Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia on December 16, 1901. Her mother, who was interested in child development, filled thirteen notebooks with data on her firstborn's early years.

Dr. Mead came to Columbia University in 1920 as a sophomore at Barnard College, where she studied under and became friends with Dr. Ruth Benedict, who convinced Dr. Mead to stay at Columbia and study anthropology at the graduate level. Dr. Franz Boas had perhaps the greatest impact on Dr. Mead's work, influencing her dramatically through his position as head of the Anthropology Department at Columbia.

Dr. Mead's first field trip, to Samoa, between the years of 1925 and 1926, resulted in the book Coming of Age in Samoa. In this work, Dr. Mead proposed that culture plays just as strong a role as biology in influencing adolescent behavior--a novel and unprecedented viewpoint which propelled her into the public eye. Dr. Mead and Dr. Benedict were also influenced by the psychoanalytical theory of the interaction between culture and the mind. Dr. Mead eventually copleted fourteen field trips, primarily to the South Pacific and Bali, wrote over thirty books, edited at least ten, and penned countless articles for popular magazines.

Dr. Mead taught her first class at Columbia in 1940, and remained affiliated with the University until her death in 1978. However, her major appointment was at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where Dr. Harry Shapiro was Chair of the Department of Anthropology. Although Dr. Mead was twice offered a full-tenured professorship at Columbia, in 1958 and again in 1963, she refused both offers, presumably to keep the freedom and independence provided by her job at the museum.

Dr. Mead is generally known as the anthropologist who popularized the discipline. Her clear and easily understood writing style, her dedication to relating the implications of her studies to the American public, and her involvement in current affairs and political issues all generated a wide audience for anthropological concerns.