What Would Abigail Van Buren Do?

Published June 13, 2012 by Ms. Nine

A long time ago in a newspaper spread on your table, your grandparents, parents, or you read the syndicated advice column, Dear Abby.   Letters that exposed outlandish tales of woe, social faux pas, and family issues were juxtaposed with extraordinary common-sense responses from Abigail Van Buren.  Nearly sixty years later, her column is universally syndicated and the most widely read column in the world, hard copy or e-copy.  Doesn’t that wow you?  Who knew common sense could be so popular?

I’m not a journalist, but I have to wonder, what’s the story here.  How did she do it?

Is it the quintessential connection between reader and writer?   The letters that appear in her column are everyday concerns, universal and apropos.  And if those letters don’t depict a problem we’ve had ourselves, then we eagerly read Dear Abby’s response to calibrate our own sagacity.  We want to know what would Abby do.  If her answers jive with ours, we know we have common sense too.

Who is Dear Abby? That’s the real story, the back story I don’t have.   Pauline Phillips, the creator of Dear Abby, has Alzheimer’s.  Her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, owns the legal rights to the pen name Abigail Van Buren and writes the column now.

How did Pauline Philips become Abigail Van Buren?  What’s the story of her writing life?

Here’s my Dear Abby letter:

Dear Abby,

As a writer, I’m curious about your writing life.  Even though two biographers have told it, there are some questions I would like to ask you.

First of all, you were in your late thirties and never wrote professionally when you landed that interview in 1956 with the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.  How did you do it?  When your column syndicated after only two months, what did you think?   How did your life change when Pauline Phillips became known as Abigail Van Buren?  What impact did your writing life have on your family life?

Your column capitalized on the engaging quality of everyday problems.  When you wrote your column did you understand the universal appeal of common sense?

Why do you think your column endures?

Thanks for entertaining these questions.  There are more questions I’d like to ask, but they’re more personal.  If you’d let me, I would like to write your real story.


Ms. Nine

Thanks for stopping by! Happy writing.


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