This paper profiles three advice columns during the 1920s and 1930s: the Detroit News “Experience” column, the Boston Globe’s “Confidential Chat,” and the Chicago News’s “Marion Holmes” feature. During that period, these three columns transformed into self-styled in-print communities, in which columnists and reader-participants kept up regular correspondence for months, even years at a time. These advice communities became unprecedented sites of public communication and confession, where strangers could seek solace and catharsis in the company of virtual, rather than in-person acquaintances. The anonymity of these communities allowed participants to reflect candidly on their personal problems, and also on broader socio-cultural trends, from rising divorce rates to the merits and drawbacks of socialism. In this sense, advice columns served as a new virtual public sphere well before Internet technology made possible the chat rooms and discussion boards of today. By encouraging readers’ public confessions to strangers, advice columns also helped usher in a form of popular therapy that has come to define many people’s interactions with media in early twenty-first century.
See more of: AHA Sessions