Margaret Mead

Anthropologist

Born: 16 December 1901
Died: 15 November 1978
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Best known as: The anthropologist author of Coming of Age in Samoa
Margaret Mead made her career as America's most famous anthropologist with the 1928 publication of her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa. She was a graduate of Barnard College, where she studied with influential anthropologist Franz Boas (and his assistant, Ruth Benedict), and out of school she began a long relationship as an assistant curator for the American Museum of Natural History. Under Boas's direction, Mead spent several months in a village in Samoa (1925), studying the adolescent development of girls. Her book on her research was a popular triumph that depicted a less stressful, more freely sexual culture, and her work tilted the nurture-0r-nature debate more toward nurture. She earned her doctorate from Columbia University in 1929, then traveled to New Guinea for her next work, Growing Up in New Guinea (1930). Besides her field work and her books, Mead taught at Columbia University and maintained her role with the American Museum of Natural History, and by the end of her career she was one of the most respected women in academia and a go-to guest expert on television. Her reputation suffered after the 1983 publication of Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of An American Myth, in which anthropologist Derek Freeman concluded that Mead had used sloppy science and got it wrong about Samoan culture. Although there's still plenty of Mead v. Freeman debate in the world of anthropology, it's generally held that Mead's was important and influential work in the field, even if her conclusions and interpretations may have been a little off the mark. Her other books include Male and Female (1949) and Growth and Culture (1951).

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