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Their parents, Abraham and Rebecca, had left Russia in 1908 and settled in Sioux City, where Abraham owned a string of theaters.
As girls, Pauline and Esther were inseparable and went to Morningside College in Sioux City together, co-wrote a gossip column for the school newspaper and married their husbands in a joint ceremony at the age of 21 in 1939.
Esther started first in the advice business in 1955 with the Chicago Sun-Times, taking over the “Ask Ann Landers” column after the death of the original Ann Landers. Esther received so many letters that she forwarded some to Pauline, who was living in the San Francisco area, to help fashion responses.
TWINS BECOME RIVALS
Esther’s boss eventually put an end to the sisterly outsourcing but Pauline was ready to go into business for herself. She sent sample columns to the San Francisco Chronicle, which hired her and started “”Dear Abby” on Jan. 9, 1956.
Phillips said she chose her alias by combining the Old Testament wise woman Abigail with Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, because she thought the name had an aristocratic tone.
Phillips said she called to tell Lederer the news about her new column but that Lederer did not seem pleased to learn that her sister was now a competitor.
Both sisters ended up with lucrative syndication deals that put them in hundreds of newspapers across the United States, as well as abroad.
The competition for newspaper outlets grew so intense that the “”Dear Abby” syndicators reportedly offered the column to the sisters’ hometown paper in Sioux Falls for a discounted rate on the condition that it not run “Ask Ann Landers.”
The sisters had a public reconciliation in 1964 but many reports said they still were not on warm terms until another reconciliation before Lederer died from bone cancer at the age of 83 in 2002.
Pauline’s and Esther’s daughters both went into the family business and also had conflict as rival advice columnists. When Lederer died, her daughter, syndicated columnist Margo Howard, accused cousin Jeanne Phillips of making a false show of grief over Lederer’s death.
Phillips is survived by her husband of 73 years Mort Phillips, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.