The Women of Mad Men and Call the Midwife

13 May

I am a graduate of Douglass College (DC ‘04), an all-women’s school that was part of Rutgers University. In 2007, Douglass College and three other liberal arts schools were all combined to become the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS). When the merger was first proposed, Douglass alumnae (myself included) protested, and ultimately a compromise was reached that led to the creation of the Douglass Residential College (DRC). Women attending SAS can choose to live at DRC, which offers them special programs and opportunities to excel that are central to Douglass’s mission.

Last month brought a new conflict. Rutgers University wants to fold the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College (the main fundraising body for DC/DRC) into the Rutgers Foundation with the goal of streamlining all fundraising. However, it is not clear if gifts donated to Douglass will go directly to DRC, which is concerning. Again, Douglass alumnae protested and mobilized to Save the AADC. (#SaveAADC) On May 1 there was a rally on DRC, which my friend and fellow alumnae Stephanie attended with her two young sons. (Gotta start kids early in activism!) This issue hasn’t been resolved and is headed toward mediation. Details can be found here.

The quick action of my classmates and sister alumnae, and the pictures from the rally I saw on social media, inspired me to think about my favorite female characters that I admire on TV, most of whom are on Mad Men and Call the Midwife.

Mad Men 


Mad Men, a show set in a 1960s Madison Avenue advertising agency that followed the lives of the employees and the events of that turbulent decade, has long been appointment television for me. (This is rare for me, which I’ve previously written about on this blog!) I enjoy discussing Mad Men with my dad, who graduated high school in 1968 and remembers the 1960s well. I am excited to see how it all ends this Sunday when the series finale airs.

I loved following the stories of the women of Mad Men, Betty, Peggy, and Joan. The show was set before the women’s movement gained traction in the 1970s and never shied away from the issues women living and working at the time faced, such as sexual harassment, unequal pay, and discrimination–issues that still exist in 2015, sadly.

Betty Draper Francis (played by January Jones) is a victim of her time–a Bryn Mawr educated woman who was a model but then became a housewife suffering from “the problem that has no name” described in Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique. Watching Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) ascend from the secretary pool to become Copy Chief was thrilling but bittersweet because she had to sacrifice more and work much harder than her male colleagues to succeed. Joan Holloway Harris (Christina Hendricks) was the office manager who became a partner at the firm in a controversial manner, but proved herself as a capable ad exec when she brought in Avon as a client.

All seasons of Mad Men (with the exception of the last batch of episodes) are available to borrow from the Hoboken Public Library, and other BCCLS libraries, if you want to dive into this show or re-watch it again.

Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5, Season 6, Season 7 Part 1

Call the Midwife


Call the Midwife, based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs of the same name, follows the nurses and nuns of Nonnatus House that serve the Poplar community in South London in the late 1950s-early 1960s. As the show’s title indicates, much of their time is spent caring for expectant mothers and delivering newborns. The birth scenes are realistic (for TV) and employ real newborn babies, who by British law can only shoot scenes for 20 minutes at a time.

Women make up much of the cast, and their stories are diverse and interesting. Some of the nurses come from more privileged backgrounds and are at first horrified by the poverty they encounter in Poplar. I think Sister Monica Joan (played by Judy Parfitt), an elderly nun who suffers from dementia, is the most fascinating character. She no longer works as a nurse due to her condition, but in her moments of clarity she shares wisdom and sage advice with her fellow sisters and the younger nurses when they run into challenging situations.

Many of the stories Jennifer Worth’s first memoir, which I read and enjoyed, were used in the show. One story I liked that hasn’t been seen on the show was about how one young Poplar boy took it upon himself to protect Nurse Chummy (Miranda Hart), who was a target for teasing by the other children. Worth wrote that that young boy grew up to become a bodyguard for Princess Diana.

All four seasons of Call the Midwife are available to borrow, as well as the memoir. Jennifer Worth wrote two more books a about her time as a midwife, Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse and Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End. Both are on my to-read list.

Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4

Who are your favorite female TV characters? Please share in the comments.

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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