Margaret Mead is without question one of the most influential and famous anthropologists of the twentieth century. While the work that she produced during her life has caused some controversy, she has done more to explain human behavior and society. Her studies on various cultures of the world led to the belief that gender roles are created by societal influences and not anything biological. These theories of Margaret Mead are largely responsible for the way that women behave today in a variety of situations such as dating and in relationships with men.
Born in 1901 to very progressive social scientist parents, Margaret Mead learned her powers of observation and attention to detail at a very early age. Graduating from Barnard College where her studies were in sociology and economics she first became interested in the study of anthropology. She earned her PhD from Columbia University in 1929.
As a graduate student, fieldwork sent her to Samoa where she was able to observe and compare Samoan adolescent girls to American adolescent girls and made the powerful observation that society dictates personality more than genetics or biology. Returning from her studies the first book by Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa, was published causing an immediate stir in the literary world. Americans were shocked to learn that Samoan women spent time dating and participating in casual sex before they settled down to raise families without any consequence on their future.
Throughout her career, Margaret Mead continued to study various cultures around the world and published over forty books. She was a prolific writer who produced more than one thousand articles along with the books she published. Drawing on her massive powers of observation, she was able to see the influences that caused vast differences in societies around the world.
Along with her work in anthropological studies, she also held a position with the American Museum of Natural History located in New York City. She also lectured at Vassar College from 1939 till 1941 as well as Columbia University from 1947 till 1951. In 1954 she became an adjunct professor at Columbia in anthropology and continued until 1978. And at Fordham University, Margaret Mead was a professor from 1969 till 1971.
Throughout her career, Margaret Mead married and divorced three times and had one child. The focus of her career centered on child rearing, women’s rights and social issues. During her lifetime she accepted both praise and criticism for her work. Her theory that behavior and personality can be improved and are the result of influence and not biological certainties made her one of the most influential anthropologists of her time.
In 1978 Margaret Mead died of pancreatic cancer. Her memoirs A Blackberry Winter, give valuable insight into the life and influences of Margaret Mead. Her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, also became an anthropologist and wrote a book on the life of her mother titled With a Daughter’s Eye: Letters From the Field. There are numerous biographies about Margaret Mead on the market because of her extraordinary life and life’s achievements.
Today’s women might thank Margaret Mead for the changing way that women are viewed in society. It may be because of this important work that women are freely able to participate in dating and enjoy a more equal position in American society.
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