Donna Reed's daughter had this response to people who said her mother wasn't a feminist
"It makes me angry."
By the time The Donna Reed Show aired, Reed was already a household name with films like It's a Wonderful Life and From Here to Eternity. But at the time of the show's airing, and more frequently during its syndication, viewers began to take umbrage with Reed's depiction of the main character, Donna Stone. Stone, who was portrayed as a doting mother and loyal wife, was seen by some as a patriarchal portrayal of a woman that set the gender back.
According to In Search of Donna Reed by Jay Fultz, MGM screenwriter William Roberts was tasked with creating the characters during the inception of The Donna Reed Show. When conceiving the character Donna, Roberts described her as a "wife, mother, companion, booster, nurse, housekeeper, cook, laundress, gardener, bookkeeper, club woman, choir singer, PTA officer, Scout leader, and at the same time effervescent, immaculate, and pretty."
You might recall that this statement is echoed by Reed herself in the show's episode, "Just a Housewife," where Donna begins to object to the title "Housewife," specifically the modifier that typically comes before it; As in, "I'm just a housewife." She tells a radio announcer who uses the moniker, "Every woman you call 'just a housewife' is a nurse, a psychologist, a diplomat, and a philosopher." While some people believed Donna's faultless perfection as a mother and wife to be an unattainable flaw, episodes of The Donna Reed Show like "Just a Housewife" helped to explore the dynamics of gender and mirrored conversations that we're still having decades later.
Fultz writes that Reed herself was certainly aware of the impact that her show had. Of the show, Reed later said, "My TV series certainly aggravated men. Hollywood producers were infuriated that Mom was equal and capable."
Reed's actual daughter, Mary Owen, spoke out against the belief that her mother was anti-feminist. When speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Owen stated, "It makes me angry. She was very much in the foreground of women being in charge. She did a lot of things moms on TV didn't do at the time. She ran for things. She bucked Alex on certain issues."