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Margaret Mead (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist who featured frequently as an author and speaker in the mass media during the 1960s and 1970s. She earned her bachelor's degree at Barnard College in New York City and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University. Mead served as President of the AAAS in 1975.
Mead was a communicator of anthropology in modern American and Western culture and was often controversial as an academic. Her reports detailing the attitudes towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures influenced the 1960s sexual revolution. She was a proponent of broadening sexual conventions within a context of traditional Western religious life.
Before departing for Samoa, Mead had a short affair with the linguist Edward Sapir, a close friend of her instructor Ruth Benedict. But Sapir's conservative ideas about marriage and the woman's role were anathema to Mead, and as Mead left to do field work in Samoa the two separated permanently. Mead received news of Sapir's remarriage while living in Samoa, where, on a beach, she later burned their correspondence.
Mead was married three times. After a six-year engagement, she married her first husband (1923–28) was American Luther Cressman, a theology student at the time who eventually became an anthropologist. Between 1925 and 1926 she was in Samoa returning wherefrom on the boat she met Reo Fortune, a New Zealander headed to Cambridge, England, to study psychology. They were married in 1928, after Mead's divorce from Cressman, Mead dismissively characterizing her union with her first husband as "my student marriage" in her 1972 autobiography Blackberry Winter,, a sobriquet with which Cressman took vigorous issue. Mead's third and longest-lasting marriage (1936–50) was to the British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, with whom she had a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, who would also become an anthropologist.
Mead's pediatrician was Benjamin Spock, whose subsequent writings on child rearing incorporated some of Mead's own practices and beliefs acquired from her ethnological field observations which she shared with him; in particular, breastfeeding on the baby's demand rather than a schedule. She readily acknowledged that Gregory Bateson was the husband she loved the most. She was devastated when he left her, and she remained his loving friend ever after, keeping his photograph by her bedside wherever she traveled, including beside her hospital deathbed.:428
Mead also had an exceptionally close relationship with Ruth Benedict, one of her instructors. In her memoir about her parents, With a Daughter's Eye, Mary Catherine Bateson implies that the relationship between Benedict and Mead was partly sexual.:117–118 Mead never openly identified herself as lesbian or bisexual. In her writings she proposed that it is to be expected that an individual's sexual orientation may evolve throughout life.
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SShe spent her last years in a close personal and professional collaboration with anthropologist Rhoda Metraux, with whom she lived from 1955 until her death in 1978. Letters between the two published in 2006 with the permission of Mead's daughter clearly express a romantic relationship.
MeMead had two sisters and a brother, Elizabeth, Priscilla, and Richard. Elizabeth Mead (1909–1983), an artist and teacher, married cartoonist William Steig, and Priscilla Mead (1911–1959) married author Leo Rosten. Mead's brother, Richard, was a professor. Mead was also the aunt of Jeremy Steig.
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