Margaret Mead

American Anthropologist
National Women's Hall of Fame
1979 Presidential Medal of Freedom

birthdate: December 16
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Margaret Mead was the world's most famous and one of the most controversial anthropologists during her lifetime. Anthropology - the study of human cultures - was a new science when Margaret Mead first began field work among Polynesian cultures, and her conclusions often challenged traditional ways of thinking and showed that Western culture had much to learn from 'primitive' cultures. Her work studying natives in Samoa convinced her that adolescence need not be a time of stress, conflict and confusion - it was cultural attitudes that made it so in the West. Her work studying primitive societies in Papua New Guinea helped fuel the women's liberation movement. Margaret Mead discovered that in some societies women are dominant, and observations of other 'role reversals' and discoveries of non-aggressive cultures led her to conclude that culture plays a large part in determining gender roles.

Margaret Mead founded the Institute for Intercultural Studies and promoted the idea that the great diversity of human cultures proved that we can choose a better future for our world. She believed that warfare, racism and environmental exploitation were all learned patterns reinforced by our current culture, and that by helping to create new institutions and cultural values we could change the world. When Margaret Mead learned about John McConnell's idea to create Earth Day on the Spring Equinox in 1970, she became convinced that this was the perfect idea to transcend cultural boundaries and unite humanity around the shared goal of creating a more peaceful, just and sustainable world, and served as the International Chair of Earth Day.

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