Gwen Harding (nee Dawson) was a character on the first season of the series, Downton Abbey. She was played by UK actress, Rose Leslie.
Housemaid who wanted something better
Gwen was a under-housemaid at Downton Abbey, a castle estate and park in Northern Yorkshire in England. She was close friends with her superior, Anna Smith Bates, the head housekeeper (in the house hierarchy, Anna was under Elsie Hughes and Gwen was under Anna) and was very good at her work.
The daughter of a farm hand in Downton, she was following what her family thought would be proper for her, a long life in domestic service.
However, she thought that she was wanting something better for her life other than dusting and cleaning. She liked where she worked, but she also knew that it wasn't something that she wanted to do the remainder of her life.
To better herself for something else, she took a typing and shorthand correspondence course in her spare time, of which there wasn't a lot of while she was a servant, but she was very well-versed at what she did.
Her plans were almost put into serious jeopardy as well as her job, though, when the conniving lady's maid, Sarah O'Brien revealed Gwen's secret to the head housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, in the hopes that she would be sacked. Curious about the typewriter, the entire staff was brought in to try to figure out what was going on.
Anna, who was clearly on Gwen's side, knew that O'Brien had done this out of sheer spite. Charles Carson the butler thundered that any young girl would have been happy with a job as a servant, while Mrs. Hughes, who wasn't sure of what the results would be, was a lot more pragmatic and was more willing to give it a chance.
Gwen would gain a benefactor in the sweet-natured and yet quite rebellious, Lady Sybil Branson, who lent her clothes, kept an eye out for jobs, and drove her to interviews. She would also gain an ally in Tom Branson, the family chauffeur, who would later marry Sybil.
At the end of the first season, after Sybil kept the phone installer in the library so he could interview Gwen, she would get her first job in business. Gwen, Tom and Sybil would have an impromptu celebration. She would leave the Crawley's employ at the end of the first season.
In the fourth season, Gwen wrote the Downton staff (of whom she was still close to and kept in touch with) and announced that she was marrying a man named John Harding. He had met her while she was working in the local government of the town she was in, after leaving Downton.
He was a successful businessman and they were happy. She would also become a mother to two children. She proved that she could work in the working world and still be a happy and contented wife and mother as well. Anna and John Bates would get a card and have everyone who knew her to sign it and wish her well for her future happiness.
In the final season, Gwen would make a return visit to Downton with John to have luncheon with the family, and with Lady Rosamund Painswick, who was staying there for a time.
John had been named as a trustee at Hillcroft, a woman's college for more middle-class girls who wanted to do other jobs aside from service. Rosamund sat on the board of trustees as well, and had also asked Edith to be a trustee.
At first Anna had not recognized her, but she then saw her familiar friend and they had a quick reunion. She also reunites with Tom, who is pleased to see her.
The conniving Thomas Barrow, who had never been a friend to her while she was working there (indeed he had never even spoken a word to her in all the time she had worked there, a fact Anna had informed him of), tried to call her out by revealing her past as a housemaid at Downton. He did so out of sheer jealousy, because he "had devoted his life to service, only to be chucked out on his tail."
When informed of what had happened by Anna, the rest of the staff berated Thomas for his spitefulness, but he reminded them harshly, that HE was the butler (he was actually only temporary butler, as Charles Carson and Elsie Hughes, who had recently been married, were on their honeymoon). He then ordered everyone to get back to work, sauntering off smugly, thinking he had humiliated Gwen.
Fortunately Thomas' scheme failed, when Gwen revealed that Lady Sybil had been a major reason and the person she had to thank for her success. Everyone then reminisced about the kindness and good nature of the youngest Crawley daughter. They were also moved by the gratitude that Gwen had for her years of working there and using what she knew to better herself.
For his attempt to humiliate Gwen, Thomas had been scolded by Sybil's father, Robert Crawley.
After the luncheon, which was successful, despite Thomas' nasty antics, Gwen and John went into the Servants Hall and he met everyone who had been a part of his wife's life and allowed Gwen to catch up with her old friends.
Gwen had kept up with Tom and Sybil through Christmas cards after that, and then she had heard about Sybil's death and she and John would mourn her, like everyone else did. But she never forgot the kindness that the youngest daughter of her employer had extended to her, in helping her become someone more than a mere servant.