Back in the days when divorce on television was taboo, single moms on TV were a rarity unless they were widowed. But as the 1970's approached, divorce was in the air. Whether they were divorced, widowed, or both (Lucy and Viv, anyone?) here's a look back at the most memorable single moms in television.
Julia Baker- Julia.This 1960's series was memorable for several reasons, the first being that the title character was a progressive, African American woman as a lead on a TV sitcom. She was also a single mom, having been widowed when her husband was killed in Vietnam. Julia (played by DIahann Carroll) was a nurse who had a little boy named Corey. The show was considered both groundbreaking and controversial at the time, but Julia was one of the first TV series' that showed that a single mom could bring home the bacon, cook it, and still tuck her little one into bed each night.
Vivian Bagley and Lucy Carmichael- The Lucy Show. These two single moms were the Kate and Allie of their time. On Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance's post- I Love Lucy endeavor, they played BFF' s who were widowed (Carmichael) and divorced (Bagley), living together in one house and raising their children together. While both dabbled in dating, the focus of these single moms was their kids during the show's first few seasons (doting mom Lucy even filled in for daughter , Chris, as a soda jerk at work so she could be a drum majorette in a parade). A few years into the series, Vance left the show and her character was married off. The kids started disappearing from the show, too. Lucy Carmichael's daughter went off to college never to be seen (or heard from again while youngest son Jerry was sent off to a military academy. But by then the still-single Lucy was out in California with Mr. Mooney, her days as a mom long forgotten.
Ann Romano- One Day at a Time. In the 1970's, this divorced, ad- exec mom (Bonnie Franklin) had her hands full with two teenage daughters. The show was a comedy, but tackled serious topics like birth control and teen suicide. In one episode, Ann had it out with her daughter Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) over Julie's much older boyfriend, who was closer to Ann's age. By the time the series ended after 9 seasons, Ann's two daughters were married off and so was Ann, but during the show's early years Romano was the quintessential 1970's single mom.
Shirley Partridge- The Partridge Family. Call her unfit for allowing her kids to perform in lounges and nightclubs, and call her crazy for being caught in that dreaded psychedelic school bus, but widowed Shirley Partridge (played by Shirley Jones) was one cool mom- and she really had it together. Not only did she have to deal with raising kids in the volatile early 1970's, but Shirley had five of them (and one of them was Bonaduce!). A single mom with five kids was unheard of on TV back then. Shirley made all these other moms look like they were having a picnic and her show came on after Carol Brady's- a woman who not only had a husband , but a housekeeper to boot!
Alice Hyatt- Alice , Working class single mom Alice (Linda Lavin) worked at a diner while raising her son after her husband is killed in an accident. While the focus of the show was often centered around Mel's Diner, the scenes of Alice and her son Tom , at home showed they scraped by on her waitress wages in a one bedroom apartment. Always the sacrificing mom, Alice slept on the couch while her son got the lone bedroom.
Endora - Bewitched. On the ABC sitcom Bewitched, Samantha Stephens' mom may have been a witch, but she put her daughter first. Or did she? Endora (Agnes Moorehead) hated the fact that Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) married a mortal- and did everything from zapping big ears on him to changing him into a werewolf. It was never clarified if Endora was divorced or simply estranged from Samantha's father, Maurice, who was a worldly warlock, but it was clear on the series that they were no longer a couple. But deep down , Endora loved her only daughter, even if she was a bit overbearing. She may not be the best single mom on this list, but Endora is certainly memorable.
Kate McArdle and Allie Lowell- Kate and Allie. By the 1980's, divorce was so common that premise of two divorced moms (played by Susan Saint James and Jane Curtain) living together in a New York brownstone with their kids was no big deal. The only unusual part was they were almost like a couple, as Kate worked as a travel agent while Allie stayed home and played housewife, while living off alimony she was getting from her ex-husband. Later, when Allie remarried, Kate moved in with the newlywed couple. But at least by then the kids were all grown up.
Angela Bauer- Who's The Boss. So what does a wealthy, divorced single mom do to fill the Daddy void for her impressionable young son? Hire a hunky male housekeeper. In the 1980's sitcom Who's the Boss, Judith Light played Angela, a workaholic advertising executive mom who hires single dad Tony Micelli (Tony Danza) to work for her. It took many seasons for this to be a match made in heaven, but kudos to Angela for finding a hunky guy to keep house and help her raise her son. Working moms can have it all.
Mabel Thomas (Mama)- What's Happening. Divorced mom Mama still seemed to carry a torch for her ex-husband on the sitcom What's Happening , but she had to focus on raising her two kids, Raj and Dee,while working as a maid. The show portrayed a working class family headed by a single mom, but the actress who played Mama (Mabel King) left the show over creative differences. It may have been that she didn't like the way her character was portrayed, but Mabel "Mama" Thomas was a loving mom whose house was the go-to hangout for her kids' friends.
Cate Hennessy- 8 Simple Rules. This character became a single mom in the most heartbreaking of ways—after the real life death of actor John Ritter. Actress Katey Sagal continued the role of mom to two teenage daughters in this series after the actor's death in 2003 (he played the show's patriarch, Paul Hennessy). In her new role as single mom, Cate Hennessy took a job as a school nurse so she could be on the same schedule as her kids. Definitely something a real life single mom would do.
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