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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

July 5, 2007 |  4:48 pm

Paul_coates_2 July 5, 1957

Lilly Cooper is an average, mature woman.

But she has one quality which separates her from the rest of us older, wiser inhabitants of the world.

She is neither amused nor annoyed by teenage melodramatics.

Instead, she has a true sympatico for them. Because Lilly Cooper probably knows more about our kids than we ourselves do.

One of her jobs is that of "problem" columnist for the teenager magazine Dig.

The magazine has a readership of close to a million and every month Miss Cooper prints answers to subscribers' letters dealing with personal difficulties.

The printed problems involve dating, troubles at home or in school, employment and similar subjects.

But they're not the ones which bother Miss Cooper.

The ones which disturb her are those she can't print--without the risk of stimulating the wrath of hundreds of adults. (And, from letters received by the magazine, it's obvious that many parents browse through it too.)

Her mailbox is full every day.

There is correspondence from girls, 12 and 13 years old, who are pregnant. From married girls who want to know where babies come from. From others who want explanations of the invisible, often arbitrary barriers of religion or race.

1957_0705_bullocks_2 "Yet," Miss Cooper told me, "they write to me--a complete stranger--with the most intimate details."

Miss Cooper asked me to run a few of the letters she couldn't print. "To let adults know that teenager melodramatics have a base.

"And to let them decide the cause for themselves."

I will, today and tomorrow.

The letters are quite basic. I'm sorry if they offend you--Unless, of course, they offend you into positive, constructive thought.

From Judy:

"I'm 15 and I'm going to have a baby in two months.

"My boyfriend and I were engaged, and one night we just went too far. We were going to be married and he got drafted.

"I just wrote him about the baby last month.

"What can I do, he's overseas and can't come back to marry me for four more months. By then the baby will be born and without a father.

"Oh, I'm so worried, please, I love him so much, and he wants the baby as much as I do."

From Louise:

"I am a sophomore at high school and a girl of 16.

"I come from an average family with wonderful parents. I am dating a boy 20 years old. But because he's a Mexican I have to lie to Mother and Dad to be with him.

"I hate to do things behind their backs. What would you suggest?

"Do you think it's proper for a white girl to date a Mexican?

"Three other girlfriends of mine are in the same boots. And we could use all the information possible."

From Harriet:

"I am 19 years old and have been married six weeks. Now I am pregnant.

"I was wondering if you would tell me how a baby is born and how they start us nursing.

"My mother would never tell me and my doctor just died.

"So you see it is important for me to know this."

From Jane:

"I do have a problem.

"Kenny and I are very much in love. I am just turned 17 and he is 18. My family don't like him and have forbidden me to see him because he has been in jail and had a lot of trouble.

"He is trying to stay out of trouble and has for over a year and a half.

"But a month ago I found out I'm pregnant and Tony's [cq--lrh] the father.

"He told me to tell my parents but someone said they could charge him with rape.

"He has a job and is setting aside for the baby and our future. He can't afford any more trouble.

"Please tell us what to do for the future of ourselves and our baby.

"They won't give consent to our marriage. So we can't get married till we're of age."

It's melodrama, possibly, but it's more gnawing than annoying.

Certainly, it's not amusing.