Margaret Mead was an American anthropologist who spent much of her time in foreign countries studying their cultural differences. She was viewed by some peers as controversial and a “dirty old woman” for her views on sexuality. Margaret Mead took an active role in the drafting of the American Book of Common Prayer in 1979.
Margaret Mead was born on December 16, 1901 in Philadelphia. She was the oldest of four children. Her mother and paternal grandmother became some of the greatest influences on her life and supported her career. In 1918, she graduated high school and attended DePaw University. After one year at DePaw, she transferred to Barnard College, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in 1923. Her close friend, Dr. Ruth Benedict, influenced her to study anthropology. In 1924 she earned her Masters Degree from Columbia University and in 1925 she left for Polynesia to do fieldwork. In 1929, she received her PhD from Columbia University.
Margaret Mead married in 1923 to Luther Cressman; she was told by doctors that she would never be able to bear children. Upon a trip to Europe she met, Reo Fortune, an anthropologist best known for his Fortunate number theory. Cressman and Mead soon divorced and she married Reo. Fortune and Mead divorced in 1935 and she married Gregory Bateson in 1936. Bateson and Mead were able to bear one child, a daughter, named Mary Catherine Bateson in 1939. This experience compelled Mead to write “Blackberry Winter,” which detailed her struggle to get pregnant. Although Bateson and Mead divorced later, Mead claimed to have loved him for the rest of her life and was known for traveling with his picture.
Coming of Age in Samoa
Perhaps known as Margaret Mead’s greatest and most controversial accomplishment, Coming of Age in Samoa brought Mead prominence for the first time. The book is a comparison among the youth in America and in Samoa. Her findings concluded that the youth in Samoa are more tightly knit due to being taught to grow together and strengthen confidence in one another. Mead also stated that Samoan teens are less prone to psychological stress than American teens since the Samoan culture teaches their youth to have greater sexual permissiveness. This book caused great controversy that sparked Derek Freedman to write Margaret Mead in Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Freedman’s book was published in 1983, five years after Mead’s death. In his book, he challenged her studies claiming her informants lied to her.
Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies
Another remarkable book by Mead was Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies; this book marked the cornerstone of women’s liberation. Mead explores the roles of men and women in three different societies in New Guinea, claiming women tend to be dominate and men are subdued. Much criticism was sparked with this book as well, with many claiming her findings seemed custom-made for her theory.
Margaret Mead earned numerous honorary degrees and was a member of the American Academy on Arts and Letters. Mead also taught at New York University, Yale University, Columbia University, Emory University, University of Cincinnati, The New School for Social Research, and The Messenger Clinic. Mead founded the urban anthropology department at N.Y.U in 1965 and she also founded the anthropology department at Fordham University in 1968.
Margaret Mead died of cancer in 1978. Two years following her death, she was added to the leading feminist of the century listing. The influence Margaret Mead had on the anthropological world is long-lasting. Mead did not fill her life with extravagance and was known for donating her money to worthwhile causes. Her dedication to her research compelled Time magazine to name her, “Mother of the World” in 1969.