Born in 1901, Margaret Mead was the oldest of four children and the daughter of two educators. Her mother and paternal grandmother were the two greatest influences in her young life. (She did not like her maternal grandmother for some reason.)
After a brief stint at DePauw University, her father’s alma mater, Margaret moved to Barnard College, where she met a friend who convinced her to study Archeology. After a long engagement, she married Luther Cressman, a theology student and settled in to work on her Master’s Degree and to start the large family that she dreamed of. But tragic news came when she was told that she could never have children.
In 1925, Margaret went to Pago Pago for a year, while Luther went to Europe. Margaret was on her way home, via Europe, when she met her next husband, a New Zealander and Psychologist named Reo Fortune. She quickly divorced Luther and Married Reo. From there, she went on to her years of travel.
She studied the cultures of Samoa and New Guinea, where she observed child rearing, adolescence, the gender roles of men and women, and made her first major finding: ” that human nature is malleable”. She became one of the earliest anthropologists to find that gender characteristics are culturally, not biologically determined.
Her books from “Coming Of Age In Samoa” to “Blackberry Winter”, became legendary and created an era of excitement toward the field of Anthropology. She also made accomplishments as a diplomat sans portfolio in ecology. Margaret Mead was also a pioneer in using photographs to illustrate her work at a time when photographic cameras were not a common item anywhere, let alone in the field.
She did not prefer to be identified as a feminist, but she was the very model of a liberated woman who could also be a thrice divorced wife, mother and grandmother.
In 1935, Meade returned to Philadelphia, divorced Reo and married Gregory Bateson, who helped Mead prove the doctor wrong, as they had a girl in 1939, the inspiration for her book “Blackberry Winter”.
Her work in examining and documenting differing gender roles, women’s lives and issues, and in the area of child rearing, will always serve as the basis for many an archeologist’s, psychologist’s and sociologist’s early education. By her example, with divorces, having a child after being told that it would be impossible, becoming educated, and traveling the world to study in the field, then producing best seller after best seller, Margaret Mead did indeed change the role of American women and inspired a new form of the American family.
Margaret Meade died of Cancer in 1978.