Political Animal


January 20, 2013 7:03 AM R.I.P. Dear Abby

By Kathleen Geier

On Wednesday, Pauline Phillips, better known to the world as Dear Abby, passed away at the age of 94. For decades, Abby, along with her twin sister Ann Landers, was one of America’s best-loved advice columnists. Like Digby, I was a Dear Abby reader from a very young age. I enjoyed her down-to-earth wit and I learned many valuable lessons from her about tolerance, compassion, and decency.

Though she didn’t address politics in her column, Abby, a Jewish Midwesterner, was a liberal Democrat, and I think that rubbed off on me as well. I got my liberal ideas from somewhere, and they definitely didn’t come from my conservative parents!

Abby helped to break new ground in writing about issues that were rarely discussed openly in America at the time, subjects like drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. She also suggested counseling and psychotherapy when appropriate, long before Middle America began to widely embrace these practices.

Abby was also a pioneer when it came to gay rights. In their obituary, the gay website The Advocate pays tribute to Abby as gay-friendly. Perhaps the best example of this is her response to the following 1979 letter, which is quoted in the New York Times obit:

Dear Abby: Two men who claim to be father and adopted son just bought an old mansion across the street and fixed it up. We notice a very suspicious mixture of company coming and going at all hours — blacks, whites, Orientals, women who look like men and men who look like women. This has always been considered one of the finest sections of San Francisco, and these weirdos are giving it a bad name. How can we improve the neighborhood? — Nob Hill Residents
Dear Residents: You could move

R.I.P. Abby. You will be missed.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • c u n d gulag on January 20, 2013 9:13 AM:

    Guilty pleasures - I used to read Dear Abby all of the time, and thought she was terrific.
    "Dear Heloise" was another one - great for household tips, and, as a life-long bachelor, I really grew to appreciate what she advised.

    Btw - on toilet paper, always over, never under.

    And, as for toilet seats, my thing was always, leave the lid closed at all times.
    This way, since men are, in some ways, physically stronger, a woman only has to lift the lid, leaving the seat no matter if she's doing "No.1" or "No. 2.", and the man has to lift both the lid AND the seat if he's only going to do "No.1."
    And for those men who leave the seat down when "No. 1ing," unless you're feckin' Robin Hook taking that leak, lift up that seat. That's DISGUSTING!!!

  • merl on January 20, 2013 9:22 AM:

    I'm a 54 year old man and I used to read Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

  • Celui on January 20, 2013 11:34 AM:

    Great anecdote from 'Dear Abby'. "You could move" is as priceless as is Prine's masterful "Dear Abby". 'You are who you are, and you ain't who you ain't' Lots of good stuff in both Abby's and Prine's works.

  • Hannah on January 20, 2013 12:28 PM:

    Kathleen: aha, you also are a liberal daughter of conservative parents! I remember being told by a very liberal acquaintance, when I told her I'd been raised in a Republican household, that she was proud of me for breaking free, etc. And she said that right in front of my conservative mother. LOL.

    But anyway, I was also a fan of Abby, and think she also influenced me.

  • Fess on January 20, 2013 1:15 PM:

    Another liberal daughter of very conservative parents here, and also a Dear Abby fan. Mom and Dad never did understand how I had "gone astray." It wasn't Dear Abby, though. It was more likely Girl Scouts where I interacted with people of all flavors and incomes. It's amazing what some comprehensive exposure can do for you. Abby certainly was a proponent of the worth of all, not just some. It was probably also actually investigating the meaning of being a (Catholic) Christian. I actually believed all that stuff in the Sermon on the Mount and brought up my children to believe. Too bad the Church itself didn't, or any of the churches best I can tell. I pretty much got over believing in a god, as did the children as they approached adulthood. There's nothing like living in a town full of "born-again Christians" who really just don't seem to know what the guidelines are. Hint: the item first and foremost on Jesus' agenda is unlikely to be forcing the school board to say a public prayer at the beginning of every meeting, or urging children to block the hallways at the local high school while "worshiping" at the top of their lungs.

  • low-tech cyclist on January 21, 2013 8:21 AM:

    Liberal son of conservative parents here, though I'd attribute that to other things besides reading Ann Landers growing up. (Our paper carried Ann rather than Abby.)

    I'm pleasantly surprised by the bluntness of Abby's reply to 'Nob Hill Residents' - when I moved to a town where the local paper carried Abby rather than Ann, I quickly noticed that Abby tended to write "there, there" sorts of replies in situations where Ann would have been saying "wake up and smell the coffee." I always appreciated Ann's directness.