The Goldbergs & Father Knows Best

Posted: March 4, 2011 in In-Class Screenings

In a recent class, we viewed episodes of The Goldbergs and Father Knows Best, two shows set in the mid-20th century.  Both shows display a typical housewife caring for her family, which relates to our previous viewing of The Donna Reed Show.  Both shows challege the common assumption that women were only allotted specific jobs, with the main one consisting of caring for a household. 

The Goldbergs originally started as a radio show in 1929 and made the switch to television in 1949.  Gertrude Berg, the shows star and main character, created, wrote, and produced the show.  Basically, Gertrude Berg should be categorized with Lucille Ball in that both were revolutionary women in early television.  Although both women projected the image of a housewife in their shows, both were extremely involved in creating and sustaining successful shows. 

In the episode we viewed, Molly Goldberg (Gertrude Berg) overhears her daughter Rosalie singing and convinces the young girl to show off her talents to the neighbor.  Rosalie is later convinced by her mother and neighbor to visit an instructor to see if she has a possible career in performing.  After a visit with the instructor, Rosalie discovers that her voice is sweet, but nothing spectacular.  This is a truth that Rosalie doesn’t think her mother can handle.  Rosalie convinces the instructor to tell her mother that she had a voice, but needed lessons three times a week at twenty-five dollars a lesson (an amount Rosalie does not think her family will be able to afford).  Rosalie’s plan backfires when she discovers that her extended family has offered to help fund her lessons, while her father insists that he wants to be able to provide his daughter with the opportunity to explore her talent.  Rosalie eventually confesses the truth about the situation and her mother advises her to change her curriculum back to domestic science.

Father Knows Best, like The Goldbergs, started off as a radio show in 1949 and made the transition to television in 1954.  The show ran until 1960, portraying a typical nuclear family similar to the one in The Donna Reed Show.  The episode we viewed, “Betty the Engineer,” showed a different focus than other television shows of that era; with a focus on situations that the children are involved in, rather than the mother.  Margaret Anderson, the wife on the show, is very much like Donna Stone, in that she appears to be content as a homemaker and believes that her daughter should follow the same path.  Betty, the daughter, is convinced that girls can do anything that boys can do and decides to sign up for an engineering internship.  Betty receives a lot of scrutiny from her fellow classmates, but she has a rock-solid belief that girls can do anything that boys can do.  Betty’s parents are convinced that this is just a phase and life will return to normal once Betty realizes she isn’t cut out for engineering.  Betty, however, is convinced that she has what it takes and spends her free time at home studying engineering textbooks.  Betty decides to give up on returning to the surveying crew after receiving poor treatment and constant questioning from the head surveyor.  Doyle (the head surveyor) stops by for a visit at the Anderson’s home and expresses his belief that a woman’s place is in the household.  This was not Doyle’s sole reason for the visit; he also arranges a date with Betty right before the episode comes to a close. 

While the style of each show is different, the overall message was similar.  Each show challenged the common assumption that a woman’s place is in the household.  While the ending of Father Knows Best appears to contradict the message, the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Anderson allowed their daughter to explore her opportunity as an engineer speaks volumes.  Molly Goldberg, however, takes a different approach than Mrs. Anderson.  Molly seemingly pushes her daughter to explore her talents in hopes that she will be a star, rather than a housewife. 

The overall message of the show reminds me of a discussion in my Political Science class on the feminism.  In an article by Mary Dietz, I learned that many feminists make the attempt to either separate or reshape their assumed values as mothers to achieve equality.  I thought that both episodes showed young girls, and women for that matter, that women don’t have to settle for being housewives and can pursue their own passions.


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