Where can I find a biography of Margaret Mead?

Mead and husband Gregory Bateson doing field research in Papua, New Guinea, in 1938. (Mead Archives, Library of Congress.)
No one existing biography is ideal, but you can find a brief summary of her life on our Biography page. Mead’s autobiography Blackberry Winter tracks her professional life only up to World War II. Jane Howard’s biography, Margaret Mead: A Life bases the early period primarily on Mead's autobiography and the later period on interviews, with very little documentary research, but it does give a framework for the whole and has an index. Mary Catherine Bateson’s book With A Daughter’s Eye is a memoir. Of the available short biographies, the best is probably the article on Mead in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Science by Renee Fox.

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What is the source of the “Never doubt...” quote?

Although the Institute has received many inquiries about this famous admonition by Margaret Mead, we have been unable to locate when and where it was first cited, becoming a motto for many organizations and movements. We believe it probably came into circulation through a newspaper report of something said spontaneously and informally. We know, however, that it was firmly rooted in her professional work and that it reflected a conviction that she expressed often, in different contexts and phrasings.

Mead’s fullest exploration of cultural transmission and of the place of small groups in cultural change and innovation was in Continuities in Cultural Evolution, first published in 1964. Appropriately, the reissue of this book was one of the first goals of the Mead2001 celebration, and it has now been brought out by Transaction Publishers with a new introduction by Stephen Toulmin setting it in the context of contemporary evolutionary thinking.

The “Never doubt” challenge is sometimes quoted in a longer form, with the coda, “in fact, it's the only thing that ever has.” We decided on the shortened form both for brevity and because the exaggeration in the coda may, in print, weaken the basic concept rather than reinforce it.

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What are the Mead2001 Awards? ?

The Mead2001 Awards, sponsored by the IIS and Whole Earth magazine, will be given semiannually through the year 2001 to citizen groups and organizations in any country that have shown community-based creativity relevant to the new century and to Mead's broad sense of the relevance of anthropology to social action. Nominations come from you, the public. Winners of the Mead2001 Award can be found on our Awards page

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How can I participate in the Mead2001 Centennial?

There are a number of ways that organizations and individuals can join in celebrating Margaret Mead’s ideas: nominate a group you know of for a Mead2001 Award; put Mead’s “Never doubt...” challenge into action in your community; include Mead and her work in seminars, book discussions, and curricula. If you have an idea for a program that you want to share or are planning an event, email us. Information about contributions, financial or otherwise, can be found below.

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How do I find copies of Mead’s books?

Mead was a prolific writer and chronicler, as evidenced in her Bibliography, where books currently available are noted. Several of Mead’s most prominent books are being reissued for the Centennial, and these are noted also. You can find some of her work at bookstores. For works that are out of print, check at used bookstores or through online search services. Also, check with your local library or a university library near you.

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Is there an archive of Mead materials?

There are multiple sources for Mead archival materials. Her personal and professional papers, along with motion picture film and sound items, are housed in the Library of Congress; her field materials have been brought together there in the Pacific Ethnographic Archives; the American Museum of Natural History has some of her administrative correspondence and interviews. Specific sources and links can be found on our Resources page.

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How do I get permission to reprint something from Mead’s work?

Inquiries concerning publishing permission or the literary rights of Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Gregory Bateson should be addressed in writing to: The Institute for Intercultural Studies, 67A East 77th Street, New York, NY 10021-1813.

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What is the Institute for Intercultural Studies (IIS)?

The Institute for Intercultural Studies (IIS), founded by Margaret Mead in 1944, is a nonprofit organization concerned with "advancing knowledge of the various peoples and nations of the world, with special attention to those peoples and those aspects of life which are likely to affect intercultural and international relations." Since 1997, the efforts of the Institute have been directed toward the centennial year of Mead's birth, 2001.

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How can I contribute to the Mead2001 Centennial Fund?

Although supported by a small endowment, the Institute depends on public donations - in whatever amount suits your budget. Because the IIS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, your contribution is tax deductible in the U.S. and will be acknowledged by letter.

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Does field work continue today in the areas Mead originally studied?

Anthropologists are building on Mead's field work, continuing to describe the process of social change. Some recent examples: In 1995 Peter and Ellen Demerath did extensive research in Manus, Papua New Guinea, where Mead did field work in 1929 and again in the 1950s.

In 1991, Paul Roscoe, of the University of Maine, went up to Alitoa, the Mountain Arapesh settlement where Mead and Reo Fortune spent eight months in the early 1930s.

Research on the Chambri was resumed in 1974-75 by Deborah Gewertz, who reexamined the pattern of relationships between men and women that Mead had described. Gewertz, who has returned repeatedly to Chambri with her husband and colleague, Frederick Errington, found that Mead's insistence on human flexibility is sustained, but, in this case, it's an example of flexibility over a period of decades.

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Is there a Margaret Mead stamp?

Mead StampThe U.S. Post Office issued a Mead Commemorative Stamp in 1998 as part of its “Celebrate the Century’ series . This 32 cent stamp can still be purchased as part of the “Celebrate the 20s” collection at many post offices in the United States.

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How can I find out more about the Mead/Freeman controversy?

Derek Freeman is an Australian anthropologist who has attacked Mead’s work on Samoa, although he was careful not to publish until after her death. His allegations were carefully reviewed and critiqued by a number of distinguished anthropologists in a special issue of American Anthropologist in 1983 (AA 85, pp. 908-947). Martin Orans challenges Freeman’s latest allegations in a recent article in Science magazine entitled “The Smoking Gun: Smoke and Mirrors,” describing Freeman as the Kenneth Starr of anthropology. Dr. James Cote, professor of Sociology at Western Ontario University, wrote a book in 1984 summarizing the first phase of the controversy, and he has edited an issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence to cover the second phase.

The correspondence between Franz Boas and Margaret Mead, some two dozen letters and memos written during Mead’s first field study in Samoa in the mid-1920s, is now available online thanks to Dr. Cote. These letters, most of which were ignored by Derek Freeman in his criticisms of Mead’s methodology, refute Freeman’s claims, but more importantly provide insight into the world of anthropological study in the early part of last century.

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Has anyone made a movie or film series about Mead and her unusual life?

Several documentaries, broad and narrow in their scope, have been made about her life and work. For a list of films by and about Mead on our Resources page. However, no dramatic feature film has ever appeared. Considering the scope of her adventures and relationships and the amount of first hand information available to us, we believe her life is perfect for a dramatic film. The charge to a filmmaker is to capture the scope and significance of the ideas and actions that made up her life and to show a younger generation the incredible challenges she met and surmounted.

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What is the nature (and the symbol...) of the big stick that Mead used for walking?

Margaret Mead, with her thumb stick. Photo: 1975 Smithsonian Institution. Used with permission.
Mead with her thumb stick
Mead broke her ankle in 1960 and was told to use a cane as she recovered, but she disliked the bent over posture associated with the use of a cane. A friend recommended the use of a "thumb stick" obtained in London, which is taller and allowed her to walk upright. She liked it so much that she used it for the rest of her life -- indeed, she once said that all she needed to do to avoid being recognized was to leave it at home. People tended to free associate about the thumb stick: was a bishop's staff? a device for capturing snakes? a dowsing rod? none of the above -- but it became the personal symbol of an American icon, symbolizing what she symbolized to the public: human plasticity and the capacity for change.

In the end she had several thumb sticks. One is on display in the hall of South Pacific Peoples. One is in Peri Village in New Guinea, sent as a gift after her death.

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What was Mead's connection to the environmental movement?

MEAD WAS VERY MUCH AWARE OF THE THREATS TO HUMAN LIFE FROM ABUSING THE ENVIRONMENT AND SHE WAS PARTICULARLY ACTIVE IN RELATION TO RADIOACTIVE WASTES AND THE ATMOSPHERE. When John McConnell came up with the idea of Earth Day, during the preparations for the Stockholm Conference on the Environment, Margaret Mead saw immediately that a celebration on the date of the equinox would transcend cultural and geographical barriers . She PARTICIPATED ACTIVELY IN ESTABLISHING THE INTERNATIONAL EARTH DAY TRADITION AT THE UN. As International Chairman for the first Earth Day in 1978, Mead rang the Peace Bell UN Headquarters in New York, proclaiming: "EARTH DAY reminds the people of the world of the continuing care which is vital to Earth's safety." Find out more information on the origins of Earth Day and the Earth Day 2001 celebration.

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2001 The Institute for Intercultural Studies. All rights reserved. Last Updated: 11/19/2001