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Elizabeth Meriwether was born near Woodstock, Tennessee, on November 18, 1870. She married George Gilmer, her stepmother's brother, but within a few months of the marriage Elizabeth realized that George was mentally unstable. He would be occasionally institutionalized, leaving Elizabeth with no means of support. The stress of coping with her husband's illness led to physical illness and a move to the Gulf Coast in hopes of seeking a better atmosphere. As part of her recovery, she turned to writing.
A New Orleans neighbor, who happened to own The Daily Picayune, read some of Dix's stories and was charmed by her refreshingly direct, unadorned style. In 1896, she hired Elizabeth to write "Sunday Salad," an advice column for "womankind" full of "crisp, fresh ideas ... a dressing mixed of oil of kindness, vinegar of satire, salt of wit." Gilmer chose a pen name -- "Dorothy" because she liked its dignity, and "Dix" to honor a former slave who had helped the family during the Civil War -- and set to work dispensing the compassionate, realistic advice that would be her trademark for the next half-century.
Her column, subsequently renamed "Dorothy Dix Talks," attracted the attention of publisher William Randolph Hearst, who in 1901 lured Dix to his New York Journal. There, in addition to her three-times-a-week advice column, she covered some of the most sensational murder trials of the era. In 1920 she tired of the crime beat and returned to New Orleans, where she concentrated on her advice column. Eventually Dix was picked up by a national syndicate that published her six times a week. By 1940 "Dorothy Dix Talks" was published in 273 newspapers and was read by some 60 million people around the world.
In her column Dix scolded women for being vain, self-pitying, nagging, or profligate. She urged that women not be too quick to abandon husbands guilty of occasional infidelities. Idealistic young men were bluntly told that anyone who was taken in by a gold digger "deserved all he got." In response to suggestions that Dix should divorce her mentally unstable husband (who died in a mental hospital in 1931) she replied, "I never once thought of divorce. I could not say to others 'Be strong' if I did not myself have strength to endure."
Dix was the author of several books throughout her career, including Hearts A La Mode (1915), My Trip Around the World (1924), Dorothy Dix, Her Book (1926) and How to Win and Hold a Husband (1939).
Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer (aka Dorothy Dix) died in New Orleans on December 16, 1951.
This page was last updated on February 18, 2017.