Becoming Donna Reed

Season 1: Episode 26 – Mary’s Campaign


Jeff runs into the living room clutching cookies. Donna is right behind him to snatch them back. He complains that he is hungry. It seems he is always hungry. Mary enters all aflutter. She announces she is running for class vice president. She requests that the entire family be on their best behavior.

She asks that Cathy, a popular girl from school, come to dinner. Cathy is running her campaign. She asks the whole family to clean up and dress up. Cathy comes over and they strategize over dinner. She goes on about Betsy, Mary’s opponent. Apparently Betsy is well liked and very smart. Cathy tells Mary that if they are going to win she has to emphasize what she has that Betsy doesn’t, namely her looks. This makes Donna uncomfortable.

After dinner Cathy and Mary go upstairs for more strategic planning. As she leaves, Cathy instructs Mary on what to wear and who to talk to tomorrow. It is clear who is in charge.

The next day Donna has a PTA meeting at the school. She runs into Betsy and wishes her luck on the campaign. Betsy confesses that she knows Mary will win because she is so much prettier and more popular. Donna tells her that she thinks the best woman will win.

Donna arrives home as Cathy is leaving. She tells Donna she has to go begin Mary’s telephone campaign. Donna goes in to see Mary, whose hair and dress is in a much more sophisticated style than normal. Donna asks Mary about this and Mary tells her she has to do what Cathy says to win. Donna feels Mary is sacrificing too much of herself to win.

Donna goes to Alex. She wants to forbid Mary from continuing the campaign. Alex tells her that Mary needs to make her own mistakes so she can learn from them.

The next morning, the day of the election, Donna tries to avoid Mary, but Mary seeks her out. Mary is dressed in her sophisticated clothes with her hair done up. She does not look like herself.Mary is looking for encouragement. Donna tells her she wants her to win, but only if she wins by being herself. She tells her she is getting older and needs to decide things for herself.

Cathy comes by and tries to get Mary to agree to some last-minute deals and empty promise. Mary is starting to get tired of being bossed around and compromising her values.

Donna drops by the school to listen to the speeches. When Mary takes the podium she is in her normal clothes with her hair the normal way. She makes a short and sincere speech about choosing the best candidate. Donna is so proud.

Mary comes home defeated. She is very down on herself. Donna and Alex tell her how proud they are and emphasize the lesson she learned. She feels better. Jeff asks if they can go eat.


You’ve got to be who you are.


High school is considered by many to be a time of great emotional turmoil. Certainly it is a time where one tries different personas and experiments with different styles to find who they are and where they fit. For some this experience is merely formative, for others it can be profoundly painful.

In this episode Mary had a very typical high school experience. She was trying to be what others wanted her to be. I wish I could say that, after high school graduation, this never happens again. However, I think we revisit this dilemma more often than we care to admit.

As I search for a new career I find myself agonizing over each word of my cover letters. As I prepare for interviews I try to think about the company wants and how I should go about being what they want. Maybe this is smart strategy, but my job search is dominating my time. If the majority of my time is now spent on trying to figure out what employers want me to be, where does that leave what I want to be?

My hope is to find a career where what the company wants and what I want are more alike than they are different. Reality can force you to compromise. I need a job. My needs are, in part, financial and, more significantly, a matter of personal identity. I have always had a career. The fact that I don’t right now is very unsettling.

I find myself wondering about this need I have to link my identity to a career. Is this normal? Does everyone struggle with this? Is it a strictly American trait?

I don’t think I am completely one-dimensional. Surely, there are things I have always enjoyed that are outside of my career. When I taught I spent hours outside of work cooking, writing, and dancing. I still have these pastimes and they are a big part of who I am. Shouldn’t I be happy that I now have more time to pursue these things I love?

I guess my the Puritanical New Englander in me has more power than I thought. I believe if you can work, you should work. There is something in me that just isn’t satisfied unless I am contributing to my family financially. I like making my own money and having a position where I am needed and valued.

Donna, I still think you have a lot to teach me, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the ideal housewife. I need more. I think I will strive for super-employee/domestic goddess. It feels more me.

Plan of Action

It takes time and effort to be the perfect you. I will continue to search for a career that allows me to be the best version of myself. Hopefully, they will want me too.