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Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

Margaret Mead was born on Monday, December 16, 1901, at the West Park Hospital in Philadelphia, P. A. Margaret was the first baby to be born in this hospital, and because of this, she felt different from the rest of the children, because they had all been born at home. Margaret’s parents were from the midwest, and because of their professions, the family moved quite a bit living in such places as Hampton, New Jersey; Greenwich Village in New York City, and St. Marks Square in Philadelphia.

Because she moved so much as a child, Margaret had been subjected to many different styles of living, and therefore had a growing desire to learn more about different lifestyles and cultures. Margaret’s first major experience was going to school. Margaret often felt out of place because of moving so much and being in many different schools, and often being taught at home by her grandmother. However, it was in high school that she met and later became engaged to a man by the name of Luther Cressman.

After attending many high schools because of her family’s travel, she graduated, and was sent to DePauw University at Greencastle Indiana in 1919, where her intention was to major in English. Unfortunately, Margaret was looked down on in DePauw, so she transferred to Barnard College where she studied with Franz Boas and his student Ruth Benedict. It was also at Barnard College that she decided to make anthropology her main field of study. She received her B. A. degree from Barnard in 1923. In September of that same year, Margaret was married to Luther in a small Episcopal Church where she had been baptized.

She then continued her studies as a graduate student, and in 1924 she received her M. A. degree in Psychology from Columbia University. In 1925, she completed her doctoral thesis, but did not receive her Ph. D from Columbia until 1929. Also in 1925, she began her first field work project, in the Samoan Islands. On her return to the United States in 1926, Margaret was appointed assistant curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History. Her second field work, to the Manus Tribe of the Admiralty Islands in the West Pacific Ocean, was made possible by a Social Science Research Council Fellowship in 1928 and continued into 1929.

In 1930, Dr. Mead was began her third field trip, this time to study an American Indian tribe which she calls’; the antlers’; in her book reporting her findings and conclusions. Between 1931and 1933, Dr. Mead was again in the New Guinea area, investigating three contrasted tribes, the Arapesh, the Mudugmor, and the Tchambuli. In her study, she found that in the Arapesh culture, both men and women were expected to be equal. This culture was found to be very simple, because both the male and the female had a part in raising the children.

On the other hand, the Mudugmor culture was rather fierce. Both the men and the women were mean and aggressive, and often the children were left to fend for themselves. If a child was born of the wrong sex, they were commonly cast into the river to die. In the Tchambuli culture, she found that the sex roles seem to be reversed, the women were brisk and hearty, and the men were in charge of the household. For three years, starting in 1936, Dr. Mead was engaged in field work in Bali and New Guinea.

Then, in 1939, after giving birth to her daughter, Dr. Mead began two years as a visiting lecturer at Vassar College. She also was a visiting lecturer at a teachers College from 1947-1951 and had served as a consultant on mental health, as a member of the committee on Research of the Mental Health Division, of the National Advisory Mental Health Council, of the united states Public Health Service, and as a member of the interim governing board of the International Mental health Congress. In 1949, she was president of the society of applied anthropology. In 1942, she was awarded a gold metal from the society for women geographers.

Margaret Mead taught generations of Americans about the value of looking carefully and openly at other cultures to better understand the complexities of being human. Margaret died in 1978 having lived a very enriched life. Margaret Mead was a clean and forceful person, who had a great impact on the world of psychology and anthropology, and to her we owe much knowledge. Her work has, and will continue to impact the daily lives of people around the world. Her 44 books, and more than 1,000 articles have been translated into almost every language. Her data has been carefully catalogued and preserved.

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