Dear Abby And Ann Landers, Advice Column Wonder Twins

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Advice columnists and twin sisters Abby Van Buren and Anne Landers at their fiftieth high school reunion in Sioux City, Iowa, June 21, 1986. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

When it comes to newspaper advice columns, two names immediately spring to mind: Dear Abby and Ann Landers. But did you know that the real-life ladies behind these syndicated advice columns were identical twin sisters?

Eppie And Popo

On July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa, twin daughters were born to Russian Jewish immigrants Rebecca and Abraham Friedman, who named their daughters -- seriously -- Pauline Esther and Esther Pauline, although Pauline was nicknamed Popo and Esther was called Eppie. The Friedman family was well known in town because Mr. Friedman owned a chain of movie theaters. His twin daughters attended Central High School and then Morningside College, where they worked together on a gossip column for the school newspaper, the Collegian Reporter. They called their column "The Campus Rat" and used the byline PE-EP. In 1939, they both left school to get married in a lavish double wedding that was officiated by three rabbis and attended by more than 750 guests.

Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer in 1961. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

Ann Landers

Esther Friedman Lederer was living in Chicago when she entered a contest to become the next "Ann Landers" for the Chicago Sun-Times after the previous advice columnist who used the pseudonym, a nurse named Ruth Crowley, died in 1955. Unlike her predecessor, Lederer didn't hide the fact that she wrote the advice column, but she made it clear that "Ann Landers" was a fictional character.

Dear Abby

Meanwhile, Pauline Friedman Phillips was living in San Francisco with her family. Inspired by her sister, Phillips marched into the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle, approached one of its editors, and informed them that their current advice columnist was boring and gave stale advice. Phillips suggested she could do much better, so the annoyed editor tossed her a few letters, and she returned later that afternoon with her written responses. The editor had to admit that they were an improvement, so Phillips became their new advice columnist. Like her sister, she opted to use a pen name, choosing "Abby" after Abigail in the Bible and "Van Buren" in honor of former president Martin Van Buren but also because she thought it sounded aristocratic. Friends, family, and even her husband began calling her Abby.

Dear Abby star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Benmckune/Wikimedia Commons)

Competitive Confidantes

From the beginning of their advising careers, the sisters viewed them as a competition. Lederer wasn't thrilled that her sister was moving in on her territory, and Phillips was determined to outdo her twin. Despite their professional rivalry, or perhaps because of it, Ann Landers and Dear Abby became the two most famous newspaper advice columnists of the time. Between the two of them, they received an estimated 15,000 letters each week and had a combined readership of more than 200 million people. But time heals all wounds, and the twins reconciled their differences before Lederer died in 2002, followed by Phillips in 2013. Their own daughters now write their advice columns.