Margaret Mead 1901 - 1978
Margaret Mead was born on Monday, December 16, 1901, at the West Park Hospital
in Philadelphia. Mead was the first baby born there! As a child she felt different
because all of her peers had been born at home and she had not. She was jealous
that they had a place to identify as their own. Consequently, Margaret found
that living with rational, secular, agnostic parents, she could not identify
with very many people.
Margaret's parents were midwesterners who moved around a great deal living in such places as Hampton, New Jersey, Greenwich Village in New York City and St. Marks Square, Philadelphia. Her father was a Professor of Finance at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. Their time spent in places were varied, sometimes spending a few days to a few years.
Margaret, when not in school, was schooled at home by her grandmother. When in school, Margaret sometimes felt out of place because of her personal background. It was in high school, however, that she met and was engaged to a man named Luther Cressman. After attending many schools because of family travel, Margaret graduated and was sent to college at DePauw. It was here where she met Katharine Rothenberger who soon became her best friend. However, Margaret was not happy at DePauw so she soon transferred to Barnard College where she studied economics and sociology. Here, she was associated with a group of girls who were called the "Ash Can Cats." Barnard was the school where Margaret found Anthropology. Her interesting instructor, Franz Boas, also known as the 'Father of Anthropology', encouraged her as an anthropologist. Boas' assistant, Ruth Benedict, became a life-long friend.
In September, 1923, Margaret was married to Luther in a little Episcopal church where she had been baptized of her own accord. She then continued her studies as a graduate student. Through school, she had the opportunity to do some fieldwork in Samoa, where she studied Manu adolescent girls in relation to American female adolescents. Through ethnographic research, she found that culture influences personality, not genetics. On her way back, she met Reo Fortune, an anthropologist who would soon become her husband as she would divorce Luther. After she returned, her book Coming of Age in Samoa was published.
In December, 1931, Margaret traveled to New Guinea to study the Arapesh and later the Mudugumor and Tchambuli cultures. There, her fieldwork consisted of studying sex roles in culture. Mead found that in the Arapesh culture, both men and women were expected to be equal. The Arapesh culture was very simple as both genders actively raised the children. It was, however, also a very fierce culture. Both men and women were mean and aggressive. Often the children were left to fend for themselves and infants of the wrong sex were commonly cast into the river to die. Margaret found this observation very alarming.
In the Tchambuli culture she studied, Margaret found that the sex rolls are reversed. The women were brisk and hearty and the men were in charge of the household. These cultural differences were then published in another book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. She then participated in other fieldwork projects in Bali where she experienced more cultural diversity. While studying in Bali, she met Gregory Bateson, another anthropologist who she would eventually fall in love with.
After divorcing Reo and marrying Gregory, they tried to conceive a child but Margaret had numerous miscarriages that caused them much misery. However, on December 8, 1939, daughter Mary Catherine Bateson was born. Later in life, Margaret became a grandmother and found her life complete. Through her life, she had studied several cultures with opposite societal values and personal roles. She intended to displrove the current theories that masculine and feminine roles were static and innate. She found that the masculine and feminine attributes were determined by the systematic effort from the parents, not the product of the sexually identifiable distinctions. Mead observed differences in attitudes and identification of roles that crossed the sexual lines among the people of three different cultures in the Pacific.
Margaret died in 1978 having lived a very diverse and enriched life. Anthropologists today owe much to the knowledge and challenges Margaret Mead brought to both the field of anthropology and to the American public.