black and white photo a Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead — 1901-1978

Renowned Cultural Anthropologist and Author

In the early 1900’s, it was commonly believed that primitive or tribal peoples were “like children” compared to the “adults” in developed nations. Margaret Mead’s anthropological studies changed that view forever and shaped anthropological field work by setting new standards and methods of cross-cultural observation. She pioneered the understanding of gender roles in society and through her writings demonstrated that gender roles depend on culture as much as they do on biology.

Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia in 1901 into a family where women were respected and where education was paramount. Margaret earned her bachelor’s degree at Barnard College in New York City and her Ph.D. from Columbia University. She is most famous for her years of meticulous field work on remote South Pacific islands and for her books and learned papers based on her experiences there. Two of her groundbreaking books on anthropology were: Coming of Age in Samoa, and Growing Up in New Guinea. She was the first anthropologist to write about human development across cultures. She believed that human attitudes about race, war, gender roles, and many other issues were learned and therefore, could be adapted and changed.

She authored 20 books, many from her position as an ethnologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and was president of both the American Anthropological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was awarded 28 honorary doctoral degrees. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

One of her most famous beliefs is often quoted: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

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