Mad Men Blog #3: Peggy Olsen, the New Woman…

Do you remember that scene in which Peggy told Peter she had given their baby up for adoption? Of course, Peter couldn’t fathom her doing that. She told him—I wanted other things.

In other words, she wanted a career of substance. She wanted the opportunities men have to advance on her own merit.  Definitely, in the early to mid-sixties, Peggy was ahead of her time.

When I was accepted to law school in 1969, there were thirteen women in a class of one hundred and thirty. We thought we were big numbers! In the prior years there had only been one or two women. Things seemed about to change. But when I applied for an articling job, I was told I was fifty years ahead of my time. When I graduated and was looking for a job, I was told by one lawyer that he— would rather hire a Jew than a woman. Good grief! That was the 1970’s. I can empathize with Peggy who was ten years before my time.

Do you remember that scene in Season 1, where Freddie is amazed that Peggy has come up with a great phrase—a basket of kisses, with reference to lipsticks on discarded tissue? He expresses his surprise by saying—it was like watching a dog play the piano. That’s what I love about Mad Men! It sums up attitudes in just a line or two.

But here’s what’s really interesting. Of all the men on the show, which one is the most attuned [at least subconsciously] to the coming revolution in women’s lives? It’s that consummate seducer of women, Don Draper. He’s the one who senses Peggy’s talent and abilities and is more than willing to put them to the test. That’s what every woman with her desire for a career wants and needs—a man who is prepared to be a mentor. I think there’s lots of room for the development of their relationship in future seasons.

I was definitely fortunate enough to start practice with such a man. He was almost sixty-five years old but he was much more accepting of women in the profession than male lawyers half his age. It’s interesting that my personal experience in law is not dissimilar to Peggy’s. A female lawyer in the 1970’s needed a male mentor. Peggy definitely needs that sort of help in the 1960’s. In addition,

But, one part of the Peggy Olsen story does not ring true in an important way. In season 4, another woman is sexually interested in Peggy. That kind of interest is treated as it would be today—out in the open with a few digs by the men. In the 1960’s, it would never have been out in the open. It would have been secretive and shrouded in shame. Today, in many quarters, it’s no big deal. Other than that, the Peggy Olsen story really resonates with me. Yes, it was just like that!


About Mary E. Martin

Mary E. Martin grew up in Toronto, Canada. After earning an Honors Degree in History at the University of Toronto, she graduated with her law degree from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. In 1973, she was called to the Bar of Ontario and began the general practice of law in Toronto, with emphasis on real estate, wills and estates and elder-care law. This law practice of more than 30 years was a great inspiration for The Osgoode Trilogy ("Conduct in Question," "Final Paradox" and "A Trial of One.") Her fourth novel, “The Drawing Lesson,” will be the first in the next trilogy, provisionally entitled “The Trilogy of Rmembrance.” She is also a photographer particularly with respect to her travels. She has had two commercial photography shows. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto. They have three adult children.
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