Julianna Brion
Julianna Brion

The Original Dear Abby

Julianna Brion
Julianna Brion

Marie Manning wanted to report on crimes. Instead, she did something revolutionary: She invented the advice column.

Marie Manning had all the polish of a young woman fresh out of finishing school. She was rigorously educated in parlor music, embroidery, and the right kind of chitchat. Her name regularly appeared on the social register at Washington, D.C.’s debutante parties. And though the nearly six-foot-tall beanpole was 20 and unmarried, it wasn’t a husband she dreamed of. She wanted to be a journalist.


In school, her newshound tendencies nearly got her expelled. While enrolled at one of the city’s most prestigious girls' academies, Manning was caught red-handed smuggling a New York Herald onto campus. The headline, revealing the gruesome details of a dockside prostitute’s murder, betrayed her passion for true crime. Reading the paper was grounds for expulsion, but Manning got lucky and was only slapped with a warning.

Shocking headlines were still on her mind years later during a dinner party. When Manning realized she was seated next to Arthur Brisbane, editor of New York World, she seized the opportunity. At their next meeting, this time in New York, Brisbane invited Manning to work “on space.” If her stories ran, she’d get paid.

It was everything a young reporter could hope for: the license to take a magnifying glass to society and chase the untold story. What she never dreamed, however, was that within a few years, she’d launch the advice column—a phenomenon that would not only become a national obsession, but would live on through the Internet age. As Manning later wrote, “The idea of relief through confession is, of course, old as time.” But relief through confession was only part of the attraction—the column was addictive, providing an unusual blend of comfort, counsel, voyeurism, and schadenfreude. The nation could take solace in the problems, cheer on the advice-giver for dishing out common sense, or simply enjoy the view into a neighbor’s not-so-perfect life. But before Manning could revolutionize the newspaper, she had to prove she had a reporter’s chops. It was 1892, and the glass ceiling loomed low.

The Big Break

Julianna Brion

Manning's editor took advantage of her inexperience from the start. For her first big assignment, he sent her to former president Grover Cleveland’s home to get a speculative quote about war with Spain, hoping a green reporter might succeed where the more experienced had failed. As Manning wrote in her autobiography, the question was “distinctly unsportsmanlike.”

Unsure of what to do at Cleveland’s door, she gave the servant her personal calling card. To her surprise, Cleveland charged out to greet her, “his face alight with a charming smile.” His demeanor changed when he realized that Manning wasn’t the daughter of his former secretary of the treasury, who happened to share the same name. Still, Manning charmed the former president. When she told him that reporters who didn’t bring back the story were fired or sometimes “boiled alive in oil,” compassion won the day. Cleveland not only gave Manning the quote, but also a pencil, when hers surfaced with a broken tip.

Landing a statement from the former president was a stunning achievement, especially for a new reporter. She was immediately offered a position on staff at $30 a week. More importantly, Joseph Pulitzer, the paper’s owner, recognized the feat—he sent Manning $50 in gold as thanks and congratulations for her work.

The Birth of Beatrice Fairfax

In 1898, when Arthur Brisbane was lured away from the faltering World to William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, Manning followed. But Hearst’s city room was no place for a lady. Manning and the paper’s other two female reporters were relegated to a small office called the Hen Coop. From there, they put together the “women’s page,” pondering important questions such as whether women should wear rainy-day skirts, which were, as Manning wrote “(oh, shocking!) four inches from the pavement.” To her immense frustration, she was sent on assignments to ask prominent women pink-and-blue questions about their preferred flowers and where they stood on drinking cocktails. And when she covered murder trials, it was only to give the “women’s angle,” something she never understood.

Not long after Manning started at the Journal, Brisbane burst into her room waving a sheaf of letters addressed to the “People’s Forum.” The Forum was a common newspaper feature at the time, functioning as a public message board. The letters Brisbane carried didn’t quite fit: a deserted wife, with three hungry children, looking for a job; a desperate girl jilted by her lover, contemplating suicide; a woman whose son-in-law would beat her daughter if she refused to give him money. Brisbane thought they belonged on the women’s page. But when Manning suggested creating a new department dedicated to answering just these kinds of queries, Brisbane approved it immediately. He demanded that the Hen Coop come up with a pseudonym for the new feature’s author by the next day. After a few false starts (including Vere de Vere and Biddle), Manning picked Beatrice Fairfax: “Beatrice” from Dante’s guide in The Divine Comedy and “Fairfax” from the county in Virginia where her family owned a “run-down place of sorts.” On July 20, 1898, Manning took on her new role, and Beatrice Fairfax was launched upon a lovelorn and desperate world.

Advice for All

Julianna Brion

"If I had been ten years older," Manning recalled, “I might have hesitated at the Frankensteinian monster I was invoking. But twenty is a fearless age.” Beatrice Fairfax was an instant success. Letters poured into the offices of the New York Journal by the bagful, on the order of 1,400 a day, so many that the post office refused to deliver them. Manning said later that she came to dread the sight of the porters hauling those sacks of human misery down the hall.

The queries ran the gamut: Young men wanted tips on romancing their landladies; widowers wrote Beatrice looking for women to marry them and care for their five children; girls wondered whether smoking cigarettes was ever appropriate. When it wasn’t funny, it was miserable. Victims of spousal abuse, desperate unwed mothers, and jilted lovers all crowded for column inches. Manning’s approach to all: “Dry your eyes, roll up your sleeves, and dig for a practical solution.”

Beatrice Fairfax’s impact on the business was immeasurable: Her column sent the Journal’s circulation numbers roaring past its rivals, and it inspired countless imitators. In 1905, seven years after Beatrice Fairfax was born, Manning left the paper, burned out from years of giving the “women’s angle” and getting little in the way of recognition for her work. Brisbane, she said, was “kindness itself” and invited her to come back soon, but it would be nearly a quarter of a century before she set foot in a newsroom again.

Beatrice Fairfax, meanwhile, lived on, given voice by a succession of female reporters, some better than others. In 1916, she even made the transition to film: Hearst, who was by then dabbling in movies, put up the money to make a series of Beatrice Fairfax films. In the episodes, the intrepid young Fairfax and her reporter friend solved mysteries that came in as letters to the advice column.

In 1929, Manning, now Mrs. Herman Gasch and a mother of two, suddenly found herself broke after the nation’s stock market crash. She appealed to her old boss, Brisbane, and rejoined the staff, adopting the mantle of Beatrice Fairfax once again. Not that anyone knew it—despite the millions of people who read her column in syndication, Manning remained obscured by the pseudonym. This time around, the letters were fewer. “Girls were more sophisticated,” Manning wrote. But they still needed advice. The column remained popular enough that in 1930 Beatrice Fairfax was immortalized in the lyrics of a Gershwin tune, “But Not for Me.”

Manning wrote the column until her death, in 1945, when she suffered a heart attack. Beatrice Fairfax outlived Manning by 20 years. But by then, competitors like Ann Landers and Dear Abby were already carrying the torch. Today, advice columns thrive online, with the Rumpus’s Dear Sugar and Slate.com’s Dear Prudence continuing the tradition. But while the format is the same, the content has shifted. Emily Yoffe, who’s authored the Prudence column for the last six years, has tackled problems Manning never would have dreamed of: homosexual incestuous twins, gassy office mates, a woman who found her mother-in-law breast-feeding her newborn son. “I feel lucky to be doing this,” Yoffe says. “It’s fascinating, it’s fun. What’s not to like?”

It isn’t just the letters that make the column compelling. According to Yoffe, the real key to success “is the columnist having a strong voice,” a quality Marie Manning clearly had in spades. For all the politeness and sense of place her finishing schools attempted to instill in her, Manning was never intimidated by boundaries. From knocking on the president’s door to breaking into the newsroom, she had an incredible knack for making people want to listen. So did Beatrice Fairfax.

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know

For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.


From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.


An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.


Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.


A busy street in Hong Kong

Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.


Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.


To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.


Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.


The Grand Canyon

This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.


The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).


You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)


In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.


In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.


This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.


A woman at the airport

You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.


Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.


This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.


Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”


The karst peaks of Guilin, China

This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.


Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.


Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.


This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"


Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.


A patch of wild strawberries

This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.


This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.


In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”


Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.


Sun shining in the woods

This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

28. RAMÉ

This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.


Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.


Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.


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