Florence Henderson died on Thanksgiving last week at age 82. She is best remembered as playing Carol Brady, the loving mother of “The Brady Bunch.” And while her role as “America’s mom” was iconic, it often overshadows some of her other roles, like her political activism.
Few know that she contributed to “The Brady Bunch” behind the scenes, as well as in front of the camera. She wanted Carol Brady to have a career on the show, yet the producers disagreed and her character remained a stay-at-home mom. But her push for a bold, female character led the way for others.
Her feminism is a product of the tension of gender roles in the Richard Nixon era. She was pushing to portray women in a less narrow, limited way. Henderson’s vision of the idyllic American family that included a working wife and mother was uncommon during this time period.
We’ve clearly progressed much further since then and we need to give credit to those who had ideas ahead of their time. Henderson was a progressive actress who has always pushed boundaries; she was the first women to guest host “The Tonight Show.”
She also used her fame to draw attention to oppressed and underserved communities. For instance, she was one of the few people to visit Mike Tyson in prison, showing her caring, maternal side wasn’t limited to on-screen acting.
Henderson understood how much our TV screens teach us what to expect from certain groups. She worked to create a media culture that would teach and progress our society.
We won’t forget you Florence, and we won’t forget your activism.
See more on Henderson’s life and activism in Salon’s video below.