Why Mary Tyler Moore remains an icon for working women everywhere

Before there was Carrie Bradshaw in New York City, Mary Tyler Moore showed us all how to “make it on your own” in Minneapolis.

As the spunky Mary Richards on the hit comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” during the 1970s, Moore, who died Wednesday, helped set into motion the professional dreams of many young careerwomen.

CBS via Getty Images

Mary Tyler Moore, as Mary Richards, in a 1970 scene from her show

She moved to the “big city” of Minneapolis to work at a news station as a single, 30-something woman when there were extremely few on television. More importantly, she rose up the ranks and she did so without a boyfriend or husband in sight.

“It was the first time that archetype was portrayed in a very positive way on TV,” said career coach and “Woman Up!” founder, Aimee Cohen.

Mary Tyler Moore: The Impact of a Beloved American Icon


Mary Tyler Moore: The Impact of a Beloved American Icon


RELATED: Remembering Mary Tyler Moore: Here are 5 of her best TV and film moments

Before the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the joke was that women basically went to college not to prepare for the work force, but to get their “M-R-S” degree and find husbands, Cohen said.

But that wasn’t Mary Richards, assistant news producer extraordinaire.

“She wasn’t a receptionist, a secretary, she wasn’t in any of those traditional roles at that time where women were just biding their time until they got married — until the ‘real work’ got started,” Cohen said. “This show didn’t revolve around the men because her life wasn’t defined by a man. She reflected the new age and the modern woman and that was incredibly empowering. It had a huge impact.”

Moore’s character and her show served as a cultural reference point for many women at the time. Indeed, news of her death prompted people to speak about the effect Moore had on their lives.

RELATED: Mary Tyler Moore explains the touching meaning behind her name

Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, posted a tweet noting Moore “influenced my career more than any other TV role model.”

I agree w/ Oprah influenced my career more than any other tv role model. She indeed turned on the world with her smile

The show continued to influence women generations later, including individuals born years after the show ended.

“The Mary Tyler Moore” show “legitimately made me want to be a TV writer,” said “Parks and Recreation” and “Broad City” writer, Jen Statsky.

I try to resist inserting my own narrative into a celebrity’s death, but the MTM show legitimately made me want to be a TV writer.

If you haven’t seen the Mary Tyler Moore show, I urge you to watch right now. The pilot is perfect. She was perfect. What a loss. 💔

That’s in part because the Mary Richards character displayed an independence and determination that, while unusual for the time, still resonates deeply with working women today.

“Her career was by choice and by design. She wasn’t cobbling together a career by default. She moved to Minneapolis with purpose, to pursue a dream, and it was the first time a dream involved a career, a profession — and not just a family,” Cohen said.

RELATED: ‘She will be missed terribly’: Mary Tyler Moore remembered by friends, co-stars

Even outside of work, Moore’s character turned to support from a tribe of women, such as neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern, played by Valerie Harper, with a similarly feisty vibe.

CBS via Getty Images

The characters played by Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper, shown in this 1974 photo, lived in the same apartment building in the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

In the seven years the show ran, Moore’s character — who made the pantsuits a workplace staple long before Hillary Clinton — evolved into a feminist icon for many women fighting for pay equity, professional development and even birth control.

Those points continue to resonate today, particularly just days after hundreds of thousands of women marched in solidarity in Washington, and joint rallies across the country and the world, to send a message to President Donald Trump about rights they fear they will lose under his administration.

Eun Kyung Kim



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