Margaret Mead Biography

Margaret Mead, a renowned American anthropologist, dedicated her life to studying cultural anthropology and understanding the complexities of human behavior. Influenced by her grandmother, a child psychologist, Mead developed a deep curiosity about the reasons behind human actions from a young age. With a strong educational background and a clear understanding of her field, she focused on exploring human nature and the various factors that shape human behavior. Mead’s contributions to the development of psychoanalytic theory were significant, as she emphasized the crucial role of culture in shaping personality. She also proposed a theory on the evolution of human beings, highlighting the direct influence of social and cultural backgrounds.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 76
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Gregory Bateson (m.1936–1950), Luther Cressman (m.1923–1928), Reo Fortune (m.1928–1935)
    • Father: Edward Sherwood Mead
    • Mother: Emily (Fogg) Mead
    • Siblings: Elizabeth Mead (1909–1983), Katharine (1906–1907), Priscilla Mead (1911–1959)
    • Children: Mary Catherine Bateson
  • Quotes By Margaret Mead
  • Anthropologists
  • Died on: November 15, 1978
  • Place of death: New York City
  • U.S. State: Pennsylvania
  • Education: Columbia University, Barnard College, DePauw University

Childhood & Early Life

Margaret Mead was born on December 16, 1901 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Edward Sherwood Mead, a professor, and Emily Fogg Mead, a sociologist. She was the eldest of the five Mead children—four sisters and a brother. Her grandmother, a child psychologist, played a significant role in her upbringing, encouraging her to observe children’s behavior and study the cause of their actions from an early age. Most of her schooling was done at home due to the family’s frequent movements. She had a total of six years of formal schooling, but most of her knowledge came from her family members. In 1919, she joined DePauw University for a year before transferring to Barnard College, where she graduated in 1923. She earned her master’s degree from Columbia University in 1924 and her Ph.D. in 1929.


In 1925, Mead went on an expedition to Samoa to study the life of adolescent girls. She found that young Samoan girls experienced none of the tensions that American and European teenagers suffered from and studied the reasons behind it. She published ‘Coming of Age in Samoa’ in 1928 after her expedition. In 1928, she went on another expedition to New Guinea to study the thought of young children. After her expedition, she published ‘Growing Up in New Guinea’ in 1930, describing the social and cultural elements that influenced their character as individuals. Throughout her career, Mead focused on studying the illiterate peoples of Oceania and made significant contributions to psychological research. She also addressed social issues such as women’s rights, child rearing, sexual morality, population control, environmental pollution, and world hunger. Mead taught at The New School and Columbia University from 1954 to 1978 and served in various roles at the American Museum of Natural History.

Major Works

Mead’s major works include ‘Coming of Age in Samoa’ (1928), ‘Growing Up in New Guinea’ (1930), ‘Male and Female’ (1949), and ‘Growth and Culture’ (1951). In these works, she explored the influence of culture on personality characteristics and challenged the notion that personality traits were solely determined by hereditary factors.

Awards & Achievements

Mead was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1948. She was awarded the ‘Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science’ by UNESCO in 1970. In 1979, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Personal Life & Legacy

Mead was married three times. Her first marriage was to Luther Cressman, an American theology student who later became an anthropologist. They divorced in 1928. Her second marriage was to Reo Fortune, a New Zealander anthropologist known for his ‘Fortunate Number’ theory. They divorced in 1935. Her third marriage was to British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, with whom she had a daughter named Mary Catherine Bateson, who also became an anthropologist. They divorced in 1950. Mead also had a special relationship with Dr. Ruth Benedict, though the nature of their relationship was never confirmed by Mead herself. She spent her last days with anthropologist Rhoda Metraux, and their letters, indicating a romantic relationship, were published in 2006. Mead passed away on November 15, 1978, from pancreatic cancer.

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