Margaret Mead: Wikis


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  • Derek Freeman was an anthropologist whose refutation of Margaret Mead's work "ignited controversy of a scale, visibility, and ferocity never before seen in anthropology"?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Margaret Mead
Born December 16, 1901(1901-12-16)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died November 15, 1978 (aged 76)
New York City
Education A.B., Barnard College (1923)
M.A., Columbia University (1924)
Ph.D., Columbia University (1929)
Occupation Anthropologist
Spouse(s) Luther Cressman (1923-1928)
Reo Fortune (1928-1935)
Gregory Bateson (1936-1950)
Children Mary Catherine Bateson (b. 1939)

Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

She was both a popularizer of the insights of anthropology into modern American and Western culture, and also a respected, if controversial, academic anthropologist. Her reports about the attitudes towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures amply informed the 1960s sexual revolution. Mead was a champion of broadened sexual mores within a context of traditional western religious life.

An Anglican Christian, she played a considerable part in the drafting of the 1979 American Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.[1]:347-348

She was a recognizable figure in academia, usually wearing a distinctive cape and carrying a tall, forked walking stick.[2]


Birth, early family life and education

Mead was the first of five children, born into a Quaker family,[3] and raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and her mother, Emily Fogg Mead,[4] was a sociologist who studied Italian immigrants.[5] Her sister Katharine (1906-1907) died at the age of nine months. This was a traumatic event for Mead, who had named this baby, and thoughts of her lost sister permeated her daydreams for many years.[1] Her family moved frequently, so her early education alternated between home-schooling and traditional schools.[5] Margaret studied one year, 1919, at DePauw University, then transferred to Barnard College where she earned her Bachelor's degree in 1923.

She studied with Professor Franz Boas and Dr. Ruth Benedict at Columbia University before earning her Master's in 1924.[6] Mead set out in 1925 to do fieldwork in Polynesia.[7] In 1926, she joined the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, as assistant curator.[8] She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1929.[9]

Both of Mead's surviving sisters were married to famous men. Elizabeth Mead (1909-1983), an artist and teacher, married cartoonist William Steig, and Priscilla Mead (1911-1959) married author Leo Rosten. Mead also had a brother.

Personal life

Mead was married three times. All her husbands were anthropologists. Her first husband (1923–1928) was Luther Cressman, a theology student at the time who eventually became an anthropologist. Mead dismissively characterized their union as "my student marriage" in Blackberry Winter, a sobriquet with which Cressman took vigorous issue. Her second husband was New Zealander Reo Fortune, a Cambridge graduate (1928–1935). As an anthropologist, his Sorcerers of Dobu remains the locus classicus of eastern Papuan anthropology, but he is best known instead for his Fortunate number theory. She described her second marriage as more passionate than the first, embarked upon when she was told that she could not have children and abandoned when she was given hope by another physician that childbearing might indeed be possible.

Her third and longest-lasting marriage (1936–1950) was to Englishman Gregory Bateson, also a Cambridge graduate, with whom she had a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, who would also become an anthropologist. Her pediatrician was Benjamin Spock early in his career. Spock's subsequent writings on child rearing incorporated some of Mead's own practices and beliefs acquired from her ethnological field observations which she shared with him; in particular, breastfeeding on the baby's demand rather than a schedule.[10] She readily acknowledged that Gregory Bateson was the husband she loved the most. She was devastated when he left her, and she remained his loving friend ever after, keeping his photograph by her bedside wherever she traveled, including beside her hospital deathbed.[1]:428

Mead also had an exceptionally close relationship with Ruth Benedict, one of her instructors. In her memoir about her parents, With a Daughter's Eye, Mary Catherine Bateson implies that the relationship between Benedict and Mead was partly sexual.[11] While Margaret Mead never openly identified herself as lesbian or bisexual, the details of her relationship with Benedict have led others to so identify her. In her writings she proposed that it is to be expected that an individual's sexual orientation may evolve throughout life.[11]:120-22

She spent her last years in a close personal and professional collaboration with anthropologist Rhoda Metraux, with whom she lived from 1955 until her death in 1978. Letters between the two published in 2006 with the permission of Mead's daughter[12] clearly express a romantic relationship.

Career and later life

During World War II, Mead served as executive secretary of the National Research Council's Committee on Food Habits. She served as curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1946 to 1969. She taught at The New School and Columbia University, where she was an adjunct professor from 1954 to 1978. She was a professor of anthropology and chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus from 1968 to 1970, founding their anthropology department. Following the Ruth Benedict's example, Mead focused her research on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture.[13] She served as President of the American Anthropological Association in 1960. She held various positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, notably president in 1975 and chair of the executive committee of the board of directors in 1976.[14]

Mead was featured on two record albums published by Folkways Records. The first, released in 1959, An Interview With Margaret Mead, explored the topics of morals and anthropology. In 1971, she was included in a compilation of talks by prominent women, But the Women Rose, Vol.2: Voices of Women in American History.[15]

In later life, Mead was a meto many young anthropologists and sociologists, including Jean Houston.[1]

Mead died of pancreatic cancer on November 15, 1978. She was buried at Trinity Episcopal Church in Buckingham, Pennsylvania.[citation needed]


Coming of Age in Samoa

Samoan girl, c. 1896

In the foreword to Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead's advisor, Franz Boas, wrote of its significance:

"Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal, but what constitutes courtesy, modesty, very good manners, and definite ethical standards is not universal. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways."[citation needed]

Boas went on to point out that at the time of publication, many Americans had begun to discuss the problems faced by young people (particularly women) as they pass through adolescence as "unavoidable periods of adjustment". Boas felt that a study of the problems faced by adolescents in another culture would be illuminating.[citation needed]

And so, as Mead herself described the goal of her research: "I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?" To answer this question, she conducted her study among a small group of Samoans — a village of 600 people on the island of Ta‘u — in which she got to know, live with, observe, and interview through an interpreter 68 young women between the ages of 9 and 20. She concluded that the passage from childhood to adulthood — adolescence — in Samoa was a smooth transition and not marked by the emotional or psychological distress, anxiety, or confusion seen in the United States.[citation needed]

As Boas and Mead expected, this book upset many Westerners when it first appeared in 1928. Many American readers were shocked by her observation of incest that was common in the Samoan culture and that young Samoan women deferred marriage for many years while enjoying casual sex but eventually married, settled down, and successfully reared their own children.[citation needed]

In 1983, five years after Mead had died, Australian anthropologist Derek Freeman published Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, in which he challenged Mead's major findings about sexuality in Samoan society, citing statements of her surviving informants' claiming that she had coaxed them into giving her the answers she wanted. After years of discussion, many anthropologists concluded that the truth would probably never be known, although most published accounts of the debate have also raised serious questions about Freeman's critique.[16]

Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies

Another influential book by Mead was Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. This became a major cornerstone of the feminist movement, since it claimed that females are dominant in the Tchambuli (now spelled Chambri) Lake region of the Sepik basin of Papua New Guinea (in the western Pacific) without causing any special problems. The lack of male dominance may have been the result of the Australian administration's outlawing of warfare. According to contemporary research, males are dominant throughout Melanesia (although some believe that female witches have special powers). Others have argued that there is still much cultural variation throughout Melanesia, and especially in the large island of New Guinea. Moreover, anthropologists often overlook the significance of networks of political influence among females. The formal male dominated institutions typical of some areas of high population density were not, for example, present in the same way in Oksapmin, West Sepik Province, a more sparsely populated area. Cultural patterns there were different from, say, Mt. Hagen. They were closer to those described by Mead.

Mead stated that the Arapesh people, also in the Sepik, were pacifists, although she noted that they do on occasion engage in warfare. Her observations about the sharing of garden plots amongst the Arapesh, the egalitarian emphasis in child rearing, and her documentation of predominantly peaceful relations among relatives are very different from the "big man" displays of dominance that were documented in more stratified New Guinea cultures — e.g., by Andrew Strathern. They are a different cultural pattern.

In brief, her comparative study revealed a full range of contrasting gender roles:

  • "Among the Arapesh, both men and women were peaceful in temperament and neither men nor women made war.
  • "Among the Mundugumor, the opposite was true: both men and women were warlike in temperament.
  • "And the Tchambuli were different from both. The men 'primped' and spent their time decorating themselves while the women worked and were the practical ones — the opposite of how it seemed in early 20th century America."[citation needed]

Other research areas

Mead has been credited with persuading the American Jewish Committee to sponsor a project to study European Jewish villages, shtetls, in which a team of researchers would conduct mass interviews with Jewish immigrants living in New York City. The resulting book, widely cited for decades, allegedly created the Jewish mother stereotype, a mother intensely loving but controlling to the point of smothering, and engendering guilt in her children through the suffering she professed to undertake for their sakes.[17]

She also cofounded the Parapsychological Association, a group advocating for the advancement of parapsychology and psychical research.


On January 19, 1979, President Jimmy Carter announced that he was awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Mead. U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young presented the award to Mead's daughter at a special program honoring Mead's contributions, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, where she spent many years of her career. The citation read:[18]

"Margaret Mead was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn."

In addition, there is an elementary school in Sammamish, Washington named after Margaret Mead.

See also

Publications by Mead

As a sole author
  • Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) ISBN 0-688-05033-6
  • Growing Up in New Guinea (1930) ISBN 0-688-17811-1
  • The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe (1932)
  • Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935)
  • And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942)
  • Male and Female (1949) ISBN 0-688-14676-7
  • New Lives for Old: Cultural Transformation in Manus, 1928-1953 (1956)
  • People and Places (1959; a book for young readers)
  • Continuities in Cultural Evolution (1964)
  • Culture and Commitment (1970)
  • Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (1972; autobiography) ISBN 0-317-60065-6
As editor or coauthor
  • Cultural Patterns and Technical Change, editor (1953)
  • Primitive Heritage: An Anthropological Anthology, edited with Nicholas Calas (1953)
  • An Anthropologist at Work, editor (1959, reprinted 1966; a volume of Ruth Benedict's writings)
  • The Study of Culture At A Distance, edited with Rhoda Metraux, 1953
  • Themes in French Culture, with Rhoda Metraux, 1954
  • The Wagon and the Star: A Study of American Community Initiative co-authored with Muriel Whitbeck Brown, 1966
  • A Rap on Race, with James Baldwin, 1971
  • A Way of Seeing, with Rhoda Metraux, 1975


  1. ^ a b c d Howard 1984
  2. ^ "Margaret Mead As a Cultural Commentator". Margaret Mead: Human nature and the power of culture. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  3. ^ Margaret Mead Biography and Bibliography at
  4. ^ Shaping Forces - Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture (Library of Congress Exhibition)
  5. ^ a b "Margaret Mead" by Wilton S. Dillon
  6. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Women's History
  7. ^ Mead 1977
  8. ^ Margaret Mead
  9. ^ Margaret Mead
  10. ^ Moore 2004: 105
  11. ^ a b Bateson 1984:117-118; Lapsley 1999
  12. ^ Caffey and Francis 2006
  13. ^ The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, 1993.
  14. ^ Margaret Mead
  15. ^ Mead at Smithsonian Folkways
  16. ^ See Appell 1984, Brady 1991, Feinberg 1988, Leacock 1988, Levy 1984, Marshall 1993, Nardi 1984, Patience and Smith 1986, Paxman 1988, Scheper-Hughes 1984, Shankman 1996, and Young and Juan 1985.
  17. ^ "The Jewish Mother", Slate, June 13, 2007, p. 3
  18. ^ "Jimmy Carter: Presidential Medal of Freedom Announcement of Award to Margaret Mead". The American Presidency Project. January 19, 1979. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 


  • Acciaioli, Gregory, ed. (1983) "Fact and Context in Etnography: The Samoa Controversy" in Canberra Anthropology (special issue), 6(1): 1-97.
  • Appell, George. (1984) "Freeman's Refutation of Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa: The Implications for Anthropological Inquiry" in Eastern Anthropology, 37: 183-214.
  • Bateson, Mary Catherine. (1984) With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03962-6
  • Brady, Ivan. (1991) "The Samoa Reader: Last Word or Lost Horizon?" in Current Anthropology, 32: 263-282.
  • Caffey, Margaret M., and Patricia A. Francis, eds. (2006). To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead. New York: Basic Books.
  • Caton, Hiram, ed. (1990) The Samoa Reader: Anthropologists Take Stock, University Press of America. ISBN 0-8191-7720-2
  • Feinberg, Richard. (1988) "Margaret Mead and Samoa: Coming of Age in Fact and Fiction" in American Anthropologist, 90: 656-663.
  • Foerstel, Leonora, and Angela Gilliam, eds. (1992). Confronting the Margaret Mead Legacy: Scholarship, Empire and the South Pacific. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Freeman, Derek. (1983) Margaret Mead and Samoa, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-54830-2
  • Freeman, Derek. (1999) The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research, Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3693-7
  • Goldfrank, Esther Schiff. (1983) Another View. Margaret and Me in Ethnohistory 30 (1): 1-14.
  • Holmes, Lowell D. (1987). Quest for the Real Samoa: the Mead/Freeman Controversy and Beyond. South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey.
  • Howard, Jane. (1984). Margaret Mead: A Life, New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Lapsley, Hilary. (1999). Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict: The Kinship of Women. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 1-55849-181-3
  • Leacock, Eleanor. (1988). "Anthropologists in Search of a Culture: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman and All the Rest of Us" in Central Issues in Anthropology, 8(1): 3-20.
  • Levy, Robert. (1984). "Mead, Freeman, and Samoa: The Problem of Seeing Things as They Are" in Ethos, 12: 85-92.
  • Mageo, Jeannette. (1988). Malosi: A Psychological Exploration of Mead's and Freeman's Work and of Samoan Aggression. Pacific Studies, 11(2): 25-65.
  • Marshall, Mac. (1993). "The Wizard from Oz Meets the Wicked Witch of the East: Freeman, Mead, and Ethnographic Authority" in American Ethnologist, 20(3): 604-617.
  • Mead, Margaret. 1977. The Future as Frame for the Present. Audio recording of a lecture delivered July 11, 1977.
  • Metraux , Rhoda. (1980) Margaret Mead. A Biographical Sketch in American Anthropologist 82: 262-269.
  • Nardi, Bonnie. (1984). The Height of Her Powers: Margaret Mead's Samoa. Feminist Studies, 10: 323-337.
  • Moore, Jerry D. (2004). Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists. Rowman Altamira. p. 105. ISBN 0759104115. 
  • Patience, Allan, and Josephy Smith (1987). "Derek Freeman in Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of a Biobehavioral Myth" in American Anthropologist, 88: 157-162.
  • Paxman, David B. (1988). Freeman, Mead, and the Eighteenth-Century Controversy over Polynesian Society. Pacific Studies, 1(3): 1-19.
  • Sandall, Roger. (2001) The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism and Other Essays. ISBN 0-8133-3863-8
  • Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. (1984) The Margaret Mead Controversy: Culture, Biology, and Anthropological Inquiry. Human Organization, 43(1): 85-93.
  • Shankman, Paul. (1996). The History of Samoan Sexual Conduct and the Mead-Freeman Controversy. American Anthropologist, 98(3): 555-567.
  • Shore, Brad. (1982) Sala'ilua: A Samoan Mystery. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Stassinos, Elizabeth. (1998). Response to Visweswaren, 'Race and the culture of anthropology'. American Anthropologist, 100(4): 981-983.
  • Stassinos, Elizabeth. (2009). An Early Case of Personality: Ruth Benedict's Autobiographical Fragment and the Case of the Biblical 'Boaz'. In Regna Darnell and Frederick W. Gleach, eds., Histories of Anthropology, Volume 5. University of Nebraska Press. ISSN 1557-637X
  • Virginia, Mary E. (2003). Benedict, Ruth (1887-1948). DISCovering U.S. History online edition, Detroit: Gale.
  • Young, R.E., and S. Juan. (1985). Freeman's Margaret Mead Myth: The Ideological Virginity of Anthropologists. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, 21: 64-81.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead (16 December 190115 November 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist.


  • If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
    • Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935)
  • To cherish the life of the world.
    • Epitaph, as quoted in Margaret Mead : A Voice for the Century‎ (1982) by Robert Cassidy, p. 152
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
    • As quoted in And I Quote : The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker (1992), edited by Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans, and Andrew Frothingham
  • Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

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