Ann Landers

Ann Landers Biography

Writer (1918–2002)
Ann Landers was the famous advice columnist who developed a newspaper readership counting into the millions.


Born on July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa, Eppie Lederer would eventually come to be known across the globe as Ann Landers via her advice column in the Chicago Sun-Times. Known for her wisecracking yet straightforward advice, Landers' column went into syndication in more than a thousand newspapers. Her twin sister had a rival column, Dear Abby. Lederer died on June 22, 2002.

Early Life

Using the pen name "Ann Landers," Eppie Lederer became one of America's most trusted source of advice for decades through her newspaper column. Landers was born Esther Pauline Friedman on July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa, to Russian-Jewish immigrants: Her father owned a successful movie theater business, and her mother was a homemaker.

Growing up, Landers was incredibly close to her identical twin sister, Pauline Phillips, who would also go on to become a revered advice columnist, under the pseudonym "Abigail Van Buren." The two even went to the same college -- Morningside College in Sioux City -- and, on July 2, 1938, had a joint wedding ceremony: Landers married Jules Lederer, who would later found Budget Rent-a-Car, and Van Buren wed a businessman named Morton Phillips. In 1940, Landers and Lederer welcomed a daughter, Margo.

Becoming 'Ann Landers'

Living in Chicago, Illinois, in the mid-1950s, Landers decided that she wanted to do more than be a stay-at-home wife and mother: Noticing an advice column in The Chicago Sun-Times called "Ask Ann Landers," she inquired about helping the columnist out. It turned out that the previous columnist, Ruth Crowley, had died, and the paper was looking a replacement. More than 20 people applied for the position, but Landers won out, officially taking over her now-famous pen name.

Known for her wisecracking and candid writing style, Landers quickly developed a large following, and her column was soon put into syndication and read by a national audience.

Family Feud

In an odd twist of fate, beginning in 1956, she found herself competing with her twin sister: Van Buren had begun writing her own column, "Dear Abby," which, like "Ask Ann Landers," garnered wide acclaim. Van Buren hadn't informed her sister of her column-writing plans, and a devastated Landers severed all ties with her twin. "I felt betrayed. Because she didn't tell me that she was considering it, she didn't tell me -- she just presented it as a fact," Landers later explained. The sisters' dispute lasted for nearly a decade, becoming increasingly bitter as the years passed by, and was heavily covered by the press.

"They became serious competitors," Henry Ginsburg, Landers's high school boyfriend, later said of the rivalry. "And it escalated to bounds that nobody expected. Nobody could believe what happened. And the scandal sheets loved it." On April 7, 1958, LIFE magazine published an article that aired the sisters' dirty laundry to the world. Featuring the sisters sniping at each other throughout, the piece concluded that theirs was, quote, "the most, feverish female feud since Elizabeth sent Mary Queen of Scots to the chopping block."

While the twins' relationship had hit an all-time low, their readership soared. The rivalry had a profound effect on the publishing industry: If a newspaper in town had Landers, another had to have Van Buren in order to compete.

By 1964, the sisters hadn't spoken in nearly seven years. But that summer, right before their simultaneous 25th wedding anniversaries, Landers buried the hatchet once and for all: She called Van Buren and asked if the two couples could take a vacation together. Her sister responded positively, and the two agreed to resolve their issues and move on.

"I thought, 'This can't go on forever'," Landers later remembered. "So, we met in Bermuda, and I remember she came with a fur-trimmed hat, and I said, 'Honey, we're not going to Knome, Alaska, we're going to Bermuda, get rid of the hat. We laughed, we had fun. And then the relationship, it was back to where it was before."

Column's Continued Success

Giving advice on a broad range of topics, from marital problems to drug abuse to petty squabbles, Landers answered whatever questions her readers lobbed her way. Her approach to advice-giving differed from her sister's: While they both had an ear for the one-liner, "Dear Abby" tended to be more light-hearted and funny, and provided abbreviated responses to readers' questions; "Ask Ann Landers" tackled big issues head on, through more detailed responses.

Landers also shared her own struggles with readers in 1975, when she informed readers of her divorce from husband Jules Lederer. Thousands of letters poured in after the announcement, with readers offering their support to Landers. She would later describe their marriage as "one of the world's best marriages that didn't make it to the finish line.''

Additionally, Landers championed personal causes in her column, including funding for cancer research and ending the Vietnam War. Some of her views were more controversial with her readers, including her support for abortion rights and the use of animals in medical research. No matter the response, Landers stuck to her guns and continued to speak her mind.

Final Years

In addition to her column, Landers authored several books in her famously candid style, including Ann Landers Talks to Teenagers about Sex (1964) and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (1996). She received a number of awards for her contributions to mental health and medical organizations over the years, including the Centers for Disease Control Champion of Prevention Award in 1996.

After nearly 50 years as a columnist, on June 22, 2002, Ann Landers died of cancer in Chicago, Illinois. Today, she is credited, along with sister Abigail Van Buren, with helping to transform the standard "lonely hearts" column into a more profound and candid feature, shaping the nation's changing moral conscience for nearly 50 years.

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