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||Margaret Mead (1901-1978)|
American anthropologist, author, lecturer, one of the most influential female thinkers in the social sciences. Margaret Mead was a celebrity as well as an intellectual, who wrote academic and popular books. However, some doubts have arisen about her famous Coming in Age in Samoa (1928), but otherwise Mead is respected as a major scientist in anthropology. Her other works include Male and Female (1949), An Anthropologist at Work (1959), a study of her colleague Ruth Benedict, A Rap on Race (1971) with James Baldwin, and memoirs Blackberry Winter (1972).
"As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own." (from Coming of Age in Samoa, 1928)
Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia into a Quaker family. The family tradition was strong in the social sciences. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and mother, Emily (Fogg) Mead, a sociologist. In her early childhood, before she knew what the words meant, Mead learned to say, "My father majored in economics and minored in sociology and my mother majored in sociology ad minored in economics." In 1919 she entered DePauw University but transferred after a year to Barnard College, where she took a course in anthropology with Professor Franz Boas (1858-1942) and his assistant, Dr. Ruth Benedict; she was fifteen years older and a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Columbia University.
to Margaret Caffey's biography about Ruth Benedict,
Mead became eventually Benedict's intimate friend. They met in Rome in
1926 after Mead returned to Europe from her first fieldwork trip in
Samoa. Benedict was five feet eight inches tall, had a large and
athletic body. At that time her hair was cut shor; she resembled an
Amazon. Mead was feminine in appearance. "I never played the male role
in any relationship," she once said.
Mead's first marriage
with Luther S. Cressman, a minister and archaeologist, ended in 1928.
In the same year she married Dr. Reo F. Fortune, a New Zealand
anthropologist, with whom she published Growing Up in New Guinea
compared observations of Pacific Island life with contemporary American
educational system. Without accepting promiscuity Mead suggested that
in modern society sex attitudes might be more relaxed. Mead
received her Ph.D. in 1929 from Columbia University; she wrote it under
Franz Boas's direction.
first field trip Mead made in 1925-26 to the island of Tau, in Samoa.
Upon the suggestion of Boas, she studied there the development of girls
in that society, publishing the results in Coming of Age in Samoa. In the study
she investigated adolescence lovemaking, and demonstrated that the
transition of Samoan young girls into adult women went apparently
without emotional crises. At one point she complained to Ruth Benedict that all her visitors, adolescent girls, wanted to talk about was "sex, sex, sex." (The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy by Paul Shankman, 2009, p. 99) The findings were contrasted with those of
American girls. Mead suggested, that Americans could learn things from
the Samoans about rising children. An Australian researcher,
Derek Freeman, claimed in his book Margaret Mead and Samoa
(1983), that she had ignored biological factors in favor of a theory of
cultural determination of sex roles. Jane Howard in her biography of
Margaret Mead (1984) tells that she characterized the men of the
Arapesh people of New Guinea as gentle and unaggressive while her
co-worker Reo F. Fortune recorded that many old men "claimed one or
more war homicides to his credit." (Human Instinct by Robert Winston, 2011, p. 149)
On her other expeditions Mead made field studies in the Admiralty Islands, New Guinea, and Bali. From 1926 Mead held a position at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. She remained a member of the staff for the rest of her career, retiring as a curator emeritus of ethnology in 1969. Mead was a visiting lecturer at Vassar College (1939-41), a lecturer at Columbia University (1947-51), and from 1954 to 1978 she was an adjunct professor of anthropology at Columbia. From 1969 to 1971 Mead served as a professor of anthropology and a chairman of the Division of Social Sciences at Fordham University. She also held a number of visiting professorships. At the age of 72, she was elected to the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
On the trip to Mead met the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson, they married in 1936. With her third husband she went to Bali to do field work. After about fifteen years, they divorced, but the period was probably the richest in her life. "American women are good mothers," she once said, "but they make poor wives; Americans are very poor at being attentive to anybody else." (Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, With A New Introduction by Gail Sheehy, 2013) In their Bali years they took and annotated 25,000 photographs. Catherine Bateson, their daughter and only child, born in 1939, become the target of her parent's enthusiastic observations – her birth was filmed and her childhood was scrupulously recorded. Balinese Character appeared in 1942 and Growth and Culture, written with the collaboration of Frances Cooke Macgregor, in 1951.
During World War II Mead served as an executive secretary of
the committee on food habits of the National Research Council. She
wrote pamphlets for the Office of War Information. After the war Mead
published Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World,
which made use of her observations of people in the South Pacific and
the East Indies. "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." (from
Male and Female, 1948) Partly Mead wanted to prove
that although there are certain differences between sexes – connected
with impregnation, giving birth and nursing – they shouldn't be
considered restrictions. In the last chapter Mead defended women's
right to develop their talents.
Mead's father once to said her, "It's a pity you aren't a boy; you'd have gone far." (Notes to a Working Woman: Finding Balance, Passion, and Fulfillment in Your Life by Luci Swindoll, 2004, p. 67) Mead herself tentatively presented the supposition that men have a subtle superiority in natural sciences, mathematics, and instrumental music compared to women, who are more skillful in humanities in which they can use intuition. Themes in French Culture (1954) was an attempt to apply anthropological mythology to the study of Western society. It was written with Rhoda Budendey Métraux, a younger colleague with whom Mead shared a house in Greenwich Village for many years.
"Mead's anthropology had many other red, white and blue- blooded virtues. One was the common anthropological conceit, out of which she made a career, to the effect that the ultimate value of studying other cultures was the use we could make of them to reconstruct our own – a heady kind of intellectual imperialism, as if the final meaning of others' lives was their significance for us." (Marshall Sahlins in The New York Times, August 26, 1984)
her publications, lectures on women's rights, child
rearing and education and other social issues Mead became something of
a guru, a larger than life character, who, in spite of her
5-foot-2-inch figure, was always the center of attention wherever she
went. Noteworthy, before Mildred Crary initiated a serious campaign to
launch Mead as a presidential candidate, David Cort wrote in 1963 a
satirical article or Monocle,
titled 'Margaret Mead for President,' in which he put words in Mead's
mouth as to her assessment of the childhood experiences of the various
potential Republican candidates from Richard Nixon to Nelson
Rockefeller. Mead never had high hopes for the candidacy because
she had been married and divorced three times. The FBI kept a file on
Mead. Some of her anthropological colleagues were subjected to
intensive interrogation from the FBI. In the article 'What Makes the
Soviet Character' (Natural History, 1951) Mead argued that "If a
hundred Russian babies chosen at random were exchanged for a hundred
American babies chosen at random, we assume that the Soviet-born babies
would grow up to be indistinguishable from other children reared in the
United States, and the American-born babies would be indistinguishable
from other Soviet-reared children." Shortly after President Kennedy
took office, he invited her to White House to discuss on the subject of
the Russian character.
Among Mead's several awards is Unesco's Kalinga Prize. Its other receivers include Björn Kurtén, George Gamow, Fred Hoyle, Julian Huxley, Konrad Lorenz, and Bertrand Russell. One of her central themes in speeches and writings was that while cultural factors are fundamental determinants of behavior, they are themselves open to influences and capable of improvement. Mead's memoirs, Blackberry Winter, came out in 1972. She died of cancer in New York on November 15, 1978. From her 39 books, she wrote 15 in collaboration. Mead also was Ruth Benedict's (1887-1948) literary executor and published in 1959 an anthology, An Anthropologist at Work, based on her colleague's letters, diaries, and other writings. Mead's daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson Kassarjian, became an anthropologist and dean of social sciences at Raza Shah Civar University in Iran. Valuable first-hand information of Margaret Mead is to be found in her work With a Daughter's Eye: Letters From the Field, 1925-1975 (1984).
For further reading: Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century by Charles King (2019); Margaret Mead: A Biography by Mary Bowman-Kruhm (2011); The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy by Paul Shankman and Paul S. Boyer (2009); Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon by Nancy Lutkehaus (2008); Intertwined Lives: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Their Circle by Lois W. Banner (2003); Adolescent Storm and Stress by J.E. Cote (1994); Margaret Mead by Edra Ziesk (1990); Margaret Mead by Phyllis Grosskurth (1989); Ruth Benedict: Stranger in This Land by M.M. Caffey (1989); Margaret Mead: A Life by Jane Howard (1985); Margaret Mead, a Life by J. Howard (1984); Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth by D. Freeman (1983)