Margaret Mead: A Female Anthropologist and Women’s Rights Advocate Amber Hauck Dr. Meija WRA 140: Women in America April 27, 2009 Margaret Mead: A Female Anthropologist and Women’s Rights Advocate In the turn of the century America was a time period of new innovation and invention. Henry Ford revealed the first Detroit-made automobile, the first flight experiments were conducted by Orbille and Wilbur Wright, and the Park Row building in New York City became the tallest building, standing at thirty-two stories high (Gabi). Although this was a time of new opportunities, women were still oppressed. Men controlled the government, economics, the household, and even a woman’s social class. While woman earned the right to vote, they had little power pertaining to relationships, employment, economics, and society as a whole (Calkins). Discussing abortion was socially unacceptable, denying women the right to decide when to have children, as birth control was unacceptable as well. Woman’s rights also varied by class, “Women in less affluent families were expected to work long hours for little pay at menial jobs, but women in middle- and upper-class families were placed on a pedestal that did not allow them to engage in thoughtful pursuits or meaningful careers” (Kruhm 6). Margaret Mead was a woman who was born in this turn of the century time period. She was an active woman in the 1900’s who was concerned with social issues, an uncommon trait for women of her time period. Margaret Mead was America’s most notorious anthropologist of her time who researched many primitive societies, worked patriotically for her country during World War II, was a proponent for women’s rights and was a pioneer in her field of study. Margaret Mead was born on December 16, 1901 in Philadelphia. She was born in a unique setting, being the first baby born in West Park Hospital (Kruhm 5). The household Mead was raised in was also different from social norm, her parents both educated and concerned with social issues. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, was a professor of economics at the Whatron School of the University of Pennsylvania (Kruhm 2). Margaret Mead benefited from his insights and skills in public speaking and “credited him for helping her discover her place in this world” (Kruhm 3). Emily Fogg, Mead’s mother, was an educated woman who completed her Master’s and Doctorate and studied the anthropology of Italian immigrants (Kruhm #). She also was a woman’s rights advocate that stood up for what she believed in. She had four siblings, Richard, Katherine, Elizabeth, and Priscilla. Katherine died at nine months old, leaving the family in desolate. After Katherine’s death, Edward Mead became distant from the rest of the family, including Margaret (Kruhm 10). Margaret Mead’s grandmother, Martha Ramsay Meade, then became an exceptionally influential part in her life. She was her teacher of elementary school, cooking, knitting, and other household duties (Kruhm 6). This homeschooling pursued Mead’s pursuit of reading and writing, causing her to devote almost all of her free time to it. In high school, she wrote and produced theatrical events, edited the school magazine, began a novel, and learned daily paper printing (Kruhm 11). She graduated from Holmquist School in New Hope, Pennsylvania in 1918 (Kruhm 14). She then attended DePauw University in the fall of 1919, but transferred to Barnard College after a horrible year. It was at Barnard that Mead met Ruth Benedict, an older anthropologist whom persuaded her to become an anthropologist (Kruhm 21). In 1923 she received her Bachelor of Arts from Barnard and in 1924 she received her Master’s in psychology from Columbia University. Margaret Mead’s first anthropological study on primitive societies was conducted in Samoa. She began her field work in 1925, and spent the duration of nine months studying adolescent girls in Samoa. She chose Samoa due to her interest in Polynesia and Samoa was the safest place being an area with U.S. protection due to naval docking (Kruhm 28). She then chose her problem to investigate; the difficulties young girls encounter while passing through adolescence. If Samoan girls passed easily from girl to young adult, the stress found in adolescence in Western Civilization could be seen as caused by culture. If Samoan girls also had the stress and difficulties, then it could be seen as a natural, biological part of life, with no culture influence at all (Kruhm 28). After reaching the island of Ta’u, Margaret Mead began her research. She collected data on around sixty girls between approximately eight and twenty years of age (Kruhm 42). Mead concluded that Samoan young women do not suffer the stress felt by young women in Western cultures because while biologically females all endure the same bodily changes, a less complex Samoan society leads to less stress in their lives (Kruhm 43). In fact, Mead noted that adolescence was the best years of the girl’s lives, due to the fact that they had limited responsibilities until marriage, giving them time to “find themselves” before they were married (Kruhm 43). However, Mead was not famous for her field work, but “her greatest impact was in the application of her anthropological insight to universal social problems” (Grosskurth 84). Mead therefore related her findings to problems American culture faced at the time. Samoans had no teenage rebellion because they had no pressure on topics like sex and marriage. They also had less choices to face, they did not exuberate the exhaustion teenagers display by having to make these choices. Mead suggested that Americans not limit the choices given to young people, but teach them how to deal with these choices (Kruhm 50). Coming of Age in Samoa was published in 1928 by William Morrow (Kruhm xv). Mead’s second renowned work on primitive societies started in December 1931. The problem she decided to research; whether the differences between male and female roles were biological or cultural. Her field work took place in the mountains of New Guinea (Kruhm 59). Her work demonstrated enormous variability in cultural definitions of gender between three tribes. The first of these tribes, the Arapesh, were a people of gentleness and kindness. There were no division between the sexes, and both men and women took care of the children. They were cooperative, unaggressive, and responsive to the needs and demands of others (Sanday). Warfare seemed to be unknown, and sex was not apparent to be a driving force for either gender (Kruhm 60). The second tribe, the Mundugumor, showed personalities compared to a violent, undisciplined man in Western culture. Both the men and the women were ruthless, aggressive, positively sexed individuals (Mead). The women were bent to a male temperament, and “Mead felt that women suffered from this denial [of womanhood] even though they could achieve considerable power and influence” (Sanday). Maternity was discouraged, even hated among the Mundugumor, and many infants were killed at birth (Kruhm 62). Like the Arapesh, there was no division between the sexes (Sanday). The third tribe, the Tchambuli, on the other hand did have a split between the genders. This gender difference was not, however, an expected gender role division, “We found a genuine reversal of the sex attitudes of our own culture, with the woman the dominant, impersonal, managing partner, the man the less responsible and the emotionally dependant person” (Mead 1). Mead’s conclusion was thus; gender roles were culturally dependant, and there was no biological reasoning for the difference in male and female temperament (Kruhm 67). Like her work in Samoa, Margaret Mead was able to relate her findings in New Guinea to American culture. She scientifically proved that the oppression women were put under in America was due to American culture, and that it could be changed as long as the people allowed. She felt that this change was indeed possible because “human nature is almost unbelievably malleable” (Mead 1). Mead’s field work, like many other anthropologists, was suspended during World War II (Cassidy 42). She then did everything she felt she could to help her country during the war. By using photography with her writing skills, Mead was able to study culture at a distance, which “served to be an advantage during World War II in helping to understand the environment of Germany and Japan” (Flaherty). In 1941, she became the director of the Committee on Food Habits of the National Research Council, where she conducted experiments on whether food habits can be changed, how food habits are formed, and how nutrition can be improved in times of ration (Cassidy 42). While other anthropologists wondered if they were truly helping the war effort, Mead felt “that perhaps her capacities [as a cultural anthropologist] could be put to work in some special way to help win the war” (Cassidy 43). Margaret Mead also wrote And Keep Your Powder Dry, a novel discussing the attitude of Americans towards aggression and how this attitude affected the abilities of the soldiers (Kruhm 79). She also expressed in her autobiography her negative feelings against the atomic bomb and her disgust when it went off (Kruhm 81). Although Mead was a woman’s rights advocate, she tended to stray away from being called a feminist. She lived by her own terms in a man’s world, but in a feminine manner (Kruhm 100). She did not approve of the abandonment of feminine qualities in pursuit of equal rights and encourage women to pursue political and economic equality as women, not as persons (Sanday). She called herself a “brilliant exception”, never losing her feminine qualities in her equality with man. She wrote many essays calling for women to be treated as people, not as wives and mothers. She also called for men to take more part in work around the home, for women needed the opportunity to reach out and build herself outside of it (Cassidy 86). Margaret Mead was a pioneer for modern anthropology. Innovative and artistic, “she was the first to integrate photography along with her writing” (Flaherty). She felt strongly that photography and video should be used in anthropology, that it had become an outdated science of words. She felt that through photography and video, “we can preserve [disappearing cultures] in forms that not only will permit the descendants to repossess their cultural heritage, but that will also give our understanding of human history and human potentialities a reliable, reproducible source of information” (Mead). She was one of the originators and developers of the concept of natural character, a brand of anthropology that sought to analyze cultures on the base of nationality. She also developed a basis that cultural anthropology should only look at cultural influence, not biological. The prime mover of culture at a distance, she developed a means of conducting fieldwork through photography without actually visiting the area (Cassidy 45). Towards the end of her life Margaret Mead still remained studying anthropology, but changed her interest to the American family (Cassidy 154). She continued to study how urbanization affected Americans, and felt that it was the end of the traditional family. When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, “Mead took all preventions to keep her diagnosis a secret, never wanting appear weak to the public” (Lutkehaus 255). She died November 15, 1978. Against her atheist parent’s wishes, Mead was buried at Trinity Church in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, the same church she was baptized and married (Kruhm 112). Margaret Mead was a renowned anthropologist who studied primitive societies, took part in World War II, worked as a woman’s rights advocate, and helped grow her field of study to its modern state. Her study on the primitive society in Samoa concluded that the stress placed on adolescent girls in American culture is culturally based, not biologically. She also concluded that gender roles were culturally based as well through her studies in New Guinea. During World War II, she focused on finding means of nutrition for American families during the ration and wrote a book on American attitude towards aggression. She was a woman’s rights advocate, telling women to never give up their femininity to obtain equality. She introduced the fields of national character and culture at a distance to the anthropology world. Margaret Mead was a woman who would not conform to a man’s world, and was a turn of the century innovator. She believed that anyone could make a difference in the world, and that everyone could do anything they set their minds too. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ” (qtd. in Lutkehaus 256). Works Cited Bowman-Kruhm, Mary. Margaret Mead: A Biography. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003. Calkins, Alexandria E.. "Feminism And Gender Equality in the 1990's." StudyWorld. 2008. Studyworld. 19 Apr 2009. Cassidy, Robert. Margaret Mead: A Voice For The Century. New York: Universe Books, 1982. Flaherty, Tarraugh. "Margaret Mead, 1901-1978." 2009. 19 Apr 2009 . Gabi, Sascha. "America In 1900." America 1900. 1999. PBS. 19 Apr 2009 . Grosskurth, Phyllis. Margaret Mead: A Life of Controversy. London: Penguin, 1988. Lutkehaus, Nancy C. Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. Mead, Margaret. “Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.” M. Kimmel, ed. The Gendered Bead. (1935) 1-6. Web. 19 Apr 2009. . Mead, Margaret. "Visual Anthropoloy in a Discipline of Words." Principles of Visual Anthropology (2003) 5-10. Web. 19 Apr 2009. . Sanday, Peggy Reves. "Margaret Mead's View of Sex Roles in Her Own and Other Societies." American Anthropologist Vol. 82.Jun. 1980 340-248. Web.19 Apr 2009. .