Mead, Margaret (1901–1978)
Mead, Margaret (1901–1978)
The most prominent anthropologist in the world . Born Margaret Mead on December 16, 1901, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died in New York City on November 15, 1978; daughter of Edward Sherwood Mead (an economist) and Emily Fogg Mead (a sociologist); attended DePauw University, 1919–20; Barnard College, 1920–23, A.B., 1923; M.A., Columbia, 1924; Ph.D., Columbia, 1929; married Luther Sheeleigh Cressman (an Episcopal priest; later sociologist, archeologist), on September 3, 1923 (divorced 1928); married Reo Franklin Fortune (an anthropologist), on October 8, 1928 (divorced 1935); married Gregory Bateson (an anthropologist), on March 13, 1936 (divorced 1950); children (third marriage): Mary Catherine Bateson (b. 1939, an anthropologist).
Appointed assistant curator of ethnology, American Museum of Natural History (1926), associate curator (1942), curator (1964), curator emeritus (1969); appointed adjunct professor of anthropology, Columbia (1954–78); named professor of anthropology and chair, division of social sciences, Fordham University (Lincoln Center campus, 1968–70); named visiting lecturer, department of psychiatry, school of medicine, University of Cincinnati (1957–58); was visiting lecturer, Menninger Foundation, Topeka, Kansas (1959).
Inquiry into the Question of Cultural Stability in Polynesia (Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology Series, 1928); Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization (Morrow, 1928); Growing Up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education (Morrow, 1930); Social Organization of Manu'a (Bernice P. Bishop Bulletin #76, Honolulu, 1930); The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe (Columbia University Press, 1932); "Kinship in the Admiralty Islands," in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (New York, 1934); Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (Morrow, 1935); From the South Seas: Studies of Adolescence and Sex in Primitive Societies (Morrow, 1935); (editor) Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples (McGraw-Hill, 1937); And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (Morrow, 1942); (with Gregory Bateson) Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (Special Publications of the New York Academy of Sciences #2, 1942); Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in the Changing World (Morrow, 1949); Soviet Attitudes Toward Authority: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Problems of Soviet Character (Rand Corporation & McGraw-Hill, 1951); (with Frances Cooke Macgregor) Growth and Culture: A Photographic Study of Balinese Childhood (Putnam, 1951); The School in American Culture (Harvard University Press, 1951); (editor) Cultural Patterns and Technical Change: A Manual Prepared by the World Federation for Mental Health (UNESCO, 1953); (editor, with Heinz von Foerster and Hans Lucas Teuber) Cybernetics: Circular Causal and Feedback Mechanisms in Biological and Social Systems (Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, 1953); (editor, with Nicolas Calas) Primitive Heritage: An Anthropological Anthology (Random House, 1953); (editor, with Rhoda Métraux) The Study of Culture at a Distance (University of Chicago Press, 1953); (editor, with Rhoda Métraux) Themes in French Culture: A Preface to a Study of the French Community (Stanford University Press, 1954); (editor, with Martha Wolfenstein) Childhood in Contemporary Cultures (University of Chicago Press, 1955); New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—Manus 1928–1953 (Morrow, 1956); (editor) An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (Houghton Mifflin, 1959); People and Places (World, 1959); (editor, with Ruth L. Bunzel) The Golden Age of American Anthropology (Braziller, 1950); (with Gregory Bateson) Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (New York Academy of Sciences, 1962); Continuities in Cultural Evolution (Yale University Press, 1964); Anthropology, A Human Science: Selected Papers, 1939–1960 (Van Nostrand, 1964); Anthropologists and What They Do (Watts, 1965); (with Ken Heyman) Family (Macmillan, 1965); (editor, with Frances B. Kaplan) American Women: The Report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women and Other Publications of the Commission (Scribner, 1965); (with Muriel Brown) The Wagon and the Star: A Study of American Community Initiative (Rand McNally, 1966); (with Paul Byers) The Small Conference: A Innovation in Communication (Mouton, 1968); (editor, with Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ethel Tobach, and Robert E. Light) Science and the Concept of Race (Columbia University Press, 1968); Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap (Natural History Press & Doubleday, 1970); (with James Baldwin) A Rap on Race (Lippincott, 1971); (editor, with J. Edward Carothers, Daniel D. MacCracken, and Roger L. Shinn) To Love or to Perish: The Technological Crisis and the Churches (Friendship Press, 1972); Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (Morrow, 1972); Twentieth Century Faith: Hope and Survival (Harper & Row, 1972); Ruth Benedict (Columbia University Press, 1974); (with Rhoda Métraux) A Way of Seeing (Morrow, 1974); World Enough: Rethinking the Future (Little, Brown, 1975); Letters from the Field 1925–1975 (Harper & Row, 1978); (with Rhoda Métraux) An Interview with Santa Claus (Walker, 1978); (with Rhoda Métraux) Aspects of the Present (Morrow, 1980).
On August 31, 1925, at the lush port of Pago Pago, Samoa, a somewhat fragile-looking woman, age 23, embarked from a steamer. She was just over five feet tall, weighed under 100 pounds, and had never been west of the Mississippi. As the U.S. Pacific fleet was in port, she saw battleships filling the harbor. "Airplanes scream overhead," she wrote home; "the band of some ship is constantly playing ragtime." Her baggage: a typewriter, a change of clothes, and a small metal strongbox to hold her papers and notes. Her occupation: anthropologist.
For six weeks, Margaret Mead lived in a ramshackle hotel that was the setting for W. Somerset Maugham's short story "Rain." As she began her research, the study of adolescence among the Polynesians, she was held suspect by other whites, experienced a hurricane, and contacted a case of pinkeye that afflicted her years afterwards. When a visiting chief from British Samoa sought her favors, she convinced him that she lacked his rank and was therefore unworthy of him. Yet Mead persevered, soon moving to the island of Ta'u, where—except for the family of a naval pharmacist—she was the only white person. She believed she was part of what she called a "giant rescue operation," the study of primitive cultures before they perished. Remaining there nine months, in some ways she lived the life of a Samoan woman, eating dried fish and helping care for their ailing children. In the process, she interviewed 68 Samoan females between the ages of 8 and 20, though most of her data came from 25 who trooped daily into the medical station office. During this time, she picked up elements of the language from a nurse.
Five years afterwards, the results of the young anthropologist's research were published. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) by Margaret Mead was a bestseller, launching its author into worldwide fame. The book portrayed Samoa as a veritable Eden, due in large extent to the lack of sexual inhibitions among its youth. At the end of her first chapter, "A Day in Samoa," she wrote of young couples who would dance in the moonlight, then "detach themselves and wander away among the trees. Sometimes sleep will not descend upon the village until long past midnight; then at least there is only the mellow thunder of the reef and the whisper of lovers, as the village rests until dawn." Asserting that the Samoan maidens sought to acquire as many lovers as possible before settling down to family life, she found both sexes possessing no notion of "romantic love as it occurs in our civilization, inextirpably bound up with ideas of monogamy, exclusiveness, jealousy and undeviating fidelity."
Philosopher Bertrand Russell, sexologist Havelock Ellis, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, and critic H.L. Mencken all praised her work. The public was enamored as well. Here was a society marked by overwhelming ease and casualness, in which conflict was minimal, family ties were loose, and guilt did not exist. Rather than the nuclear family, "a larger family community, in which there are several adult men and women, seems to insure the child against the development of the crippling attitudes which have been labeled Oedipus complexes, Electra complexes, and so on." In the words of Mead biographer Jane Howard , Mead had portrayed "a romantic paradise of a place where no one ever had acne or blushed from embarrassment or squirmed from frustration." If only, many readers extrapolated, Americans would abandon their notions of
fidelity, competition, and the tight nuclear family in favor of the more casual Samoan life, problems caused by shame and neurosis would not exist. By the 1940s, people were quipping:
Margaret Mead, Margaret Mead,
Helps to Fill our country's need,
Thinks our culture is much lower
Than the one in Samoa.
From that point, Mead built upon her celebrity status until at last she became a national oracle, pronouncing on all topics from Soviet child-rearing to Anglican liturgy. In a lifetime of 77 years, she wrote close to 30 books, edited a dozen more, contributed hundreds of articles, helped lead major professional associations, and was one of the most sought-after lecturers in the nation. Always she conveyed a tone of boundless optimism. To Margaret Mead, all problems were solvable, all guilt a waste of time. Brilliant, naive, enchanting, obstreperous, demanding, forgiving, Margaret Mead encompassed a universe.
Mead was born on December 16, 1901, the eldest of five children, in Philadelphia. Her father Edward Sherwood Mead was a professor of economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on corporate finance. Her mother Emily Fogg Mead was a suffragist, reformer, and sociologist whose doctorate focused on Italian immigrant families. Yet Mead always found Martha Ramsay Mead , her maternal grandmother, the most decisive influence on her life. A former high school principal, Martha tutored Margaret through adolescence, once assigning her the task, at age eight, of observing the speech patterns of her younger sisters.
Mead's parents raised their children in various towns in New Jersey and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, from which her father commuted to work. As Edward was helping to establish extension branches of the university through the state, the family moved frequently. Hammonton, Holicong, Doylestown, Buckingham, Landsdowne—all were temporarily her home. By the time she was 11, Margaret had lived in 60 houses and eaten food prepared by 107 cooks. "In a sense," she said, "we were like a family of refugees, always at odds with and well in advance of the local customs." Little wonder Margaret grew up bright, precocious, restless, and, above all, impatient.
Graduating from Doylestown High School, in 1919 she enrolled in DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana. Here the precocious Mead, incredibly sophisticated in some ways and quite awkward in others, was a social outcast. After her freshman year, she transferred to Barnard College, from which she graduated in 1923. In the urban, highly sophisticated environment of New York City, Mead thrived. Already impressing her peers by her intelligence and maturity, she was remembered by a classmate as appearing "so much older than the rest of us." After Barnard, she attended Columbia University, from which she received her M.A. in psychology.
At Columbia, two anthropologists changed the course of Mead's life. First was Franz Boaz, who already possessed an international reputation and whose paternalism led students to call him "Papa Franz." Very much the iconoclast, Boaz stressed the autonomy of culture and language at a time when race was seen as the ultimate determinant. The so-called "savage," he said, was certainly not mentally inferior to the Westerner. The second influence, Ruth Benedict , was Boaz's earliest disciple as well as his doctoral student and teaching assistant. Mead quickly absorbed Benedict's contagious enthusiasm over cultural relativity while becoming, as she later said, "the child Ruth never had."
In September 1923, Mead married Luther Sheeleigh Cressman, a graduate student in sociology who had just received his divinity degree at New York's General Theological Seminary. The couple had been secretly engaged from the time she was 16. Within two years, however, they drifted apart. Mead had a brief affair with Edward Sapir, a noted anthropologist and linguist who implored her to divorce Cressman and marry him.
By 1925, Mead had obtained a National Research Council fellowship, received an appointment at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and traveled to Samoa. In seeking to prove Boaz's contention that adolescent behavior was more cultural than biological, she asked: "Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to civilization? Under different circumstances does adolescence present a different picture?" In part, Boaz recommended Polynesia to her because she would not need many languages, in part because a steamer arrived every three weeks.
Mead had left Cressman with the comforting words that she would never leave him—unless, that is, she found somebody else. The "somebody else" was Reo Franklin Fortune, a 24-year-old New Zealander heading for graduate studies at Cambridge. Mead and Fortune met on board the Chitral en route to Europe after Mead's stay in Samoa. A reunion of Margaret and husband Luther in Marseilles, with Reo then joining them in Paris, led to awkwardness all around, but Mead soon found solace in her work. Once back in New York, she became assistant curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History, beginning an association that lasted until her death.
In October 1928, having divorced Cressman, Mead married Fortune in Auckland, New Zealand. The couple immediately went to the central island of the Great Admiralty archipelago, Manus, settling in a village called Peri. Here they sought to study the minds of primitive children. In some ways, life was a bit bizarre, with Mead becoming an arbiter in apparently age-old village feuds. "You write down every single transaction and we won't need to quarrel any more," the inhabitants told her. Mead and Fortune constructed a house with several exits so that mothers-in-law could depart as sons-in-law entered. During her stay, Mead fractured her foot and suffered from insomnia. The product of her research, Growing Up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education (1930), caused less stir than the Samoa work but was well received. In this book, she argued that the gap between the "civilized" mind and the "primitive" one had been greatly exaggerated; human nature was essentially malleable.
Once fieldwork was accomplished, the couple settled in New York, where Mead found her book on Samoan adolescence catapulting her to fame. In the summer of 1930, they went to Nebraska, there to study the Omaha Indians, whom—to protect their identity—Mead called the "Antlers." Noting the degree to which Omaha culture had shrunk markedly from a richer past, Mead and Fortune felt devastated.
A year later, they were in New Guinea, where their carriers unceremoniously dropped them off at a village called Alitoa. Yet, being left stranded proved to be a blessing in disguise, for they found the inhabitants there ideal subjects of study. Certainly there was variety. Mead found one group, mountain people whom she and Fortune named the Arapesh, almost totally pacifist. By contrast, another tribe, the Mundugumor, was so violent that "small children of eleven and twelve had all taken part in cannibal feasts." People committed suicide by surrendering to neighbors who would eat their flesh. By the end of 1932, Mead's marriage was in trouble. She found Fortune "a crank"; Fortune reciprocated by referring to her as a "psychopathological case."
On Christmas Day 1932, Mead's life was again transformed. At a party at Ambunti, she met British ethnologist Gregory Bateson, of St. John's College, Cambridge, who was in New Guinea researching the Iatmul people of the Sepic River area. Soon Mead and Bateson were falling in love. For the rest of their time in the field, the trio constituted a mélange à trois. As Bateson later said, "All three of us together were pretty psychotic." Mead once reminisced, "It was the closest I've ever come to madness." Indeed, their relationship reminded Mead of the lake-dwelling Tchambuli, a group they were studying. At one point, life was physically precarious as well. While staying with the Washkuk tribe, the three anthropologists expected a raid from a hostile group. Fortune had to protect the trio by brandishing a revolver as all took turns sleeping on the floor.
When the New Guinea project ended, all three returned to their respective homelands—Bateson to Britain, Fortune to New Zealand, and Mead to Manhattan. In October 1933, The New York Times greeted Mead's return with the headline: NEW GUINEA SONGS ARE SOLD FOR A PIG. It continued, "Woman Explorer, Back, Says Old Times Bring High Prices Among the Aborigines—THEY KILL GIRL BABIES—But Spare Enough to Do All Their Work—'Sweetest' of People, Even So." She was quoted as saying: "The women shave their heads and bear burdens, while the men decorate their long hair with peacock feathers and strut around like lords." Mead added to the exotic aura about her when her Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935) was published. She told of how the Mundugumor took "frank, sadistic enjoyment of other people's discomfiture" and of how their conversations on sex had the character of "playing ball with hand grenades." Soon Mead was teaching at Columbia's extension division and was frequently on the lecture circuit.
Her's was the most complex life imaginable.
In 1935, Mead divorced Fortune and, in March 1936, married Bateson. After the wedding in Singapore, the couple worked for two years in Bali. Here they pioneered in using photography as a research tool, taking some 28,000 stills in the process. While living on the Sepik River, they built a house without walls so that nothing around them would take place unobserved. Mead was less than enamored with their research subjects, at one time writing psychologist John Dollard:
Not an ounce of free intelligence or free libido in the whole culture. The whole culture is arranged like a sling, and most of the time the people swing into it, their knees barely gripping, working alone, without either punch or kick. … Anything new or strangeleads to total panic.
Without trances, she said, the Balinese would lead dreary lives. After further research with a New Guinea tribe, the Iatmul, the couple returned to New York City.
In December 1939, the 38-year-old Mead gave birth to Mary Catherine Bateson , her first and only child. Few births ever received so much attention. The event, writes Mead biographer Jane Howard, bore the air of a Nativity project. The delivery was delayed until a friend who was filming the event could rush to her car for flash-bulbs. The prominent pediatrician Benjamin Spock was on hand, as he later put it, "to certify the baby's normalcy."
If Mead's life had been somewhat unsettled to this point, the war years were close to anarchy. World War II separated Mead and Bateson much of the time. "Cathy" was left with close friends in New York, who supplied the role of extended family. Mead's greatest wartime activity was with the National Research Council's Committee on Food Habits, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council. This work frequently took her to Washington. From this body evolved the Committee on Living Habits, the National and World Federations of Mental Health, and, after the war, the United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
In the summer of 1943, the Office of War Information sent Mead to England. Her task: to study the budding relationships between young British women and newly arrived American GIs. In 1944, Mead and Ruth Benedict launched the Institute for International Studies, financed by the Office of Naval Research. The aim of the body was nothing if not cosmic: to "develop a series of systematic undertakings of the great contemporary cultures so that the values of each may be orchestrated in a world built new," in short an examination of national character. How does national character, the task force asked, determine the behavior of enemies, allies, and the Americans themselves? The project involved some 120 social scientists, representing 16 nationalities and 14 disciplines.
In October 1950, Mead and Bateson divorced. Bateson later said of Mead:
It was almost a principle of pure energy. I couldn't keep up, and she couldn't stop. She was like a tugboat. She could sit down and write three thousand words by eleven o'-clock in the morning, and spend the rest of the day working at the museum.
For decades, Mead held down posts at the Museum of Natural History while continuing to teach at Columbia and Fordham. From her tower office in the museum, she supervised 15 assistants. Frequently, she held visiting academic and consulting posts. When, in 1968, she taught a course at Yale, 600 students signed up, the largest enrollment in the university's history. Until the end of her life, she was a globetrotter par excellence. Never known for possessing a diminutive ego, she once responded to a Toronto clerk who told her a plane was full: "But I'm Margaret Mead!"
In 1953, Mead returned to Peri, there to see what changes the war had made. She was accompanied by budding anthropologists Theodore Schwartz and Lenona Shargo . "It is all rather like a family gathering," she said, "with cousins one hasn't seen for twenty-five years." Believing that the local Manus tribe had made a 4,000-year leap, she entitled her study New Lives for Old (1956).
All this time Mead remained a prolific writer, one who at times could produce a book in less than a month. And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942) examined American character in light of seven "primitive" cultures she had studied. Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (1942), written with Bateson, was an ethnographic analysis of 700 thematically arranged photographs. Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in the Changing World (1949) advanced her theory that sexual differences resulted from social conditioning, primarily maternal influence. Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap (1970) examined how rapid cultural change influences the transferal of information from one generation to the next. One of Mead's most provocative works was her autobiographical Blackberry Winter (1972). Though offering much insight into her early years, it downplayed a number of sensitive matters, including her stormy marriages.
Not surprisingly Mead received many tributes, including some 28 honorary degrees. She was president of seven professional organizations, including the World Federation of Mental Health (1956–57), the American Anthropological Association (1960), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1975). Always seeing her mission as one to a wider community, she could give over a hundred speeches a year and frequently appeared on talk shows. From 1961 to 1978, she wrote a column for Redbook magazine with anthropologist Rhoda Métraux , with whom she long shared a Greenwich Village flat. As she grew older, she always carried a forked stick and wore a cape.
A devout Episcopalian, Mead served in 1967 on the denomination's Subcommittee for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer. Already an admirer of the King James translation of the Bible, she sought to preserve as much of the old liturgy as possible. During a discussion of Noah's flood, a bishop commented, "Nobody believes that in this day and age." Mead snapped back, "Bishops may not but anthropologists do." She was particularly concerned to keep the renunciation of "Satan and all his works" in the baptismal rite.
Margaret Mead was always good for a quotation, even if many would find some of her positions outlandish. Just before World War II broke out, she thought that the conflict could be avoided if Franklin Roosevelt would "have a talk" with Hitler "in terms of building Europe." Once, during the Cold War, she told a friend she was glad to be an American for "I think we can do more harm than any other country on earth at the moment"; better to be within such a society
than without. In an attempt to explain the Russian character, Mead and fellow anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer said, "We've got to pursue swaddling in every direction, including metaphors or any kind of figures of speech." Critics labeled the preoccupation "diaperology."
It seemed as if Margaret Mead had an opinion on everything. She called for trial marriage, a single world language, salaries for college students, and the legalization of drugs for addicts. In the 1970s, she argued that American colleges were 400 years out of date. When she endorsed decriminalization of marijuana, Governor Claude Kirk of Florida called her "a dirty old lady." Instead of the "isolated" nuclear family, she advocated "cluster" units, comprised of older married couples, singles, and teenagers from other households.
Some of Mead's comments concerning the relationship between the sexes could appear particularly outlandish. Americans were "appallingly poor lovers." Newlyweds should purchase divorce insurance. American men were losing their "sense of adventure" because with the advent of bottle-feeding, males could suckle babies just as well as females. An ideal society would consist of people who were homosexual in their youth, heterosexual in middle age, and homosexual again in later life. In 1969, she spoke on the evils of co-education to Radcliffe students: "Twenty-four hours a day with boys can be appalling—it's bad enough to have to eat breakfast every day with your husband."
On some matters, however, she appeared conservative. Abortion, she said, was "an incredibly brutal, lazy, cruel way of handling life," "an abominable method of birth control." People who turned children over to day-care centers were better off not having any. Calling women's liberation too anti-male, she said women "cannot build on the fantasy that [they] have been held down by a conspiracy." She favored a daily period of silent prayer in the public schools. In calling for a coed draft, she opposed giving women firearms; females "are too fierce," she remarked.
Biographer Jane Howard denies that anyone knew "the whole Mead." Obviously one of the most energetic public women of her time, she was also one of the most enigmatic. As Howard notes, "She was loving, scolding, ebullient, irksome, heroic, and at times vindictive. Like most great characters, she was inconsistent."
As the 1970s waned, Mead became physically thin and quite irritable. Fortunately for her she did not live to see the devastating attack on her Samoa research by Derek Freeman, a New Zealand-born professor at the Australian National University. She also did not have to confront accusations that she had reinforced colonialism and romanticized the Pacific Islands by portraying the inhabitants in terms of savagery, cannibalism, and wanton sexuality.
On November 15, 1978, in New York Hospital, Margaret Mead died of pancreatic cancer. Time magazine's obituary bore the headline: "grandmother to the global village." When she told the nurse she was dying, the nurse gently replied, "Yes. We all will, someday." "But," said Mead, "this is different."
Bateson, Mary Catherine. With a Daughter's Eye. NY: Morrow, 1984.
Cassidy, Robert. Margaret Mead: A Voice for the Century. NY: Universe Books, 1982.
Howard, Jane. Margaret Mead: A Life. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
Mead, Margaret. Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. NY: Morrow, 1972.
——. Letters from the Field, 1925–1975. NY: Harper and Row, 1977.
Cressman, Luther S. The Golden Journey: Memoirs of an Archeologist. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1988.
Foerstel, Lenora, and Angela Gilliam. Confronting the Margaret Mead Legacy: Scholarship, Empire, and the South Pacific. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
Freeman, Derek. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.
Sargeant, W. "Profiles: It's All Anthropology," in The New Yorker. Vol. 37. December 30, 1961, pp. 31–44.
The papers of Margaret Mead are contained in the Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Justus D. Doenecke , Professor of History, New College, University of South Florida, Sarasota, Florida
"I was brought up to believe that the only thing worth doing was to add to the sum of accurate information in the world."
Margaret Mead's pioneering studies documenting the cultural influences on human development and behavior made her the most famous anthropologist (a scientist who studies human origins, cultures, and societies) of the twentieth century. It was during the Roaring Twenties that Mead produced her most famous work, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). This book was based on Mead's fieldwork in that Pacific Island nation, where she lived with and studied a group of teenage girls. She found that Samoans experienced adolescence as a much less stressful transition to adulthood than did teenagers in the United States or Europe. Controversial due both to its sexual subject matter and its conclusions, Coming of Age in Samoa was a best-seller in an era when some found the major advances occurring in science, technology, and sociology troubling. Both Mead's work and her distinguished career, which began at a time when few women were able to reach the top of any professional field, were revolutionary.
Developing a passion for anthropology
Margaret Mead grew up in an intellectual, unconventional family. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the beginning of the twentieth century, she was the oldest of four children. Her
father was a professor at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, her mother was a sociologist and women's rights advocate, and her grandmother—who was responsible for much of her upbringing—had been a school principal. Mead received only periodic formal schooling, for she was taught mostly at home by relatives and tutors.
The family moved often during Mead's childhood. She later said that she enjoyed being part of such an unusual family, in which the children were encouraged to have playmates of other races and economic levels, to be observant, and to enjoy creative hobbies like painting and dance. Even though Mead's parents were both agnostics (those who doubt but do not deny the existence of God), she chose to join the Episcopal Church when she was eleven years old, and she would remain a member of this denomination throughout her life.
Franz Boas: Trail-Blazing Anthropologist
Margaret Mead's approach to anthropological research was strongly influenced by Franz Boas, who headed the anthropology department at Columbia University when Mead was a student there. Boas is considered the founder of modern cultural anthropology.
Born in Germany in 1858, Boas studied at the universities of Heidelberg, Bonn, and Kiel. After receiving his PhD in physics and geography, he traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada to study the Native American cultures of the Pacific Northwest. In 1886 he immigrated to the United States. Boas subsequently taught anthropology at Clark University in Massachusetts, then at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Field Museum.
In 1896 Boas was hired to teach at New York City's Columbia University, becoming the first professor of anthropology in the United States. At the same time, he served as curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. In this position he led the effort to map and document both native North American and native Asian societies. In addition to working toward the recognition of cultural anthropology as a serious science, Boas urged the use of nontraditional research methods, especially on-site observation.
He also waged a fierce battle against those who made claims for the superiority or inferiority of particular races of people. Through his many writings Boas showed that there are many more differences among individuals than among races, and he stressed the influence of culture rather than heredity on behavior. Boas argued in favor of studying cultures as whole systems that had to be understood on their own terms, rather than in comparison to other, supposedly superior societies. These were radical assertions at a time when some so-called "scientists" were claiming that biological differences made white people superior to blacks and others of non-northern-European descent.
During his career, Boas published more than six hundred articles and a number of books, and he influenced several generations of anthropologists. He died in 1942.
During her senior year of high school in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Mead became engaged to a twenty-year-old student of theology (the study of religious belief) named Luther Cressman. She entered DePauw University in Indiana primarily to please her father, who had also attended this school. But Mead felt like an outsider in that midwestern world of sororities and fraternities (student societies), and after only a year she transferred to Barnard College in New York. There she became close friends with a group of girls with intellectual interests similar to her own.
Mead majored in psychology but found the course of her life changed in her senior year, when she took a course in anthropology from the famous Franz Boas (1858–1942). A leader in the field of anthropology, Boas took the thenradical position of denying that some races of people (especially those of western or northern European ancestry) were superior to others; he also asserted that it was environment, not genetics, that had shaped human behavior and cultures. Along with his graduate assistant Ruth Benedict, who would become Mead's close friend and mentor, Boas encouraged Mead to pursue her new interest in anthropology. In 1923 Mead graduated from Barnard and married Cressman. Then she began graduate work at Columbia University in New York City, where Boas (with help from Benedict) was the only faculty member in the anthropology department.
A pioneering study
This was an exciting and crucial period for the relatively new field of anthropology. The global conflict known as World War I (1914–18; the United States entered the war in 1917) had profoundly shaken and disillusioned people around the world with the scope of its destruction. Anthropologists were wondering whether their study of the nature of human beings and societies could be applied to contemporary issues. The theories of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1859–1939), who proposed that the subconscious mind and past experiences held the clues to much observed behavior, had also become highly influential. In addition, anthropologists realized that in many far corners of the world cultures would soon begin to disappear as modern life extended its reach. Boas was eager to organize detailed scientific descriptions and analyses of these cultures before they vanished.
It was with such a goal in mind that Mead, after completing her studies in 1925, set off on her own for fieldwork in Samoa. She hoped to determine whether the experience of adolescence as a time of intense emotion and conflict was universal or limited to western cultures. Inexperienced but energetic, and having learned to speak Samoan, Mead moved in with a Samoan household and stayed for nine months, becoming part of a community of fifty teenage girls and closely observing their habits and behaviors. Mead was practicing a new technique in which a so-called "participant observer" takes part in the lives of his or her subjects. She strongly believed that this was the best way to generate good data about them.
Mead found that, in contrast to the conflict-torn, stressful adolescence common in U.S. and European society, Samoan teenagers were calm, happy, and completely at ease with their blossoming sexuality. She also determined that neither monogamy (having only one spouse or sexual partner at a time) nor jealousy was valued in Samoan culture. Mead concluded that the experience of adolescence is determined not by biology but by cultural conditioning. Her conclusions pointed to a new way of looking at so-called "primitive" cultures, which had previously been seen as childlike or backward. Perhaps these people, Mead suggested, actually had a better way of approaching the transition to adulthood.
Working in New Guinea, Bali, and elsewhere
On the boat carrying her home from Samoa, Mead met and fell in love with Reo Fortune, an anthropologist from New Zealand. She returned with him to New York City, where she soon became an assistant curator at the American Museum of Natural History; Mead would be associated with the museum for the rest of her life. In 1928, the same year in which Coming of Age in Samoa was published, she divorced Cressman and married Fortune. She and her new husband went to New Guinea, where Mead did the research for a study on the thought patterns and fantasy worlds of children and how they are influenced by their sociocultural context. This research was published in 1930 as Growing Up in New Guinea. (Later, Mead would study these same children as adults.) Between 1925 and 1939, in addition to spending one summer studying the Omaha Indians of Nebraska, Mead would observe the people of seven Pacific cultures.
Mead had returned to New Guinea for further work on the differences between biological and cultural influences when, in 1932, she met British anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1904–1980). He became her third husband in 1936. Meanwhile, she published an important and controversial work called Sex and Temperament (1935), the result of her work among three New Guinea ethnic groups: the Arapesh, Mundugumor, and Tchambuli. Mead found that gender roles differed significantly in each of these cultures, which she considered more evidence that culture and environment, not inherited traits, determine behavior.
Mead's longtime interest in psychology led her to wonder about the cultural context of schizophrenia, a mental disorder that features a withdrawal into fantasy and delusion. Mead and Bateson traveled to the Indonesian island of Bali to study human nonverbal communication. In the Balinese culture, such practices as going into trances and becoming dissociated from reality were acceptable. Mead and Bateson employed what were then new data-gathering techniques, using still photos and motion pictures of their subjects in addition to their written notes. They took more than 30,000 photographs and used 759 of them in their subsequent book Balinese Character. They also edited and released several films they had made about their Bali research.
Early in her adult life, doctors had told Mead that she would not be able to have children. Nevertheless, after several miscarriages, she did become successfully pregnant. Mead agreed to allow her friend, a pioneering pediatrician named Benjamin Spock (1903–1998), to test his ideas about child rearing on her child. He was present at the birth of her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, in 1939. Seven years later Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, one of the most influential child-rearing manuals of all time.
The outbreak of World War II (1939–45) provided new opportunities for applying anthropology to public policy. During that conflict the United States found itself in contact with a wide range of people and cultures, and the government employed a number of social scientists to increase understanding about them. Because the nation was about to undergo food rationing (limited amounts would be available to individuals, due to shortages), Mead undertook a study of the eating habits of U.S. citizens. She was also sent to Great Britain to help inform the British about what to expect from the U.S. troops that were stationed there.
In studying the cultures of Germany and Japan, who were the enemies of the United States and its allies during the war, Mead had to use indirect forms of data gathering, such as watching movies, reading books, and interviewing immigrants from those nations. This work led to a series of national character studies and eventually to a book called Cultures at a Distance (1953). Another book from this period is New Lives for Old (1956), which chronicles Mead's visit to the New Guinea village she had studied twenty-five years earlier. She documented the difficulties being experienced by the adults who had grown from the children she interviewed during her first visit, as the modern world intruded on their culture.
A continuing role in contemporary thought
During the last twenty-five years of her life, Mead concentrated mostly on teaching and serving as a mentor to younger anthropologists. A longtime faculty member at Columbia University, she was at various times a visiting professor or scholar at such institutions as New York University, Fordham University, the University of Cincinnati, and the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. Troubled by the social upheaval that occurred during the 1960s and by the so-called "generation gap" that had seemed to open between older and younger people, Mead sympathized with young people's resistance to the Vietnam War (1954–75) and their desire for a greater voice in decision-making. She expressed her views on such topics in Culture and Commitment (1970).
During the 1960s Mead's interest in the global problems of war, overpopulation, and threats to the environment led to involvement with such organizations as the World Council of Churches and the United Nations. In A Way of Seeing (1970), she made clear her stances on various issues, including her support for birth control, for the repeal of antiabortion laws, and for the right of the chronically or terminally ill to choose when to die.
Mead's most pressing concerns, however, had always had to do with families. She worried about the effects of modern life, especially the loss of the extended family and the isolation of city dwellers, on parents and children. She was particularly interested in women's issues and often spoke of the need for changing gender roles and for women to make goals and find meaningful careers. At the same time, however, she understood the ties that women felt to their husbands and children and especially valued their skills as nurturers of the young.
In 1961 Mead began co-writing, with Rhoda Metraux, a column for Redbook, a popular women's magazine. Here she provided advice and guidance to ordinary women, whose letters she, in turn, used as sources of information about attitudes and values. By now Mead had become an important role model to the women of the twentieth century, as they struggled with the sometimes conflicting demands of work and family.
In her last years Mead made many television and documentary film appearances. She received twenty-eight honorary degrees, and she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. She also served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Mead died of pancreatic cancer in 1978. She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which her daughter accepted for her.
Following her death, some critics suggested that her work in Samoa was not as thorough as it should have been. The most prominent among these was Derek Freeman, a Mead admirer and fellow anthropologist who spent six years in Samoa and learned to speak Samoan fluently. In Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, Freeman claimed that Mead's research was shallow and imprecise and that the Samoans themselves felt she had been incorrect in her conclusions.
For More Information
Bateson, Mary Catherine. With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. New York: William Morrow, 1984.
Burby, Liza N. Margaret Mead. New York: Rosen, 1996.
Howard, Jane. Margaret Mead: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984.
Ludel, Jacqueline. Margaret Mead. New York: Franklin Watts, 1983.
Ziesk, Edna. Margaret Mead. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.
Flaherty, Tarraugh. "Margaret Mead: 1901–1978." Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society. Available online at http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/margaretmead.html. Accessed on June 28, 2005.
"Margaret Mead Centennial 2001." The Institute for Intercultural Studies. Available online at http://www.interculturalstudies.org/Mead/2001centennial.html. Accessed on June 28, 2005.
Mead, Margaret 1901-1978
Margaret Mead was an American anthropologist whose career as a social scientist and public intellectual spanned the greater part of the twentieth century. She was an indefatigable fieldworker whose ethnographic research focused primarily on the study of small-scale societies in the South Pacific and Bali, but she was also well known for her insights about and prescriptions for American society. Mead received her PhD in anthropology in 1925 from Columbia University, where she worked with Dr. Franz Boas and Dr. Ruth Benedict, two anthropologists well known for their work on race and cultural relativism, or the idea that no culture or racial group is inherently superior to another and that any cultural practice can be understood within the context of the larger social structure and cultural whole of which it is a part. Along with Benedict, Mead was a major contributor to the development of the school of culture and personality, a subfield of cultural anthropology that sought to understand the role that culture played in shaping the personality of individual members of a particular society. Influenced by neo-Freudian theory of the 1930s and 1940s, Mead sought to apply psychoanalytic concepts about the individual— especially the development of a child into an adult—to the study of socialization in non-Western societies. Although aspects of culture and personality theory have been disparaged, many of the topics that Mead first investigated formed the basis for today’s subfield of psychological anthropology.
After Mead returned from her first field trip to Samoa in 1926, she became curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. She remained at the museum for the rest of her lengthy career. Mead’s fame arose from her ability to write books that captured the general public’s interest with their engaging prose and provocative and timely choice of topics. Beginning with her first book— Coming of Age in Samoa —published in 1928, Mead became a best-selling author and an increasingly well-known expert on the topics of primitive cultures, adolescence, gender and sexuality, education, child development, and culture change. While Coming of Age in Samoa established Mead’s reputation as an anthropologist who studied sexuality, especially the sexual behavior of adolescent girls, subsequent books focused on education in so-called primitive cultures (Growing Up in New Guinea ), gender roles and male-female relations (Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies and Male and Female ), acculturation (The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe ), the relationship between culture and the development of adult personality (Balinese Character ), national character (And Keep Your Powder Dry, Mead’s first anthropological book about American culture), New Lives for Old (about cultural transformation and the impact of Western development on traditional societies), and Culture and Commitment (Mead’s analysis of the generation gap).
During World War II (1939–1945) Mead worked for the U.S. government, contributing studies on American food habits, morale building, and the interpretation of British and American culture for British civilians and American soldiers in the United Kingdom. After the war Mead shifted her focus to the application of anthropological methods to the study of American society, the Soviet Union, and the problems of development faced by newly independent nations. As a result of her increasing media presence on television, in popular magazines, and the radio, by the time she died Mead was famous worldwide and eulogized as “grandmother to the world.”
In 1983, five years after Mead’s death, Australian anthropologist Derek Freeman published a detailed critique of Mead’s Samoan research, ultimately claiming that Mead’s informants had duped her and that her conclusions about the relative freedom toward premarital sex she had claimed characterized Samoan society were false. Moreover, Freeman concluded that if Mead’s Samoan findings were false, so too was the larger claim she had made about the relative importance of nurturance versus biologically innate characteristics of human behavior. Although Mead was not able to respond to Freeman’s critique herself, many anthropologists who had worked in Samoa, or who were proponents of the importance of cultural factors in shaping human behavior, came to her defense. They did so despite their acknowledgment of some factual errors in her Samoan research, which they claimed were of minor significance and the result of her youth and the infancy of anthropology as a social science. (For a detailed discussion of the critique of Freeman’s argument and defense of Mead’s work, see Caton , Orans , and Lapsley ). In November 1983 the American Anthropological Association censured Freeman, citing inconsistencies and errors in his critique of Mead’s Samoan research. However, although the media coverage of the Mead-Freeman controversy damaged Mead’s public image, in 2001 the American Anthropological Association and the media honored Mead during her centennial year. This asserted her prominence as a public figure whose major contribution had been to apply anthropological methods and insights gleaned from the study of remote small-scale societies into the analysis of contemporary American society and the solution of problems that vexed complex modern societies in general.
SEE ALSO Anthropology, U.S.; Benedict, Ruth; Boas, Franz; Psychoanalytic Theory
Caton, Hiram, ed. 1990. The Samoa Reader: Anthropologists Take Stock. Latham, MD: University Press of America.
Freeman, Derek. 1983. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (reprinted as Margaret Mead and the Heretic ). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Freeman, Derek. 1999. The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Lapsley, Hilary. 1999. Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict: The Kinship of Women. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Lutkehaus, Nancy. 1995. Introduction. In Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years, by Margaret Mead. New York: Kodansha International.
Lutkehaus, Nancy. 1995. Margaret Mead and the “Rustling-of-the-Wind-in-the-Palm-Trees” School of Ethnographic Writing. In Women Writing Culture, eds. Ruth Behar and Deborah A. Gordon, 186–206. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Mead, Margaret. 1928. Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization. New York: William Morrow. Reprinted 2001. New York: Perennial Classics, HarperCollins.
Mead, Margaret. 1930. Growing Up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education. New York: William Morrow. Reprinted 2001. New York: Perennial Classics, HarperCollins.
Mead, Margaret. 1932. The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe. New York: Columbia University Press.
Mead, Margaret. 1935. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: William Morrow. Reprinted 2001. New York: Perennial Classics, HarperCollins.
Mead, Margaret. 1942. And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America. New York: William Morrow.
Mead, Margaret. 1949. Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. New York: William Morrow. Reprinted 2001. New York: Perennial Classics, HarperCollins.
Mead, Margaret. 1956. New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—Manus, 1928–1953. New York: William Morrow. Reprinted 2001. New York: Perennial Classics HarperCollins.
Mead, Margaret. 1970. Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press.
Mead, Margaret. 1972. Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York: William Morrow. Reprinted 1995. New York and Tokyo: Kodansha Press.
Orans, Martin. 1996. Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans. Novato, CA: Chandler and Sharp.
Mead, Margaret (1901–1978)
Mead, Margaret (1901–1978)
Margaret Mead was born into an academic family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 16, 1901. She attended Barnard College and received her doctorate in cultural anthropology, working with Ruth Benedict and Franz Boas at Columbia University. Mead spent her entire professional career as a curator at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Between 1924 and 1936, she did fieldwork in eight different cultures and wrote extensively about most of them for the rest of her life. From the start of World War II, Mead directed most of her work toward public affairs. Mead died in New York City on November 15, 1978.
While studying cultural anthropology with Boas, Mead went to Samoa to document the influence of culture on adolescence. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) became a classic for its news that adolescence is more a cultural preoccupation than a biological imperative:
The adolescent girl in Samoa differed from her sister who had not reached puberty in one chief respect, that in the older girl certain bodily changes were present in the older girl which were absent in the younger girl. There were no other great differences (p. 196).
Mead also reported that the young women of Samoa suffered much less constraint and neurosis in matters related to sex. Mead's book, with its open discussion of the sexuality of adolescent girls and its conscious inversion of contemporary morals, became a major text of the mid-twentieth century. Coming of age would never be the same again.
Mead used much the same argument to take a stand on the gender issues of her time. She wrote that "we know of no culture that has said, articulately, that there is no difference between men and women except in the way they contribute to the creation of the next generation" (1949, p. 8). For Mead, there are biological differences between males and females, but how these differences make a difference is greatly dependent on the cultural environment in which they are staged, interpreted, and made consequential.
In subsequent fieldwork, Mead studied younger children in New Guinea and toddlers in Bali. In each case, she delivered a cultural analysis of the child-rearing process by documenting "those sequences in child-other behavior which carry the greatest communication weight and so are crucial for the development of each culturally regular character structure" (Mead and Macgregor, p. 27). Documented differences in crucial "sequences in child-other behavior" from other cultures challenged Western categories of child development, gender, and desire. Whether in popular magazines or on television shows, Mead used human variation to disrupt heartfelt American biases about what was natural and inherent.
Mead wrote more than twenty books, some technical, most not. As the public face of anthropology, she celebrated a comparative method based on intense fieldwork. For Mead, anthropology was a clearinghouse for moral affairs. She tried every available device for eliciting, recording, and representing patterns of interaction and interpretation among the people she studied. With Gregory Bateson, she pioneered the photographic documentation of life and learning in different cultures. Culture and character could be filmed because they are relentlessly worked on by persons teaching and learning together. From Bali, Mead offers a nice image:
Where the American mother attempts to get the child to parrot simple courtesy phrases, the Balinese mother simply recites them, glibly, in the first person, and the child finally slips into speech, as into an old garment, worn before, but fitted on by another hand. (Bateson and Mead, p. 13)
People fit into each other as into garments, with give- and-take leading to fragile but consistent outcomes. In nine photographs covering two minutes of a mother/son interaction, Bateson and Mead show how the Balinese practice "awayness," a give-and-take in which participants arrange ways to be together, but unengaged, to be in each other's presence–even touching–but unavailable. In her notes on the photographs, Mead points to a communicatively weighty sequence in child-other behavior in a "culturally regular character structure" marked by awayness: the mother calls the child to her, stimulates the child (photos 1–2), then attends elsewhere (photos 3–8), until both mother and child look out on the world, bored and away (photo 9).
Mead remains a source of celebration and controversy. Soon after her death, Derrick Freeman (1983) claimed the young Mead had been fooled by her Samoan informants: in Freeman's view she was naïve and driven to confirm Boas's position that culture, not biology, was primary in the organization of behavior. Where Mead saw sexual license, Freeman counted rape; where Mead saw generosity and detachment, Freeman found jealousy and aggression; where Mead saw cooperation, Freeman found hierarchy and ambivalence. The ensuing Freeman/Mead controversy has been resolved strongly in her favor. Lowell Holmes worked in Mead's village decades after she left Samoa and stated:
Despite the greater possibilities for error in a pioneering scientific study, her tender age (twenty-three), and her inexperience, I find that the validity of her Samoan research is remarkably high…. I confirm Mead'sconclusion that it was undoubtedly easier to come of age in Samoa than in the United States in 1925.
Late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century controversy attacks Mead less for the quality of her science than for her commitment to a science tied to Western colonialism and imperialism. Nonetheless, leading anthropologists, such as Clifford Geertz and James Boon, continue to praise her work, her methods, and her fierce effort to use anthropology to confront social problems from a new perspective.
See also: Sociology and Anthropology of Childhood.
Bateson, Mary Catherine. 1984. With a Daughter's Eye. New York: William Morrow.
Freeman, Derrick. 1983. Margaret Mead and Samoa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Holmes, Lowell. 1987. Quest for the Real Samoa. New York: Bergin and Garvey.
Mead, Margaret. 1928. Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: William Morrow.
Mead, Margaret. 1930. Growing Up in New Guinea. New York: William Morrow.
Mead, Margaret. 1949. Male and Female. New York: William Morrow.
Mead, Margaret. 1972. Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York: William Morrow.
Mead, Margaret. 1977. Letters from the Field. New York: Harper and Row.
Mead, Margaret and Francis Macgregor. 1951. Growth and Culture. New York: G.D. Putnam and Sons.
Daughter of Edward S. and Emily Fogg Mead; married Luther Cressman, 1923; Reo Fortune, 1928; Gregory Bateson, 1935; children: one daughter
Margaret Mead, the eldest of five children, was born in Philadelphia. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce. Mead respected his loyalty to his work, capacity to listen, and powers of concentration, and from him learned that the most valuable thing one could do was to add to the store of known facts. Mead's mother, Emily Fogg Mead, was a gentle and delicate woman with a determined nature and a professional concern for other people and the state of the world. The most decisive influence in Mead's life was her parental grandmother, a strong and determined woman who lived with the family.
Mead's grandmother informally educated her at home until Mead went to Doylestown High School and New Hope School for Girls in Pennsylvania. After a disappointing year at DePauw University, Mead transferred to Barnard College, where she studied anthropology under Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict and received her B.A. in 1923. Upon graduation from Barnard, she married Luther Cressman. As a graduate student at Columbia, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1929, Mead began her first fieldwork in Samoa in 1925. While traveling home from Samoa, Mead met her second husband, Reo Fortune, a New Zealand psychologist and anthropologist. Upon returning to New York, Mead was appointed curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History, an appointment which grew into a lifelong position. Later, while doing fieldwork in New Guinea, she met her third husband, Gregory Bateson, a British anthropologist by whom she had one daughter. Mead held almost 40 positions, including professor of anthropology at Columbia University. She was the recipient of many honorary degrees and some 35 awards. Mead was president of the World Federation for Mental Health (1956-57) and the American Anthropological Association (1960).
Mead's long and productive career as an author-anthropologist blossomed with the publication of her first and most popular book, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). It has since been translated into several languages and has reappeared in many editions. The book is based on Mead's first fieldwork, undertaken at the age of twenty-three, in which she set out to discover whether the problems troubling American adolescents are due to the biological nature of adolescence or to culturally learned attitudes. Her study of the individual within a culture was unique. Mead vividly describes the basic character of Samoan life and how attitudes and behavior are shaped from birth to maturity. The results of her nine months of work showed how much of individual behavior is culturally learned. Stripped of the technical jargon of anthropology, Mead's clear presentations of life in Samoa and her answers to a fascinating anthropological question have reached a wide and enthusiastic audience.
Growing Up in New Guinea (1930), based on Mead's second field trip, is about the Manus people of Peri village in the Admiralty Islands. Mead's focus is on family life and the education of young children. Important themes in the education of Manus children are the teaching of physical adaptation to a precarious environment, the instilling of a respect for property, and a combination of firm discipline and gentle solicitude. Children grow up without any feelings of inferiority or insecurity. Throughout the book, Mead draws interesting parallels with modern life.
Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935), which has been translated into more than a dozen languages, was the outcome of fieldwork in three villages in New Guinea. When going into the field in 1931, Mead's original intentions were to study the cultural conditioning of the personalities of the two sexes. After working for two years in three different villages, she discovered her findings revealed more about differences in human temperament than about gender. Among the Mountain Arapesh, both men and women are gentle and maternal; among the Mundugumor, both sexes are fierce and virile; and among the Tchambuli, the roles of men and women are reversed from our traditional roles. Thus gender is only one of the ways in which a society can group its social attitude toward temperament.
Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (1942), written with Bateson, was the outcome of rich and extensive fieldwork done from 1936 to 1938. It represents a major leap in the use of photography as a method of ethnographic presentation, stemming from the authors' sensitivity to the inadequacy of verbal presentation in portraying the finer shades of cultural meaning. From a total of 25,000 photographs, over 700 were selected and grouped so that details from different scenes are thematically related and explained by captions. This type of presentation was followed nine years later by Growth and Culture: A Photographic Study of Balinese Childhood (1951), written with Frances Cooke MacGregor.
In 1949 Mead wrote Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. It is based on 14 years of fieldwork in seven different societies, and was written at a time when traditional roles of male and female were undergoing scrutiny in our society. Mead discusses ways in which physical similarities and differences are the basis on which we learn about our own sex and our relationship to the other sex. Mead includes a discussion of how societies develop myths to answer the questions about differences between men and women, and about how children grow up to be a member of one or the other group. In the final section, Mead brings her knowledge back to America and discusses ways in which we can make improvements in our society.
Mead returned to the Manus 25 years after her original journey. The cultural changes that occurred during World War II when the Manus was overrun by Americans are recorded in New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—Manus, 1928-1953 (1956). This study of culture contact is based on Mead's belief that Americans have something to contribute to a changing world. Since Mead investigates mainly the more superficial changes in Manus, the book is anthropologically less satisfying than her others but is otherwise a remarkable account of the rapid leaps one society made from "stone age" to "civilization." Mead's re-study of the Manus is also the subject of two of her films, New Lives for Old (1960) and Margaret Mead's New Guinea Journal (1968).
An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (1959) is a biography of Mead's teacher, colleague, and lifelong friend. Mead interweaves her own introductory chapters on various stages of Benedict's life and career with selections from Benedict's work, diaries, unpublished poems, and personal letters to Edward Sapir, Franz Boas, and Mead. The reader gains a deep appreciation of Benedict, a sensitive and emotionally complex woman whose great contribution to anthropology was her theory of culture as a "personality writ large." Mead wrote a second book entitled Ruth Benedict: A Biography (1974), which is less massive than the first and written mainly for students.
Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap, written in 1970 and revised extensively in 1978, is written in the belief that if we know and understand enough, our knowledge will breed optimistic and constructive thinking. Mead feels we are experiencing an irreversible evolutionary change brought about by modern technology, population explosion, and destruction of the natural environment, and that it is a change of which, for the first time in human history, we have a full awareness. Mead proposes three categories of generational interaction based on past, present, and future orientations. Our culture is a future-oriented one, in which there has been a reverse in the relationship between the generations. Now the young members set the goals for the older to follow.
Mead's autobiography, Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (1972), is perhaps her most interesting book, providing the reader with some insight into the person behind the prolific and influential personality. In the first and third sections, Mead writes about her family life, first from her early point of view as a granddaughter and then from her later view as a grandmother. The middle section is devoted to her field experiences. Letters from the Field, 1925-1975 (1977), a collection of letters to family and friends from Mead's various expeditions, is another work that provides insight into the determined, fearless, and energetic person who became the world's most popular anthropologist.
Mead's contributions as an anthropologist have been unparalleled. She taught us about the behavior of other human beings—human beings like ourselves in everything but their culture—and in so doing gave us a better understanding of ourselves within a broad perspective. Mead applied the results of her studies in primitive cultures to the questions of the day in our rapidly changing world. With the insight and knowledge she gained as a granddaughter and a grandmother, she was able to span the gaps between the generations to which she spoke. As a person who watched children from isolated primitive societies grow up into a modern world, Mead gained and shared a knowledge of cultural change and continuity. She was a person who made her home the entire world and communicated what she learned in such a felicitous, direct, and vivid style that people everywhere have benefitted from her insights.
An Inquiry into the Question of Cultural Stability in Polynesia (1928). Social Organization of Manu'a (1930). The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe (1932). Kinship in the Admiralty Islands (1934). The Mountain Arapesh (Vol. 1, An Importing Culture, 1938; Vol. 2, Supernaturalism, 1940; Vol. 3, Socio-Economic Life, 1947; Vol. 4, Diary of Events in Alitoa, 1947; Vol. 5, The Record of Unabelin with Rorschach Analysis, 1949). From the South Seas: Studies in Adolescence and Sex in Primitive Societies (1939). And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942). The School in American Culture (1951). Soviet Attitudes Toward Authority (1951). Cultural Patterns and Technical Change: A Manual Prepared by the World Federation for Mental Health (edited by Mead, 1953). Themes in French Culture: A Preface to a Study of French Community (with R. Metraux, 1954). People and Places (1959). Anthropology, a Human Science: Selected Papers 1939-1960 (1964). Continuities in Cultural Evolution (1964). Anthropologists and What They Do (1965). Family (with K. Heyman, 1965). The Wagon and the Star: A Study of American Community Initiative (with M. Brown, 1966). The Small Conference: An Innovation in Communication (with P. Byers, 1968). A Rap on Race (with J. Baldwin, 1971). Twentieth Century Faith: Hope and Survival (1972). World Enough: Rethinking the Future (with K. Heyman, 1975). Aspects of the Present (with R. Metraux, 1980).
Bateson, M. C., With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson (1984). Gordan, J., ed., Margaret Mead: The Complete Bibliography 1925-1975 (1976). Holmes, L. D., Quest for the Real Samoa: The Mead/ Freeman Controversy and Beyond (1987). Howard, J., Maragert Mead: A Life (1984). Moss, A., Shaping a New World: Margaret Mead (1963). Rossi, A. S., The Feminist Papers from Adams to de Beauvoir (1973).
American Women of Science (1955). Britannica Yearbook of Science and the Future (1971). Famous American Women (1970). More Heroes of Civilization (1969). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). TCA, TCAS.
Louisiana Academy of Sciences Proceedings (1968). New York magazine (13 Aug. 1973). NY (1961). NYTM (26 Apr. 1970). SR (1977). Science (1974). Science Year: The World Book Science Annual (1968).
The American anthropologist (a scientist who studies human beings and their origins, distribution, and relationships) Margaret Mead developed the field of culture and personality research and was a leading influence in introducing the concept of culture into education, medicine, and public policy.
Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 16, 1901. She grew up in a free-thinking intellectual home. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce and the founder of the University of Pennsylvania's evening school. Her mother, Emily Fogg Mead, was a sociologist (a scientist who studies social group behaviors) and an early supporter of women's rights. Margaret's grandmother, Martha Ramsay Mead, a child psychologist (a scientist who studies the mind and its behavior), played an active role in the lives of Margaret, her three sisters and her brother. It was her grandmother who first taught Margaret to watch the behavior of the younger children to figure out the reasons behind their actions.
Mead's childhood school days were unusual in that she only attended one year of half days in the fourth grade and six total years at various high schools. This "formal" education was very much supplemented by all of the educators in her family. Mead loved tradition and ritual, so she joined the Episcopal church at the age of eleven. This faith would be her strength throughout her life. Mead at first wanted to be a painter when she grew up, but such intellectual role models led her to college thinking of English as a field of study.
Mead thrived on change outside of her religious beliefs. In 1919 Mead transferred from DePauw University, in Indiana, to Barnard College, in New York City, where she majored in psychology. Her senior year anthropology course with Franz Boas (1858–1942) was the most powerful event in her life, since it was then that she decided to become an anthropologist. She graduated from Barnard in 1923. In the same year she married Luther Cressman and entered the anthropology department of Columbia University.
The Columbia department at this time consisted of Boas, who taught everything, and Ruth Benedict (1887–1948), his only assistant. The catastrophe of World War I (1914–18; a war between the Central powers—led by Germany—and the Allies: England, the United States, Italy, and other nations) and the displacement of people that followed had its impact on the developing study of anthropology. Anthropologists began to ask how their knowledge of the nature of humankind might be used to clarify current problems. At the same time the influence of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was beginning to affect all of behavioral (human action) sciences. The atmosphere in the Columbia department was charged with excitement, and whole new perspectives for anthropology were opening up.
Mead completed her studies in 1925 and set off for a year of fieldwork in Samoa in the face of opposition from older colleagues (people in the same area of interest) worried about sending a young woman alone to a Pacific island. She was going to study the life of adolescent girls. She learned the native language (one of seven she eventually mastered) and lived in a Samoan household as "one of the girls." She found that young Samoan girls experienced none of the tensions American and European teenagers suffered from, and she showed the kind of social arrangements that make this easy transition to adulthood possible.
On returning from the field Mead became assistant curator (one in charge of the museum) of ethnology (the science of classifying mankind into races) at the American Museum of Natural History, where she remained, eventually becoming curator and, in 1969, curator emeritus (honorary title). Her goal in going to the museum was "to make Americans understand cultural anthropology as well as they understood archaeology [study of material remains, fossils, rocks, of past human life and activity]."
In 1928, Mead left for New Guinea, this time with Reo Fortune, an anthropologist from New Zealand whom she had married that year. Her project was the study of the thought of young children, testing some of the then current theories. Her study of children's thought in its sociocultural (having both social and cultural elements) context is described in Growing Up in New Guinea (1930). She later returned to the village of Peri, where this study was made, after twenty-five years, when the children she had known in 1929 were leaders of a community going through the difficulties of change to modern life. She described this change, with flashbacks to the earlier days, in New Lives for Old (1956).
New field methods
Mead's interest in psychiatry had turned her attention to the problem of the cultural context of schizophrenia (a mental disorder whose symptoms are a detachment to one's environment and a breakdown of one's personality—thoughts, feelings, and actions). With this in mind she went to Bali, a society where going into a trance (the state of complete unconscious) and other forms of dissociation (an escape from the outer world into an inner one) are culturally approved and encouraged. She was now married to Gregory Bateson, a British anthropologist whom she had met in New Guinea. The Balinese study was especially noteworthy for development of new field techniques. The extensive use of film made it possible to record and analyze significant details of behavior that had escaped the pencil-and-paper recordings. Of the thirty–eight thousand photographs which Mead and Bateson brought back, seven hundred fifty–nine were selected for Balinese Character (1942), a joint study with Bateson. This publication marks a major change in the recording and presentation of ethnological data and may prove in the long run to be one of her most significant contributions to the science of anthropology.
Largely through the work of Ruth Benedict and Mead, the relevance of anthropology to problems of public policy was recognized though somewhat belatedly. When World War II (1939–45; a war between the Axis powers: Japan, Italy, and Germany—and the Allies: England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) brought the United States into contact with peoples just coming from colonialism (a control of a group of people or area by a foreign government), the need to understand many lifestyles became obvious. Mead conducted a nationwide study of American food habits prior to the introduction of rationing (process in war time of conserving goods for soldiers by portioning them out sparingly to citizens). Later she was sent to England to try to explain to the British the habits of the American soldiers who were suddenly among them.
Rooted in psychology
Mead drew heavily on psychology, especially learning theory and psychoanalysis (type of treatment for emotional disorders in which a patient talks through childhood experiences and looks at the significance of dreams). In return she contributed significantly to the development of psychoanalytic theory by emphasizing the importance of culture in personality development. She served on many national and international committees for mental health and was instrumental in introducing the study of culture into training programs for physicians and social workers.
Mead was a dominant force in developing the field of culture and personality and the related field of national character research. Her theoretical position is based on the assumption that an individual matures within a cultural context which includes an ideological system (ideas), the expectations of others, and techniques of socialization (methods of fitting in with one's social environment) which affect not only outward responses but also the inner mental structure.
Mead was criticized by certain other social scientists for neglecting quantitative (measuring) methods and for what has been called "anecdotal" (relying on short stories of interesting incidents for proof) handling of data. She was also accused of applying concepts of individual psychology to the analysis of social process while ignoring historical and economic factors. But since her concern lay with predicting the behavior of individuals within a given social setting and not with the development of institutions, the criticism does not hold much weight.
There is no question that Mead was one of the leading American intellectuals of the twentieth century. Through her best-selling books, her public lectures, and her well-read column in Redbook magazine, Mead popularized anthropology in the United States. She was also a role model for American women, encouraging them to pursue professional careers previously closed to women while at the same time championing their roles as mothers.
Margaret Mead died on November 15, 1978, in New York City and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
For More Information
Bateson, Mary Catherine. With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. New York: Morrow, 1984.
Cassidy, Robert. Margaret Mead: A Voice for the Century. New York: Universe Books, 1982.
Foerstel, Leonara, and Angela Gilliam, eds. Margaret Mead's Contradictory Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
Howard, Jane. Margaret Mead: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
The American anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) developed the field of culture and personality research and was a dominant influence in introducing the concept of culture into education, medicine, and public policy.
Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on Dec. 16, 1901. She grew up there in a liberal intellectual atmosphere. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor in the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce and the founder of the University of Pennsylvania's evening school and extension program. Her mother, Emily Fogg Mead, was a sociologist and an early advocate of woman's rights.
In 1919 Mead entered DePauw University but transferred after a year to Barnard College, where she majored in psychology. In her senior year she had a course in anthropology with Franz Boas which she later described as the most influential event in her life, since it was then that she decided to become an anthropologist. She graduated from Barnard in 1923. In the same year she married Luther Cressman and entered the anthropology department of Columbia University.
The Columbia department at this time consisted of Boas, who taught everything, and Ruth Benedict, his only assistant. The catastrophe of World War I and the dislocations that followed it had had their impact on the developing discipline of anthropology. Anthropologists began to ask how their knowledge of the nature of humankind might be used to illuminate contemporary problems. At the same time the influence of Sigmund Freud was beginning to be felt in all the behavioral sciences. The atmosphere in the Columbia department was charged with intellectual excitement, and whole new perspectives for anthropology were opening up.
Mead completed her studies in 1925 and set off for a year's fieldwork in Samoa in the face of opposition from older colleagues worried about sending a young woman alone to a Pacific island. Her problem was to study the life of adolescent girls. She learned the native language (one of seven she eventually mastered) and lived in a Samoan household as "one of the girls." She found that young Samoan girls experience none of the tensions American and European adolescents suffer from, and she demonstrated the kind of social arrangements that make this easy transition to adulthood possible.
On returning from the field Mead became assistant curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History, where she remained, eventually becoming curator and, in 1969, curator emeritus. Her mandate in going to the museum was "to make Americans understand cultural anthropology as well as they understood archaeology."
When Mead wrote Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), her publisher, concerned that the book fell into no conventional category, asked for a chapter on what the work's significance would be for Americans. The result was the final chapter, "Education for Choice," which set the basic theme for much of her lifework.
In 1928, after completing a technical monograph, The Social Organization of Manuá, Mead left for New Guinea, this time with Reo Fortune, an anthropologist from New Zealand whom she had married that year. Her project was the study of the thought of young children, testing some of the then current theories. Her study of children's thought in its sociocultural context is described in Growing Up in New Guinea (1930). She later returned to the village of Peri, where this study was made, after 25 years, when the children she had known in 1929 were leaders of a community going through the difficulties of transition to modern life. She described this transition, with flashbacks to the earlier days, in New Lives for Old (1956).
New Field Methods
Mead's interest in psychiatry had turned her attention to the problem of the cultural context of schizophrenia, and with this in mind she went to Bali, a society where trance and other forms of dissociation are culturally sanctioned. She was now married to Gregory Bateson, a British anthropologist whom she had met in New Guinea. The Balinese study was especially noteworthy for development of new field techniques. The extensive use of film made it possible to record and analyze significant minutiae of behavior that escape the pencil-and-paper ethnographer. Of the 38,000 photographs which Mead and Bateson brought back, 759 were selected for Balinese Character (1942), a joint study with Bateson. This publication marks a major innovation in the recording and presentation of ethnological data and may prove in the long run to be one of her most significant contributions to the science of anthropology.
Studies Relevant to the "Public Good"
Largely through the work of Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, the relevance of anthropology to problems of public policy was recognized to a degree, though somewhat belatedly. When World War II brought the United States into contact with allies, enemies, and peoples just emerging from colonialism, the need to understand many lifestyles became apparent. Mead conducted a nationwide study of American food habits prior to the introduction of rationing. Later she was sent to England to try to explain to the British the habits of the American soldiers who were suddenly thrust among them. After the war she worked as director of Research in Contemporary Cultures, a cross-cultural, trans-disciplinary project applying the insights and some of the methods of anthropology to the study of complex modern cultures. An overall view of the methods and some of the insights gained is contained in The Study of Cultures at a Distance (1953).
For the theoretical basis of her work in the field of culture and personality Margaret Mead drew heavily on psychology, especially learning theory and psychoanalysis. In return she contributed significantly to the development of psychoanalytic theory by emphasizing the importance of culture in personality development. She served on many national and international committees for mental health and was instrumental in introducing the study of culture into training programs for physicians and social workers.
In the 1960s Mead became deeply concerned with the unrest among the young. Her close contact with students gave her special insight into the unmet needs of youth—for better education, for autonomy, for an effective voice in decisions that affect their lives in a world which adults seem no longer able to control. Some of her views on these problems are set forth in Culture and Commitment (1970). Her thoughts on human survival under the threats of war, over-population, and degradation of the environment are contained in A Way of Seeing (1970).
Ever since Margaret Mead taught a class of young working women in 1926, she became deeply involved in education, both in the universities and in interpreting the lessons of anthropology to the general public. She joined the anthropology department at Columbia University in 1947 and also taught at Fordham University and the universities of Cincinnati and Topeka. She also lectured to people all over America and Europe. Mead died in 1978 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Margaret Mead was a dominant force in developing the field of culture and personality and the related field of national character research. Stated briefly, her theoretical position is based on the assumption that an individual matures within a cultural context which includes an ideological system, the expectations of others, and techniques of socialization which condition not only outward responses but also inner psychic structure. Mead was criticized by certain other social scientists on methodological and conceptual grounds. She was criticized for neglecting quantitative methods in favor of depth analysis and for what has been called "anecdotal" handling of data. On the theoretical side she was accused of applying concepts of individual psychology to the analysis of social process while ignoring historical and economic factors. But since her concern lay with predicting the behavior of individuals within a given social context and not with the origin of institutions, the criticism is irrelevant.
There is no question that Mead was one of the leading American intellectuals of the 20th century. Through her best-selling books, her public lecturing, and her popular column in Redbook magazine, Mead popularized anthropology in the United States. She also provided American women with a role model, encouraging them to pursue professional careers previously closed to women while at the same time championing their roles as mothers.
Of the many studies of Margaret Mead's life and career, see With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson (1984) by Mary Catherine Bateson; Margaret Mead: A Voice for the Century (1982) by Robert Cassidy; and Margaret Mead's Contradictory Legacy (1992), edited by Leonard Foerstel and Angela Gilliam. See also Anthropologists and What They Do (1965), which was written for high school students and contains accounts of her life in the university and in the field. Her essay "Field Work in the Pacific Islands, 1925-1967" appears in Peggy Golde, ed., Women in the Field: Anthropological Experiences (1970). A full-length study of Mead is Allyn Moss, Margaret Mead: Shaping a New World (1963). Hoffman R. Hays, From Ape to Angel: An Informal History of Social Anthropology (1958), has an essay appraising her career. There are essays on Mead's life in Eleanor Clymer and Lillian Erlich, Modern American Career Women (1959), and Eve Parshalle, The Kashmir Bridge-women (1965). □
The most celebrated anthropologist of the twentieth century, Margaret Mead (1901–1978) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 16, and died in New York City on November 15. Her career began with a shift from psychology when Ruth Benedict (1887–1948) and Franz Boas (1858–1942), two of her teachers at Columbia, attracted her with Benedict's challenge that they had "nothing to offer but an opportunity to do work that matters." Bridging these two fields, Mead became a founder of the culture and personality school of anthropology; she was deeply committed to making anthropological knowledge matter—especially in a world of rapid scientific and technological change.
Mead's career took off when she went to Samoa at age twenty-three to study adolescent girls and to explore whether the emotional strains of adolescence were uniform across cultures or varied depending on socialization and experience. This led to her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), a bestseller that gave many readers their first awareness that their assumptions about human behavior might not always apply. Although this book was caricatured and attacked by the anthropologist Derek Freeman in 1983, twenty years of debate has affirmed her descriptions, showing that Freeman's insistence on the biological determination of variations observed fifty years after Mead's work in other areas of Samoa supplemented but could not refute Mead's basic emphasis on learned—and therefore potentially variable—behavior.
Mead's subsequent fieldwork up until World War II took her to four different New Guinea societies and to the Omaha tribe of Nebraska with her second husband, Reo Fortune, and then to Bali and another New Guinea society, the Iatmul, with her third husband, the anthropologist and ecological thinker Gregory Bateson. During this period, she focused primarily on child rearing and personality development and secondarily on gender differences, where she pioneered the comparative study of gender roles. Her work appeared both in further trade books such as Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935) and in detailed technical monographs such as The Mountain Arapesh (published in three parts, 1938–1949), establishing the pattern of applying her findings in the field to the dilemmas of industrialized society, and writing in several genres for different audiences. She also innovated in methodology, beginning the use of projective tests in fieldwork and, with Bateson, invented a new technique of visual anthropology exemplified in Balinese Character (1942). Her fieldwork archives are available at the Library of Congress.
World War II led Mead and other social scientists to focus on industrialized nations as part of the war effort. Mead collaborated with Benedict in developing the application of anthropology to contemporary cultures made inaccessible by war and political conflict, primarily through the Columbia University Research in Contemporary Cultures project. This methodology, described in The Study of Culture at a Distance (1953), which led to multiple publications by many authors, involved the creation of interdisciplinary and intercultural teams not unlike contemporary focus groups, and the analysis of literary and artistic materials in ways that anticipated contemporary cultural studies. Mead founded the Institute for Intercultural Studies in New York in 1944 to house these projects and a variety of later activities.
The war had precipitated rapid and often devastating culture change, and Mead's postwar focus was on change, particularly the possibilities of purposive culture change. In 1953 she returned to Pere, a Manus village in the Admiralty Islands (now part of Papua New Guinea) she had studied with Fortune, to analyze the effects of the war on a community with little previous outside contact. In Manus, she found that a charismatic leader had promoted the choice of integration into the outside world and the villagers were positive about change rather than demoralized by it; that rapid change is sometimes preferable to gradual change; and that children could play a key transformative role (Mead 1956). Mead was one of those who introduced the concept of "culture" into the thinking of readers, with profound intellectual and ethical results, but her emphasis on purposive culture change reaffirmed ethical issues avoided by some cultural relativists, and she insisted that many human institutions, such as those of warfare and racism, be seen as human inventions that could be modified or replaced, rather than as "natural" and unavoidable. Her understanding of the role of individuals and groups in the remaking of Manus society was key to her book Continuities in Cultural Evolution (1964), best summarized in her often quoted phrase, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world."
Mead believed that the understanding of cultural diversity offered a new kind of freedom to human societies, and she worked tirelessly and skillfully to disseminate anthropological ideas, lectured widely, published profusely, and was quick to understand the possibilities of new media. Unlike many academics, she saw communicating to the public as a professional obligation of comparable intellectual integrity to her more narrow professional writing. She also taught for many years at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. At the same time, Mead worked with colleagues in other fields who kept her close to new developments in biology and neurology. She was an active member of the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics and on Group Process in the postwar period and of the World Federation for Mental Health. She was associated for more than fifty years with the American Museum of Natural History, serving in her later years as its Curator of Ethnology. She served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Anthropological Association, and was a founder of the Scientists' Institute for Public Information. She received twenty-eight honorary degrees, more than forty academic and scientific awards, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom following her death in 1978.
MARY CATHERINE BATESON
Bateson, Mary Catherine. (1984). With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. New York: Harper Collins.
Côté, James E. (1994). Adolescent Storm and Stress: An Evaluation of the Mead/Freeman Controversy. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum. One of many scholarly refutations of the Freeman attacks.
Freeman, Derek (1983). Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mead, Margaret. (1928 ). Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization. New York: Perennial Classics.
Mead, Margaret. (1934 ). Kinship in the Admiralty Islands. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Mead, Margaret. (1935 ). Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: HarperCollins.
Mead, Margaret. (1938 ). The Mountain Arapesh, 2 Vol. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Mead, Margaret. (1942 ). And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America. New York: Berghahn Books. Written as a contribution to the war effort.
Mead, Margaret. (1956 ). New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—Manus, 1928–1953. New York: Perennial.
Mead, Margaret. (1964 ). Continuities in Cultural Evolution. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. Includes Mead's theoretical discussion of the role of small groups in cultural change.
Mead, Margaret. (1972 ). Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York: Kodansha. Mead's partial autobiography.
Mead, Margaret. (2004). The World Ahead: An Anthropologist Anticipates the Future, ed. Robert B. Textor. New York: Berghahn Books. A selection of Mead's writings about the future.
Mead, Margaret, and Gregory Bateson. (1942). Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.
Mead, Margaret, and Rhoda Metraux, eds. (1953 ). The Study of Culture at a Distance. New York: Berghahn Books. A manual developed from research in contemporary cultures.
MEAD, MARGARET (1901–1978) was America's best-known anthropologist of the twentieth century. She grew up in Pennsylvania, briefly attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and moved to New York City where she received her B.A. in psychology from Barnard College. Mead completed her education with an M.A. in psychology and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. In the mid-1920s she became a curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where she spent her entire professional life. In a career that lasted over fifty years, Mead was an energetic researcher, prolific author, sought-after public speaker, influential public thinker, and tireless champion for the young discipline of anthropology.
Mead's research on several cultures in the South Pacific during the 1920s and 1930s, including Samoans, Manus, Balinese, and the Arapesh, Mundugumor, Tchambuli, and Iatmul of New Guinea, led to a number of popular books and professional monographs. Her research focused primarily on childhood, youth, and adolescence, as well as kinship and social organization. She is also known as the founder of the culture-and-personality school of cultural anthropology. Although Mead is not well known for her contributions to the study of religion, she nevertheless wrote about religion for both professional and popular audiences.
Mead's research on religion in her professional work is reflected in her detailed monograph on Arapesh supernaturalism (1940). It is her most comprehensive description of an indigenous religious system, containing extensive data on this New Guinea tribal culture's cosmology, myths, ritual beliefs, and practices. In this work, she gave special attention to rites of passage. Mead also published articles on taboo, magic, and men's houses in New Guinea. Based on her extensive fieldwork on the island of Manus, off the coast of New Guinea, she wrote about the belief in animism among adults and children, as well as long-term religious change in New Lives for Old (1956). She also described a revitalization movement on Manus (1964).
In Balinese Character (1942), Mead and Gregory Bateson used photographic analysis to comprehend Balinese trance. Their documentary, Trance and Dance in Bali (1952), is considered a classic in ethnographic film. In most of Mead's work on indigenous cultures, though, religion was tangential to other topics. For example, in Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), she briefly discussed the role of Christianity in the lives of adolescent girls. Mead viewed Christianity as playing a relatively benign role in adolescent socialization and was subsequently criticized by anthropologist Derek Freeman for not fully addressing what he viewed as the harsh and puritanical Christian morality of the time (Freeman, 1983). Mead also wrote a chapter on the child and the supernatural in Growing Up in New Guinea (1930) and one on religious institutions in The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe (1932).
Although she wrote about religion based on her fieldwork, Mead's detailed ethnographic work on religion did not provide major contributions to theories of religion. She favored a more scientific, psychological, and developmental approach to religion that was superseded by more humanistic, symbolic approaches in anthropology. Mead's pioneering descriptions published in the 1930s and 1940s yielded to the interpretive ideas of Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, and Mary Douglas in the 1960s and thereafter. And, while Mead was a forerunner of feminist approaches to the study of culture in general, she did not offer a feminist approach to the study of religion.
Mead wrote a good deal about religion in her role as a public intellectual, especially in her later life. She was very interested in religion in her own life, in the United States, and in the world at large. Although her parents were atheists, at age eleven Mead asked to be baptized. Her first husband, Luther Cressman, was an Episcopalian minister, and early in their courtship Mead planned to be a minister's wife. As she became a professional anthropologist, her goals changed. Yet Mead continued to be a religious person, unlike most of her colleagues in anthropology. Unknown to many of her friends, she secretly maintained her Christian faith.
In the 1960s, she saw a new role for Christianity in the world community, involving issues like civil rights and ecumenism. She was asked to be a representative for the Episcopal Church to the World Council of Churches, which she attended for several years. Mead was deeply involved in this project and authored Twentieth Century Faith: Hope and Survival (1972) about religion in the age of technology. Mead also wrote a number of opinion pieces on religion for the lay public in religious magazines and for her long-running column in Redbook magazine. She discussed the spiritual dimensions of birth control, the right to die, women as priests, the contemporary fascination with the occult, and other issues of the day. Mead saw no conflict between religion and science, and she envisioned a world where the faiths of other cultures would not be considered inferior. In her role as a public intellectual, she wrote more extensively on religion for a popular audience than she had for her peers in anthro-pology.
Freeman, Derek. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge, Mass., 1983.
Gordan, Joan. Margaret Mead: The Complete Bibliography, 1925–1975. The Hague, 1975.
Howard, Jane. "Bishops May Not, but Anthropologists Do." In Margaret Mead: A Life, pp. 339–354. New York, 1984.
Mead, Margaret. Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation. New York, 1928.
Mead, Margaret. The Mountain Arapesh; Vol. 2: Supernaturalism. The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. 37, pt. 3, pp. 317–541. New York, 1940.
Mead, Margaret. New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation—Manus, 1928–1953. New York, 1956.
Mead, Margaret. "The Paliau Movement in the Admiralties." In Continuities in Cultural Evolution, pp. 192–234. New Haven, Conn., 1964.
Mead, Margaret. Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York, 1972.
Mead, Margaret. Twentieth Century Faith: Hope and Survival. New York, 1972.
Paul Shankman (2005)
American anthropologist whose work emphasized the relationship between culture and personality formation.
Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia to a family of educators. In her youth, her main influences were her mother and maternal grandmother, both of whom had raised families and also pursued careers. Mead's formal education before entering college was sporadic, and she was mainly educated at home by her grandmother. An unhappy year at DePauw University turned Mead against coeducation, and she subsequently transferred to Barnard College. She first concentrated in English and psychology but became interested in anthropology under the influence of Columbia University anthropologists Franz Boas (1858-1942) and Ruth Benedict (1887-1948). Boas was urgently organizing ethnographic investigations of primitive cultures throughout the world before eventual contact with modern society, and he convinced Mead that she could make a contribution to this burgeoning field. After receiving her M.A. in psychology in 1924, she conducted her first field work in American Samoa, where she observed adolescent girls to determine if the turmoil associated with adolescence in the West is universal. Living with her research subjects in a Samoan village, Mead was the first American to use the participant-observer method developed by British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942). Upon her return to the United States, she received her Ph.D. in anthropology in 1929 and published Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), in which she presented a portrait of Samoan culture as free from the sturm und drang of the teen years in Western societies because preparation for adulthood is a continuous process that begins early in life rather than a series of stages, which create a more stressful transition process.
Mead did extensive field work throughout the 1920s and 1930s. After her initial trip, she was always joined by a collaborator. These included her second husband, New Zealand psychologist Reo Fortune, and her third husband, the British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, whom she married in 1935. Mead and Bateson conducted two years of intensive field work together in Bali, pursuing their different research interests. They pioneered the use of film as a resource for anthropological research, shooting some 22,000 feet of film as well as thousands of still photographs. Besides the Balinese, groups studied by Mead included the Manus people of the Admiralty Islands, and the Arapesh, Mundugumor, Tchambuli, and Iatmul of New Guinea. A tireless investigator, she made many repeat visits to her research sites; over a 47-year period, she observed the Manus people seven times. Having studied seven different Pacific cultures as well as the Omaha tribe of North America, Mead became convinced of the importance of culture as a determinant of personality , following in the footsteps of Alfred Adler in the field of psychology and Ruth Benedict in anthropology. Mead detailed her theories of character formation and culture in Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935) and expanded further on the role of culture in gender formation in her 1949 work, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. (Although Mead's stature as an anthropologist is unquestioned, there has been some speculation that her subjects may have systematically lied to her during her investigations.) In contrast to Sigmund Freud's dictum, "anatomy is destiny," Mead found gender roles to be culturally determined rather than innate, noting that behavior regarded as masculine in one culture could be considered feminine in another.
Germans and Japanese, and facilitate relations with its allies, especially the British. From 1926 to 1964, Mead was associated with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as a curator of ethnology, eventually attaining the status of curator emeritus. She became an adjunct professor at Columbia in 1954 and also held a number of visiting professorships elsewhere. Mead was also the chairperson of the Social Sciences division of Fordham University beginning in 1968. She served as president of the World Federation of Mental Health (1956-57), the American Anthropological Association (1960), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1975). Beginning in the 1960s, Mead's influence expanded to include a wider audience, as she agreed to write a monthly column for Redbook magazine, in which she discussed topics she had concentrated on for much of her career—child-rearing practices and the family. In turn, she used her readers' letters to learn more about the concerns of American women. Mead was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her other books include Growing Up in New Guinea (1930), Balinese Character (with Gregory Bateson, 1942), Soviet Attitudes Toward Authority (1951), Childhood in Contemporary Societies (1955),
Anthropology: A Human Science (1964), Blackberry Winter (1972), an autobiographical account of her early life, and Letters from the Field, 1925-1975 (1977).
See also Child development; Conditioning; Sexuality
Bateson, Mary Catherine. With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. New York: William Morrow, 1984.
Foerstel, Lenora, and Angela Gilliam, eds. Confronting the Margaret Mead Legacy: Scholarship, Empire, and the South Pacific. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
Holmes, Lowell D. Quest for the Real Samoa: The Mead/Freeman Controversy and Beyond. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.
Rice, Edward. Margaret Mead: A Portrait. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.