Margaret Mead was born on December 16, 1901 in Philadelphia. Her father was a finance professor at the Wharton School and her mother was a sociologist. Mead was home schooled and also attended public school for a period of time. She enrolled in DePauw University before earning her Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in 1923. Mead continued her education at the prestigious Columbia University, earning her Master’s degree from Columbia in 1924. She began her professional career as an assistant curator at the Museum of Natural History before graduating from Columbia with her Ph.D. in 1929.
Mead was an avid observer and recorded most of her life’s experiences in journals. She was married three times before the age of 36. But it was her third marriage, to Gregory Bateson, that produced a child, Mary Catherine Bateson. Bateson’s pediatrician was the famed Dr. Benjamin Spock. The observations that Mead had recorded during her field work abroad eventually were incorporated into Spock’s writings and theories on breastfeeding and other behaviors. Mead eventually divorced Bateson and became intimately close to her friend and instructor, Ruth Benedict. Many believe that Mead and Benedict had a sexual relationship, a rumor that Mead never denied. In her final days, Mead lived with Rhoda Metraux, another romantic interest. Mead’s daughter confirmed homosexual suspicions when she published love letters between Metraux and her mother years after her mother’s death.
Mead was an anthropologist, sociologist, and curator for most of her career. She was employed by the American Museum of Natural History for more than 25 years, and taught at Columbia University and Fordham University, founding the department of anthropology while on staff there. She was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and briefly held the position of President of the American Anthropological Association. Mead, a devout Christian, also lent her skills to her faith community, and participated in the creation of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
Contribution to Psychology
Mead’s research took her to Samoa, where she studied the psychological and physical behaviors of adolescents. She believed, after much observation, that the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood experienced by Westerners was unique to our culture, and noted that Samoans experienced a smooth adjustment during adolescence. She published her findings in her book Coming of Age in Samoa, although it met with much criticism.
Mead also wrote Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. The book highlighted feminine roles in various regions of New Guinea and became a significant piece of literature in the advancement of feminism. She explained how the cultures dominated by females differed in aggression, child rearing, and politics, from those cultures controlled by men.
Mead was recognized for her contributions to anthropology and psychology by having several schools named in her honor. She was also posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter. Her work continues to influence feminism, sociology, and even religion.
Quote by Margaret Mead
Books by Margaret Mead