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10 of The Best Classic TV Moms, Reverse Ranked — Just in Time for Mother’s Day

From the 1950s to the 1970s, we've picked 10 Classic TV Moms — did your favorite make the cut?


Classic TV Moms have been a part of our collective television lives since we were little kids, whether you realize it or not. Think about it: every sitcom had one, and in many instances those ladies served as the heart of their shows.

In the 1950s we had, among others, June Cleaver and Donna Stone, while the 1960s gave us characters like Samantha Stephens and Lily Munster and the 1970s were populated by Shirley Partridge, Carol Brady and Ann Romano. And all of them helped to guide our favorite kid or teen characters through their young lives — and in some ways all of us as well.

What follows, ranked in reverse-order, is a look at 10 of those classic TV Moms. Did your favorite make the list?

MUST-READ: The 1960s — Your Guide to 60 Classic (and Not So Classic) TV Sitcoms and Where to Stream Them

10. Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker (All in the Family)

Jean Stapleton and Carroll O'Connor in All in the Family, 1972
Jean Stapleton and Carroll O’Connor in All in the Family, 1972©Columbia Pictures Television/courtesy

While it would seem that Archie Bunker was ruler of his roost on All in the Family (1971 to 1979), let’s give his wife Edith (as played by Jean Stapleton) credit for a couple of things. First of all, putting up with Archie for all those years and seeing something in him that we hardly ever could, but then for being the peacemaker when it comes to him, daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and her husband, Mike “Meathead” Stivic (Rob Reiner). And for very often — despite the fact her husband referred to her as “Dingbat” — having just the right healing words to say.

MUST-READ: All in the Family Cast — A Look Back at the Bunkers and How They Changed Television

9. Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano (One Day at a Time): TV Moms

Mackenzie Phillips, Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli in One Day at a Time, 1977: TV Moms
Mackenzie Phillips, Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli in One Day at a Time, 1977©Columbia Pictures Television/courtesy

One Day at a Time (1975 to 1984) offered something that television hadn’t seen a lot of at the time: a divorced mother of two trying to pick up the pieces of her life and starting over again. Bonnie Franklin portrays Ann Romano, mother of Julie and Barbara Cooper (respectively Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli), doing her best to raise her kids while giving them the sorts of freedoms that she never had as a kid, yet ensuring that there were nonetheless limits. Doing so was a genuine struggle as she and her daughters wrestled with so many of the pervasive teen problems that have affected us all.

MUST-READ: The Life of Bonnie Franklin — One Day at a Time & Beyond

8. Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens (Bewitched)

The Stephens family from Bewitched, 1972
The Stephens family from Bewitched, 1972©ABC/courtesy

Whether as a wife or a mother, Elizabeth Montgomery‘s Samantha Stephens on Bewitched (1964 to 1972) did the best she could balancing the fact that she was a witch who married a mortal (Darrin, played by Dick York and then Dick Sargent) and was trying to live a “normal” life. Fat chance! Not when your relatives consisting of witches and warlocks are constantly (and literally) popping in.

And you become the mother of two children — Tabitha (Erin Murphy) and Adam (David Mandel-Bloch) — who you’re desperately trying to raise in a human world, despite the fact that they have taken after mommy. Props to Samantha for doing her best and recognizing that having magic powers doesn’t make motherhood any easier.

MUST-READ: All of Our Coverage of Bewitched

7. Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster (The Munsters): TV Moms

The cast of The Munsters, 1964: TV Moms
The cast of The Munsters, 1964©CBS/courtesy

On The Munsters (1964 to 1966), Lily Munster (Yvonne De Carlo) is a vampiress whose father (Al Lewis as Grandpa) is essentially Dracula, she’s married Frankenstein’s monster in the form of Herman (Fred Gwynne) and the two of them have a son named Edward Wolfgang (Butch Patrick), who is a wolfboy. On top of that, you’re also the matriarch of the only “normal” family in the neighborhood. Nobody said being ghoulish was easy.

MUST-READ: Everything You Need to Know About The Munsters

6. Shirley Jones as Shirley Partridge (The Partridge Family)

The cast of The Partridge Family, 1972
The cast of The Partridge Family, 1972©ABC/courtesy

In the case of The Partridge Family (1970 to 1974), we’ve got single mother Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones), who has five kids: teenagers Keith (David Cassidy) and Laurie (Susan Dey), adolescent Danny (Danny Bonaduce) and kids Tracy (Suzanne Crough) and Chris (first Jeremy Geibwaks and then Brian Forster).

So, how does a mom keep this group out of trouble (hopefully)? Naturally you start a pop music band with them and hit the road in your psychedelic school bus as your means of travel. The premise of this one was pretty unique, and Shirley Partridge made a great mom!

MUST-READ: C’mon, Get Happy and Check Out All of Our Partridge Family Articles

5. Jane Wyatt as Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best): TV Moms

The cast of Father Knows Best: TV Moms
The cast of Father Knows Best, 1954NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

There were a couple of staples in terms of 1950s sitcoms, and one of them was Father Knows Best (1954 to 1960) with Jane Wyatt (destined to become Mr. Spock’s Mommy on Star Trek) as matriarch Margaret Anderson. She was married to husband Jim (Robert Young), and mother of three: Betty (Elinor Donahue), Bud (Billy Gray) and Kathy (Lauren Chapin).

When he joined the show, Young didn’t want a series in which the father was made the butt of the jokes, and he certainly wasn’t, but neither was Margaret. The humor was gentle, but real.

MUST-READ: Elinor Donahue Dishes on Father Knows Best, Andy Griffith and The Odd Couple (EXCLUSIVE)

4. Marion Ross as Marion Cunningham (Happy Days)

The cast of Happy Days, 1976
The cast of Happy Days, 1976©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

We don’t know for sure how much Happy Days (1974 to 1984) reflected the actual 1950s era that the show was set in, but who cares? The long-running sitcom put the Cunningham family front and center, and while the focus was on kids Richie (Ron Howard) and Joanie (Erin Moran) — plus cool pal Fonzie (Henry Winkler) — always a part of things were parents Howard (Tom Bosley) and, especially, Marion (Marion Ross), the latter of whom always had an ear to lend when her kids — or the show’s other young cast of characters — needed it.

MUST-READ: See the Happy Days Cast Then and Now — And Find Out What They’re Doing Today

3. Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver): TV Moms

Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley, and Jerry Mathers star together on the situation comedy Leave It to Beaver: TV Moms
Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley, and Jerry Mathers star together on the situation comedy Leave It to Beaver, 1958Getty Images

The other staple of 1950s family sitcoms was Leave It to Beaver, starring Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver, Barbara Billingsley as his wife June, who also happened to be the mother to Tony Dow’s Wally and Jerry Mathers‘ the Beaver (or, more accurately, Theodore). This was not a laugh-out-loud kind of sitcom, but boy did it connect with the audience.

Over the years June was the brunt of media jokes that tended to comment on the fact that she would vacuum the house in a dress and pearls, but Billingsley saw much more than that. “Some people think she was weakfish, but I don’t,” she said in 1997. “She was the love in that family. She set a good example for what a wife and mother could be. I think the character kind of became me and vice versa. I’ve never known where one started and where one stopped.”

MUST-READ: Barbara Billingsley — 12 Secrets About June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver

MUST-READ: Leave It to Beaver Cast — Find Out What Happened to the Cleaver Family

2. Donna Reed as Donna Stone (The Donna Reed Show)

Scene from The Donna Reed Show, 1960
Scene from The Donna Reed Show, 1960Bettmann/Getty

When it comes to The Donna Reed Show, you’re talking about a family sitcom that’s different from many of the others in that the lead character was actually Donna Stone (Donna Reed), who stood at the center of most of the plots. Yes, they were obviously dealing with her husband Dr. Alex Stone (Carl Betz), daughter Mary (Shelley Fabares) and son Jeff (Paul Petersen) as well, but Donna was a source of strength and reason no matter what situations — comedic or otherwise — came her way.

Reed’s daughter, Mary Anne Owen, points out, “In reality, she was speaking to American families and I think she took that role quite seriously.”

MUST-READ: Donna Reed — 16 Revealing Facts About the Sitcom and It’s a Wonderful Life Star

1. Florence Henderson as Carol Brady (The Brady Bunch): TV Moms

The Brady Bunch Cast, 1972: TV Moms
The Brady Bunch cast, 1972Getty Images

Carol Brady, as played by Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch (1969 to 1974), tops our list of Classic TV Moms, not only because she was a loving parent of six (you know the premise of the show), but because of all of her peers, she had a unique opportunity for the audience to basically see her raise her kids from childhood to adults.

Consider this: The Brady Bunch ran from 1969 to 1974, The Brady Bunch Hour aired in 1977, The Brady Girls Get Married TV movie in 1981, The Brady Brides in 1982, A Very Brady Christmas in 1988 and The Bradys in 1990. All told, we saw, for example, Greg Brady (Barry Williams) going from 15 to 36 while Cindy Brady (Susan Olsen) aged from 8 to 29. And through it all, Carol Brady was there, nurturing them along. That Classic TV Mom was in it for the long haul!

MUST-READ: Robert Reed — 12 Little-Known Facts About the Star Who Played Mike on The Brady Bunch

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