Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Margaret Mead revolutionized the study of anthropology through such works as Coming of Age in Samoa (1928).
Awards: Presidential Medal of Freedom
America’s most famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1901. She would become one of the most honored figures in her field by the end of her long career. She published prolifically, collaborated with other scholars frequently, and edited numerous volumes. Mead was especially well known for her work in the South Pacific. She passed away in 1978.
Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 16, 1901. Her parents were Edward S. Mead, a professor of economics, and Emily Mead, a sociologist. She married Luther Cressman, a minister, in September 1923. After Mead divorced Cressman, she married Reo Fortune, an anthropologist, in October 1928. Her third marriage to Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist and biologist, began in March 1936 and ended in 1950. She had one child, Mary Catherine Bateson Kassarjian.
Mead’s education was extensive and continuous. She attended DePauw University from 1919 to 1920, earned her BA from Barnard College in 1923, and earned her MA and PhD in anthropology from Columbia University in 1924 and 1929, respectively. While finishing at Columbia University, Mead worked as the assistant curator in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City from 1926 to 1942. She continued her work as the associate curator from 1942 to 1964, the curator of ethnology from 1964 to 1969, and curator emeritus from 1969 to 1978. Mead was an adjunct professor of anthropology at Columbia University in New York City from 1954 to 1978, and she was a professor of anthropology and chairman of Division of Social Sciences at Fordham University at the Lincoln Center campus in New York City from 1968 to 1970. She lectured at over ten universities and was a visiting professor at several others. In 1947, her lecturing took her to Salzburg, Austria, to teach Harvard seminars on American civilization, and to Serves, France, to speak at the UNESCO Workshop on International Understanding. She was the secretary of a committee on food habits for the National Research Council from 1942 to 1945, and she was a member and co-editor of Macy Conference on Cybernetics. She was a member of the World Health Organization study group on the psychological development of the child, the Hampton Institute board of trustees, and the Macy Conference on Problems of Consciousness. Mead contributed regularly to dozens of periodicals, scholarly journals, and film media to publicize her research. She was also a contributing editor to Redbook from 1961 to 1978.
Mead began her work in 1925 by traveling to the Samoan Islands as a fellow of the National Research Council to research adolescent girls. As a fellow of the Social Science Research Council, her work with the children of the Manus tribe took her to New Guinea from 1928 to 1929. Her travels continued to Omaha, Nebraska in 1930, back to New Guinea between 1931 and 1933, and then back to New Guinea again between 1936 and 1939 to observe four more tribes.
Her research focused on the relationship between sex and temperament, ethnological relationships, and the adaptations primitive societies made to cope with problems of becoming modernized. Mead’s work was widely read and accepted because she wrote her findings in a language that nonspecialists could understand. She applied her research conclusions to facets of American society. Her work was revolutionary, not only because it moved anthropology away from statistical analysis to a science that integrated other disciplines, such as psychology and economics, but also because she was a young woman who explored new research methods, like still and motion pictures, in a male-dominated field.
Mead earned a plethora of awards. She had multiple honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning. She was awarded the National Achievement Award from Chi Omega in 1940, a medal of honor from Rice University in 1969, inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame for Nationwide Women Editors in 1965, and received the Omega Achievers Award for Education in 1977. For her work in anthropology, she received the Gold Medal Award from the Society of Women Geographers in 1942, lauded as one of the outstanding women of the year in science by the Associated Press in 1949, attained a Viking Medal in anthropology in 1958, garnered the William Proctor Prize for Scientific Achievement by the Scientific Research Society of America in 1969, won the Arches of Science Award from the Pacific Science Center in 1971, gained a Wilder Penfield Award from the Vanier Institute of the Family in 1972, and won the Lehmann Award from the New York Academy of Sciences in 1973. Mead was recognized internationally when she was presented with the Kalinga Prize by UNESCO and the government of India in 1971.
Mead passed away on November 15, 1978, in New York after a year-long struggle with cancer. She is buried in Buckingham, Pennsylvania. In 1979, she was posthumously given the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York: Morrow, 1972.
Coming of Age in Samoa. New York: Morrow, 1928
Growing Up in New Guinea. New York: Morrow, 1930.
Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: Morrow, 1935.
And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America. New York: Morrow, 1942.
Male and Female. New York: Morrow, 1949.
Family. (with Ken Heyman) New York: Macmillan, 1965.
Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap. New York: Natural History Press, 1970.