Margaret Mead was a famous cultural anthropologist and writer. Unlike most women during her time, Margaret Mead traveled around the world studying different cultures. She was born in Philadelphia, in 1901, during a time when women were still struggling for fundamental rights. Mead went to Barnard College and completed her studied in English and psychology. Mead also studied anthropology at Columbia University.
After completing her degree and with the support of her colleagues, Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, she ventured to Samoa Island to research the culture of the native population. During her studies, she noticed fewer restraints on sexual behavior among Samoan women than in the United States. For instance, women were not limited to one partner, nor was it frowned upon to engage in sex before marriage. She concluded that culture and not biology determined human behavior; hence nature vs. nurture. Mead’s compiled her findings in her book titled Coming of Age in Samoa.
To further her anthropological studies, she went to New Guinea. Her studies revealed that men and women from cultures outside the U.S. approached marriage and child-rearing in a vastly different way. At this point in her life, Mead was well known in her field. She had very distinct views about women’s rights as well as minority rights in America. Mead was also concerned with the environment and humanity’s role as stewards of the planet. She had deep concerns about science and technology and the hazards they pose to society.
Mead, throughout her lifetime, had a series of failed marriages. She had one child, which was the product of her marriage to Gregory Bateson, a British anthropologist acclaimed in his own right.
Some anthropologists in Mead’s field were highly critical of her work. They felt that her findings were not accurate. Specifically, Derek Freeman felt as though she only spoke to a limited number of women, not enough to get a clear conclusion about women and sexuality. From Mead’s perspective, Freeman’s views were reflective of the time.
Mead led a full life and died at age seventy-six of cancer. The accolades bestowed upon her include the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.