needed
any assistance. Fortuitously, the Sun Times was in the process
of searching for Ann Landers's replacement. Esther Lederer offered the Sun Times a unique departure from its traditional advice column.
Because of her extensive political and volunteer contacts, she was able
to request advice from experts in all fields, to which she then referred
in her responses. When she became the new Ann Landers, the column had
already been in existence for twelve years.
As Ann Landers, Esther
Lederer acted as both counsel and advocate for her readership. Openly
opposing racism and anti-Semitism, she devoted many columns to fighting
injustices in urban, rural, and national settings. Liberal in her politics
but conservative in her morality, Lederer's understanding of the public
and private roles of women changed over time. While in the 1950s she
encouraged women to stay at home and to accept, if necessary, their
husbands' infidelities, by the 1970s she was urging women to find worthwhile
occupations and was a champion of liberalized abortion laws.
Three months after Lederer
assumed her position at the Sun Times, her twin began her own
advice column, "Dear Abby." While the sisters attempted to
curb any acrimony between them, their competition intensified after
Esther Lederer signed a one-year contract with the Sun Times and
appeared on What's My Line? In 1956, her sister allegedly offered
"Dear Abby" at a reduced rate to the Sioux City journal, as
long as it promised not to run "Ann Landers." Life magazine
informed the public of their acrimony April 1958. While the sisters
publicly reconciled 1964, their competition continued.
By 1959, "Ann Landers"
had already received, 1,004 speaking invitations and made 101 appearances.'
in 30 cities, and had visited China. Active in national and local causes,
such as the Christmas Seal Campaign of which she was national chair
in 1963, Esther Lederer championed the rights of children and women.,
Because of her professional and volunteer work, and her diverse and
loyal readership, she succeeded in publicizing issues that were of concern
both to Jewish and non-Jewish women.
Landers died of cancer
on June 22, 2002.
Sources: Paula Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore eds. Jewish
Women in America. NY: Routledge, 1997. Reprinted with permission
of the American Jewish
Historical Society; Astor, David. "Ann
Landers Departs the Just Sold, NAS." Editor and Publisher. The
Fourth Estate 120 (February" 1987): 53+; Drevets, Tricia.
"Ann Landers Discusses Her Long Career." Editor and Publisher,
The Fourth Estate 119 (April 1986): 144+; EJ; Hays, Charlotte.
"The Evolution of Ann Landers: From Prime to Progressive." Public
Opinion (December/January 1984): 11-13; McNulty, Henry. "Dear
Ann Landers, How You've Changed." The Quill 74 (November 1986):
2 2 -2 3; Pottker, Jan, and Bob Speziale. Dear Annd, Dear Abby:
The Unauthorized Biography of Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren
(1987); "Queen of Hearts." Psychology Today 26 (May/June 1993): 56-60+; Rottenberg, Dan. "Ann and Abby's Lessons for
journalists." The Quill 72 (January, 1984): 20-24; Sackett,
Victoria A. "Everyday Ethics and Ann Landers." Public Opinion
9 (November/December, 1986): 9; Stein, M.L. "Controversy
in California." Editor and Publisher. The Fourth Estate 119
(April 1986): 68-69.