MARGARET MEAD

Mead is credited with changing the way we study different human cultures. The daughter of a University of Pennsylvania economist and a feminist political activist, she graduated from Barnard College in 1923.  Mead went on to get a Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1929.

Mead was appointed assistant curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History in 1926. After expeditions to Samoa and New Guinea, she published Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)—which became a best seller—and Growing Up in New Guinea (1930). All together, she made 24 field trips among six South Pacific peoples.

Her later works included Male and Female (1949) and Growth and Culture (1951), in which Margaret Mead argued that personality characteristics, especially as they differ between men and women, were shaped by cultural conditioning rather than heredity. Some critics called her fieldwork impressionistic, but her writings have proved enduring and have made anthropology accessible to a wider public.

Over the years, Mead became an in-demand lecturer, often tackling controversial social issues. She also wrote a column for Redbook magazine and was a popular interview subject on a wealth of topics. She continued to work for the American Museum of Natural History until 1969 and an adjunct professor at Columbia University for a time. In 1972, Mead published her autobiography, Blackberry Winter.

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