The history of advice columns traces back to the Athenian Mercury in 1691, but the genre truly took off during the Industrial Revolution with the advent of ad-driven penny press newspapers and steam-powered printing technology. Among the most influential figures in the field were Dorothy Dix, who reached 60 million readers, and twins Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer (Ann Landers) and Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips (Dear Abby), who had 90 million and 65 million readers respectively.
- The Athenian Mercury, a London newspaper, set the template for advice columns in 1691, although the practice of giving advice dates back to ancient philosophical treatises and medical manuals.
- The rapid advancement in printing technology during the Industrial Revolution, such as the steam-powered cylinder press, facilitated the popularity of advice columns in newspapers.
- Dorothy Dix, the pen name of Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, was the first American syndicated women’s advice columnist. She reached up to 60 million readers, providing advice on marriage and domestic life.
- Twins Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer (Ann Landers) and Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips (Dear Abby) dominated the advice column industry in the second half of the 20th century. At their peaks, Lederer had 90 million daily readers while Phillips had 65 million.
- The success of these advice columnists lay not only in the increasing market but also their directness, humor, and willingness to address sensitive topics. They also ensured to provide expert-backed advice.