Margaret Mead: American Cultural Anthropologist

Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist born on December 16, 1901 to Emily Fogg and Edward Sherwood Mead before women had a right to vote, at a time when few women attended college, few people owned cars and many homes lacked electricity or indoor plumbing. She was the first child born at Philadelphia's West Park Hospital.

Other than a year of kindergarten and eighth grade, along with half days in fourth grade, her education which was highly influenced by her grandmother took place outside of a conventional school. When she became interested in painting, a professional artist gave her lessons. When she needed to study chemistry or biology, a scientist often helped her. Her paternal grandmother covered the fundamentals. By the time many her age were starting grade school, she was studying advanced algebra.

She grew up believing that anything was possible, and that the only limits were her own imagination and her abilities.

Her college professor, Franz Boas, believed that by living with groups of people and studying how they act, anthropologists could learn new ways to understand humans.

In the summer of 1925, standing on a Philadelphia railroad platform waiting for the train to San Francisco, she began her journey to travel to the Pacific islands of Somoa. Arriving on August 31, 1925, her boat docked in Pago Pago, the capital of Tutuila, the largest of the American Samoan islands.

"For my first two months I found myself often saying under my breath, 'I can't do it.' One day I noticed I was no longer saying this in English but in Samoan and then I knew that I could."

She's quoted to have said that the thing she was most afraid of was being bored, so she made sure she always had something to do. She wrote 30 books and various magazine articles, worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and taught college classes.

Margaret Mead died from pancreatic cancer in 1978, her work showed the world that people's behavior is formed by what they are taught. Her resulting book, Coming of Age in Samoa, remains a best seller.

Between 1925 and 1939, she studied seven cultures in the South Pacific and Indonesia. In all of these studies, she focused on the relationship between the individual and culture, particularly in the transmission of culture to children.

Biographies can help us to see not only the qualities in others that we hope to emulate but also, the weaknesses that made them human.


Like this post? Stop by and read Emily Greene Balch: Peace As A Women's Issue. Emily Greene Balch was a social worker, reformer, peace activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1946. She founded the Women’s International Committee for Permanent Peace, later known as the Women’s International League for Peace of Freedom. 

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