14 Times 'Downton Abbey' Celebrated Strong Moms & Was Way Ahead of Its Time

Downton Abbey, season 5All bloody brilliant things must come to an end, and I, along with millions of fans all over the world, bid a tearful farewell to Masterpiece's Downton Abbey. For the last six years, we've been spending every Sunday in both the upstairs and downstairs of an estate filled with endless scandal, stunning fashions, tremendous loss, incredible triumphs, and too many swoon-worthy British men and their accents to count.


Six seasons of any TV show will inevitably showcase character growth and maturity, but Downton Abbey dug deeper. It showed the women of the series –- matriarch Cora; daughters Mary, Edith, and Sybil; and head housemaid Anna -- spending those years coming into their own as mothers. And let's not forget the strength (or, better yet, strong will) of grandmother Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by Maggie Smith -- as well as Isobel, Mary's mother-in-law, despite Mary's brief marriage to Isobel's deceased son and short-lived heir to the Grantham estate, Matthew.

The obstacles were great, but these strong, devoted women always pulled ahead, often for their families, and they challenged society's view of women -- then and into our present. These might be the most memorable moments of Downton mom (and overall kickass woman) power. (Beware: Finale spoilers included.)

1. When Cora defends herself against not giving birth to any sons. 

In 1912, the year the Titanic sank, we meet Cora Crawley, who is married to Robert Crawley, aka Lord Grantham. Robert’s cousin James and his son Patrick, the heir to Downton, perished on board -- sending the family into a frenzy over who's next in line for the inheritance. Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, notes that in all her son's efforts to protect the estate, it never occurred to him that his wife Cora wouldn't have a son.

Cora response is priceless: “Well, I didn’t.”  

Shots. Fired. (Albeit in a stiff upper lip kinda way.)  

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2. That moment when Lady Mary is seduced by and loses her virginity to Mr. Pamuk, the Turkish Diplomat.  

RIP to Mr. Pamuk dying in her bed, but this scene was so important and ahead of its time for women. Mary might have lost her virginity, but she enjoyed having sex and didn't seem to regret any of it. 

3. And the moment after that, when Cora helped hide the dead body to protect Mary's reputation. 

Great moms are always there for you. And while hiding the dead body of your daughter's one-time fling isn't exactly in the parenting guidelines in this century or any other one, Cora and Anna came to the rescue for Mary, no questions asked. 

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4. That one time Sybil rocked harem pants. 

It was an outrageous fashion decision for the time, but an incredibly stylish one. Bonus points that her new look caught Branson’s eye. 

5. Isobel, Cora, and Sybil uniting together to turn Downton into a convalescent home.

Management issues would later manifest themselves here -- with Isobel attempting to run Downton and Cora firmly stating this was her home, not Isobel’s -- but, because of the women, for a short while in season two Downton provided supplies and support that aided the war effort.

6. When Cora embraced Tom Branson as a member of the family. 

The moment Branson, the former chauffeur, tied the knot with Sybil, everything changed for the upstairs/downstairs of the household. Rather than distance herself from the new couple, Cora paved the way for change. She embraced Tom as a member of the family, starting with referring to him by his first name. Soon after he grew closer to both Matthew and Mary.

7. The moment Cora comforted Edith after her first trip down the aisle didn't end with an "I do."

Even those who aren’t Edith fans couldn't help but feel just as devastated as she was when Sir Anthony pulled a runaway groom at the altar in season three. As Edith lay on her bed sobbing, her bridal dreams dashed, Cora came through for her daughter with endless support: "You are being tested. And you know what they say, my darling; being tested only makes you stronger." Something you would only listen to your mom say.

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8. When Edith’s wedding didn’t happen and Violet gave her a dose of tough feminist love. 

As she is the mother to Robert, mother-in-law to Cora, and grandmother to Mary, Edith, and Sybil, to say Violet is highly opinionated is the understatement of the series. She's seen it all. And while telephones and weekends might confound her, Violet knows that Edith's despairing over her nonexistent marriage isn’t gonna help her in the long run: "You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do."

9. The few hours Sybil was a mother and wife. 

Shortly following Edith's being jilted at the altar, Sybil gave birth to a daughter. And while we know that the hours she spent as a mother were all too short, they were beautiful to witness.

10. The cold, hard realities of widowed motherhood depicted in Mary’s mourning period. 

At the start of season four, Mary is a mother to son George, but she's also a widow, having lost her husband Matthew in a car accident. Mary's life as a single mother back then may have been financially well cushioned, but she experiences many issues that still affect widowed mothers today as she struggles to come to terms with the loss. As with Edith, it takes an intervention from Violet to get Mary to choose between "life or death" in order to move on –- and Mary picks life and begins discussions on running Downton herself. Yes, as a WOMAN.  

11. When Edith considered having an abortion.

After discovering she was pregnant with her editor's child in season four, Edith goes where few period-piece PBS shows dare to go as she contemplates getting an abortion. She even goes as far as to the clinic, but cannot go through with it. 

Instead, she has a daughter, Marigold, in Geneva and leaves her with an adoptive family, eventually returning to take back her daughter as her own again. A win for mom and daughter.

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12. When Mary left her prim and proper self behind in favor of a bob haircut.  

Mary had always been extremely fashionable throughout the series, but the bob haircut in season five signified a whole new side of her confidence, and sense of self, shining through -- and she deserved it. Girlfriend could rock this daring new look like no other! 

13. That horrible moment when Robert’s ulcer burst and when Cora immediately was there for him. 

Perhaps the most talked about scene in the series was when Robert’s ulcer unexpectedly exploded in season six. As he collapsed to the floor after literally spewing blood everywhere, Cora immediately rushed to his side. Covered in blood, Cora firmly swore that she wouldn’t leave his side. It was Robert and Cora’s ultimate #relationshipgoals moment. Watch the scene here -- but, beware.

14. When Anna had her baby (boy!) in the final episode of the series. 

Anna’s water broke at seemingly the least opportune time: in Mary’s bedroom as Edith celebrated her wedding to Bertie downstairs. (Or so it seemed – the house must be bigger than I imagine if nobody at the wedding reception heard a woman in labor a few floors above their heads.) But it was actually perfect timing for Anna and Bates to bring a baby boy into the world.


It was New Year’s Eve in the Downton Abbey world and the final episode of the series for the rest of us, ending the show on a bittersweet, high note. Let’s all raise a glass and chime in our own verses of "Auld Lang Syne" together, shall we?

Heather Taylor is a freelance writer for HelloGiggles and Ed2010. She has covered events for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, MTV, L’Oreal Paris, and more. A graduate from Cal Lutheran University, she loves discussing brand mascots, TV shows, and the shifting times of pop culture and advertising. Tweet her @howveryheather.

Image via Nick Braggs/Carnival FIlm & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

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