All in the Family is without a doubt one of the seminal shows in TV history. It was a sitcom that defined our times. It was about a country that was struggling — and still is struggling — with race, class and gender. All these issues were seen through a working class family in Queens, NY.
Jean Stapleton played Edith Bunker the constantly besieged wife of Archie played by Carroll O’Connor. It was the early 70s, the days of very few TV stations where the word broadcast network really meant something, and after a bit of a struggle (in today’s TV world it would have been cancelled) it found its audience and became the top rated show. Everyone watched All in the Family. I remember finding Archie scary. He never stopped being mean to Edith and everyone else. I remember wanting Edith to fight back. Even the opening song was an important part of the show: “…And you knew who you were then. Girls were girls and men were men.”
Jean Stapleton through Edith Bunker helped the country deal with women’s issues. Her character experienced everyday issues women deal with like a breast cancer scare, sexual assault, menopause all while getting Archie his dinner on the table on time. The character reflected the changing times for women, and as the series wore on she began embracing feminism like women across the country. Thanks to Jean Stapleton, Edith Bunker will always remain one of the seminal sitcom figures.
Even though we all will remember her as Edith, she was a long time theatre actress having appeared on Broadway in Bells Are Ringing and Funny Girl. In the early 1980’s she played Eleanor Roosevelt in a TV movie which led to a one woman how that toured the country.
The Miracle of a Ditz With Depth (NY Times)