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Happy Birthday, Margaret Mead!

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Happy Birthday, Margaret Mead! Born December 16, 1901, anthropologist Margaret Mead first came to the Museum at the age of 25, in 1926, just after spending nine months in Samoa doing fieldwork. Mead remained at the Museum for nearly five decades, becoming one of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century.

Mead Image Macro

© AMNH


"Without a pause," she remembered in her memoir Blackberry Winter, My Earlier Years , "I plunged into my first job as Assistant Curator..." Finding she had time to write, Mead soon finished work on her book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), which introduced readers to the value of looking carefully and open-mindedly at other cultures. 

Mead also began giving lectures, on topics eventually ranging from small, precisely observed details of life in Pacific cultures to the perils of sexual repression. (According to The New York Times, she once gave 110 lectures in a single 12-month period.)

What was she like? The Times evoked a bit of her presence: "The slight but sturdy Dr. Mead was possessed of virtually boundless energy, an unquenchable curiosity, a tenacious memory and a genius for organizing her time.

She often gave the impression of being ubiquitous because she was rarely at rest in any one place for very long and because she could not permit a moment to pass unutilized. In all this she had a zest that even in her 70's confounded friends and colleagues of lesser verve."

Mead died in 1978, at the age of 76.

Margaret Mead collected about 3,400 objects during her Pacific fieldwork; many are on display in the Museum's Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples. Nearly all can be viewed online on the Museum's Pacific Ethnographic Collection database. (To see artifacts collected by Mead, search for "Mead" in and select "Donor/Collector" from the pull-down menu.)

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