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As an archivist, you never know what is inside the next box until you take the top off and take a peek inside. Sometimes you see exactly what you expect, but there are times you discover something completely unexpected, which is what happened when we processed the Jay M. Arena Papers and one box revealed copious correspondence between Esther (Eppie) Lederer, more commonly known by her pen name Ann Landers, and Dr. Arena, documenting their 20 plus years’ friendship. The two struck up an unlikely camaraderie during their 1975 historic visit to China as part of a 16 member American Medical Association (AMA) delegation invited to the country by the Chinese Medical Association to tour medical facilities and gain firsthand experience with Chinese patient care.
While in China, Lederer made many observations about the condition of the Chinese people she visited and took care to note their behavior and compared the culture she witnessed to the American customs with which she was familiar. Once she returned from her trip, she included these observations in her “Ask Ann Landers” advice column. Her attention to Chinese culture further shows her interest in the human condition evidenced in her incisive and thought-provoking advice column. In addition to the AMA, Lederer supported and worked with several medical associations and received the Citation of a Layman for Distinguished Service in 1978. This award is the highest honor the AMA bestows on a non-physician.
After returning to the United States, Lederer and Arena’s friendship grew personally and professionally. Lederer wrote regularly to both Arena and his wife, Polly; many of these letters are housed in the collection. As their friendship grew so too did their professional collaboration. Lederer often featured Arena in her advice column, where he brought his medical expertise and passion for child safety, giving advice to parents about household risks to their children’s health. Lederer and Arena remained supportive of each other throughout their friendship with Lederer recommending Arena’s book, Child Safety is No Accident in her column, and Arena recommending her for an honorary degree at Duke University.
The unlikely friendship between Esther Lederer and Jay Arena is illustrated through Arena’s diary, photographs, and slides, as well as the correspondence and clippings sent to one another throughout the decades. The materials included in the Jay M. Arena Papers highlight just one of his personal relationships and help paint a complete picture of his life.
This blog post was contributed by Archives Intern Astrid Cook-Dail.