Margaret Mead

Anthropologist and Women's Rights Advocate

Margaret Mead with children of Manus Island, circa 1930s.
Margaret Mead with children of Manus Island, circa 1930s. Fotosearch / Getty Images

Margaret Mead Facts:

Known for: study of sex roles in Samoa and other cultures

Occupation: anthropologist, writer, scientist; environmentalist, women's rights advocate
Dates: December 16, 1901 - November 15, 1978
Also known as: (always used her birth name)

Margaret Mead Biography:

Margaret Mead, who originally studied English, then psychology, and changed her focus to anthropology after a course at Barnard in her senior year. She studied with both Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. Margaret Mead was a graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University's graduate school.

Margaret Mead did field work in Samoa, publishing her famous Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928, receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1929. The book, which claimed that girls and boys in the Samoan culture were both taught to and allowed to value their sexuality, was something of a sensation.

Later books also emphasized observation and cultural evolution, and she also wrote of social issues including sex roles and race.

Mead was hired at the American Museum of Natural History as an assistant curator of ethnology in 1928, and remained at that institution for the rest of her career. She became an associate curator in 1942 and curator in 1964. When she retired in 1969, it was as curator emeritus.

Margaret Mead served as a visiting lecturer at Vassar College 1939-1941 and as a visiting lecturer at Teachers College, 1947-1951. Mead became an adjunct professor at Columbia University in 1954. She became the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1973.

After her divorce from Bateson, she shared a house with another anthropologist, Rhoda Metraux, a widow who was also raising a child. Mead and Metraux co-authored a column for Redbook magazine for a time.

Her work has been criticized for naivete by Derek Freeman, summarized in his book, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (1983).

Background, Family:

  • Father: Edward Sherwood Mead, professor of economics, University of Pennsylvania
  • Mother: Emily Fogg Mead, sociologist
  • Paternal grandmother: Martha Ramsay Mead, child psychologist
  • Four siblings; three sisters, one brother


  • Doyleston High School
  • New Hope School for Girls
  • De Pauw University, 1919-1920
  • Barnard College; B.A. 1923, Phi Beta Kappa
  • Columbia University: M.A. 1924
  • Columbia University: Ph.D. 1929
  • Studied at Barnard and Columbia with Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict

Marriage, Children:

  • husbands:
    • Luther Sheeleigh Cressman (secretly her fiance since her teens, married September 3, 1923, after graduation from Barnard, divorced 1928; theology student, archaeologist)
    • Reo Franklin Fortune (met in 1926 in shipboard romance on Mead's return from Samoa, married October 8, 1928, divorced 1935; New Zealand anthropologist)
    • Gregory Bateson (married March, 1936, divorced October 1950; St. Johns' College, Cambridge)
  • child (1): Mary Catherine Bateson Kassarjian, born December, 1939

Field Work:

  • Samoa, 1925-26, National Research Council fellowship
  • Admiralty Islands, 1928-29, Social Science Research Council fellowship
  • unnamed American Indian tribe, 1930
  • New Guinea, 1931-33, with Reo Fortune
  • Bali and New Guinea, 1936-39, with Gregory Bateson

Key Writings:

  • Coming of Age in Samoa. 1928; new edition 1968.
  • Growing Up in New Guinea. With Reo Fortune. 1930; new edition 1975.
  • Changing Culture of an India Tribe. 1932.
  • Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. 1935; reprint, 1968.
  • Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. With Gregory Bateson. 1942. For this work, mead is considered a pioneer in the development of photography as a part of scientific ethnographic analysis and visual anthropology.
  • Male and Female. 1949.
  • Continuities in Cultural Evolution. 1964.
  • A Rap on Race.

Places: New York

Religion: Episcopalian

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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Margaret Mead." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 26). Margaret Mead. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Margaret Mead." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).