Mead, Margaret


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Mead was an American cultural anthropologist who attempted to make anthropological findings more accessible to the public. She obtained her PhD from Columbia University in 1929 under Franz Boas. She also worked closely with Dr Ruth Benedict throughout her career.
Mead’s most famous work is Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). The book was highly controversial at the time and controversy continued throughout the following decades. Mead argued that in Samoa young girls and women did not suffer the supposed adjustment period it was suggested American adolescents experienced. She also noted the different attitudes towards gender, sex and marriage in Samoans – specifically evidencing the sexual freedom of some young women. In 1983 Derek Freeman claimed Mead’s work was not credible and that she had been hoaxed by the people she claimed to be studying. Many anthropologists have later slated his critique and the American Anthropological Association (of which she was president in 1960) claimed Freeman’s work was unscientific and misleading. Coming of Age in Samoa remains one of the widely read anthropological texts today and cemented Mead as possibly the most prolific anthropologists in the 20th Century.
Mead’s other famous book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935) has been used widely in feminist writing due to her argument that some specific areas of Papua New Guinea were women dominated. She also describes several examples of gender roles and behaviours being reversed compared to those traditional in early 20th century America.
During the First World War Mead worked on the National Research Council Committee for Food habits and just after the Second World War she worked for the US Military studying Russian culture and authority.
Mead was married three times and it is thought she also had a relationship with Ruth Benedict. From 1955 she lived with, and it is believed had a romantic relationship with, fellow anthropologist Rhoda Metraux.