Margaret Mead

American anthropologist (1901—1978)

Margaret Mead (16 December 190115 November 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.
Chief among our gains must be reckoned this possibility of choice, the recognition of many possible ways of life, where other civilizations have recognized only one.




As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.
[In Samoa] adolescence represented no period of crisis or stress, but was instead an orderly developing of a set of slowly maturing interests and activities.
  • During the last hundred years parents and teachers have ceased to take childhood and adolescence for granted. They have attempted to fit education to the needs of the child, rather than to press the child into an inflexible educational mould. To this new task they have been spurred by two forces, the growth of the science of psychology, and the difficulties and maladjustments of youth.
    • p. 1, Opening of introduction
  • As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own.
    • p. 1
  • I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?
    • p. 6-7
  • The Samoan puts the burden of amatory success upon the man and believes that women need more initiating, more time for maturing of sexual feeling. A man who fails to satisfy a woman is looked upon as a clumsy, inept blunderer.
    • p. 91
  • With the exception of the few cases to be discussed in the next chapter, adolescence represented no period of crisis or stress, but was instead an orderly developing of a set of slowly maturing interests and activities. The girls' minds were perplexed by no conflicts, troubled by no philosophical queries, beset by no remote ambitions. To live as a girl with many lovers as long as possible and then to marry in one's own village, near one's own relatives, and to have many children, these were uniform and satisfying ambitions.
    • p. 107
  • A society which is clamouring for choice, which is filled with many articulate groups, each urging its own brand of salvation, its own variety of economic philosophy, will give each new generation no peace until all have chosen or gone under, unable to bear the conditions of choice.
    • p. 131 (1973 edition)
  • What are the rewards of the tiny, ingrown, biological family opposing its closed circle of affection to a forbidding world of the strong ties between parent and children, ties which an active personal relation from birth until death?... Perhaps these are too heavy prices to pay for a specialization of emotions which might be bought about the other ways, notable through coeducation. And with such a question in our minds its interesting to note that a larger family community, in which there are several adult men and women, seems to ensure the child against the development of the crippling attitudes which have been labelled Oedipus complexes, the Electra complexes, and so on.
    • p. 147; Partly cited in: E. Michael Jones (1993) Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior. p. 24-25
  • [In Western Samoa] native theory and vocabulary recognized the real pervert who was incapable of normal heterosexual response.
    • p. 147-148
  • Our young people are faced by a series of different groups which believe different things and advocate different practices, and to each of which some trusted friend or relative may belong. So a girl's father may be a Presbyterian, an imperialist, a vegetarian, a teetotaller, with a strong literary preference for Edmund Burke, a believer in the open shop and a high tariff, who believes that women's place is in the home, that young girls should wear corsets, not roll their stockings, not smoke, nor go riding with young men in the evening. But her mother's father may be a Low Episcopalian, a believer in high living, a strong advocate of States' Rights and the Monroe Doctrine, who reads Rabelais, likes to go to musical shows and horse races...
    • p. 161
  • … Her aunt is an agnostic, an ardent advocate of women's rights, an internationalist who rests all her hopes on Esperanto, is devoted to Bernard Shaw, and spends her spare time in campaigns of anti-vivisection. Her elder brother, whom she admires exceedingly, has just spent two years at Oxford. He is an Anglo-Catholic, an enthusiast concerning all things medieval, writes mystical poetry, reads Chesterton, and means to devote his life to seeking for the lost secret of medieval stained glass. Her mother's younger brother is an engineer, a strict materialist, who never recovered from reading Haeckel in his youth; he scorns art, believes that science will save the world, scoffs at everything that was said and thought before the nineteenth century, and ruins his health by experiments in the scientific elimination of sleep. Her mother is of a quietistic frame of mind, very much interested in Indian philosophy, a pacifist, a strict non-participator in life, who in spite of her daughter's devotion to her will not make any move to enlist her enthusiasms. And this may be within the girl's own household. Add to it the groups represented, defended, advocated by her friends, her teachers, and the books which she reads by accident, and the list of possible enthusiasms, of suggested allegiances, incompatible with one another, becomes appalling.
    • p. 161
  • Chief among our gains must be reckoned this possibility of choice, the recognition of many possible ways of life, where other civilizations have recognized only one. Where other civilizations give a satisfactory outlet to only one temperamental type, be he mystic or soldier, business man or artist, a civilization in which there are many standards offers a possibility of satisfactory adjustment to individuals of many different temperamental types, of diverse gifts and varying interests.
    • p. 274 (1953 edition)


It is not until science has become a discipline to which the research ability of any mind from any class in society can be attracted that it can become rigorously scientific.
Growing Up in New Guinea: A Comparative Study of Primitive Education; reprinted in 1933, 1953, 1962, 1968 and 1975
  • In contrast to our own social environment which brings out different aspects of human nature and often demonstrated that behavior which occurs almost invariably in individuals within our society is nevertheless due not to original nature but to social environment; and a homogeneous and simple development of the individual may be studied.
    • p. 281, as cited in: Lenora Foerstel, Angela Gilliam (1994) Confronting Margaret Mead: Scholarship, Empire, and the South Pacific. p. 84
  • It is not until science has become a discipline to which the research ability of any mind from any class in society can be attracted that it can become rigorously scientific.
    • p. 406
  • The semimetaphysical problems of the individual and society, of egoism and altruism, of freedom and determinism, either disappear or remain in the form of different phases in the organization of a consciousness that is fundamentally social.
    • p. 696, as cited in Social Cognitive Psychology: History and Current Domains (1997), David F. Barone, James E. Maddux, Charles R. Snyder . p. 20

Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935)

Reprinted in 1950, 1963 and 1968
If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
  • It [this book] is, very simply, an account of how three primitive societies have grouped their social attitudes towards temperament about the very obvious facts of sex-difference.
    • p. xvi
  • Standardized personality differences between the sexes are of this order, cultural creations to which each generation, male and female, is trained to conform.
    • p. 48
  • [Mead described the Arapesh as a culture in which both sexes were] placid and contented, unaggressive and noninitiatory, noncompetitive and responsive, warm, docile, and trusting.
    • p. 39 as cited in: Guy R. Lefrançois (1973) Of children; an introduction to child development. p. 65
  • [Among the Arapeh... both father and mother are held responsible for child care by the entire community...] If one comments upon a middle-aged man as good-looking, the people answer: 'Good-looking? Ye-e-e-s? But you should have seen him before he bore all those children'.
    • p. 55; cited inWomen, History, and Theory : The Essays of Joan Kelly (1986), by Joan Kelly, p. 137
  • Both men and women are conceived as merely capable of response to a situation that their society has already defined for them as sexual, and so the Arapesh feel that it is necessary to chaperon betrothed couples who are too young... with their definition of sex as a response to an external situation rather than as spontaneous desire, both men and women are regarded as helpless in the face of seduction. Parents warn their sons even more than they warn their daughters against permitting themselves to get into situations in which someone can make love to them.
    • p. 140
  • Human nature is almost unbelievably malleable, responding accurately and contrastingly to contrasting cultural conditions.
    • p. 191
  • We may say that many, if not all, of the personality traits which we have called masculine or feminine are as lightly linked to sex as are the clothing, the manners, and the form of headdress that a society at a given period assigns to either sex.
    • p. 280, cited in Perspectives in Cultural Anthropology (1987) by Herbert A. Applebaum, p. 141
  • If a society insists that warfare is the major occupation for the male sex, it is therefore insisting that all male children display bravery and pugnacity. Even if the insistence upon the differential bravery of men and women is not made articulate, the difference in occupation makes this point implicitly. When, however, a society goes further and defines men as brave and women as timorous, when men are forbidden to show fear and women are indulged in the most flagrant display of fear, a more explicit element enters in. Originally two variations of human temperament, a hatred of fear or willingness to display fear, they have been socially translated into inalienable aspects of the personalities of the two sexes. And to that defined sex-personality every child will be educated, if a boy, to suppress fear, if a girl, to show it.
    • p. 287
  • [Partly as a consequence of male authority] prestige value always attaches to the activities of men.
    • p. 302, as cited in Women and Politics : An International Perspective (1987) by Herbert A. Applebaum, p. 18
  • We must recognize that beneath the superficial classifications of sex and race the same potentialities exist, recurring generation after generation, only to perish because society has no place for them.
    • p. 321
  • No skill, no special apti­tude, no vividness of imagination or precision of thinking would go unrecognized because the child who possessed it was of one sex rather than the other. No child would be relentlessly shaped to one pattern of behavior, but instead there should be many patterns, in a world that had learned to allow to each individual the pattern which was most congenial to his gifts.
    • p. 321
  • Historically our own culture has relied for the creation of rich and contrasting values upon many artificial distinctions, the most striking of which is sex. It will not be by the mere abolition of these distinctions that society will develop patterns in which individual gifts are given place instead of being forced into an ill-fitting mould. If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
    • p. 322


  • In every human society of which we have any record, there are those who teach and those who learn, for learning a way of life is implicit in all human culture as we know it. But the separation of the teacher's role from the role of all adults who inducted the young into the habitual behavior of the group, was a comparatively late invention. Furthermore, when we do find explicit and defined teaching, in primitive societies we find it tied in with a sense of the rareness or the precariousness of some human tradition.
  • The institution of marriage in all societies is a pattern within which the strains put by civilization on males and females alike must be resolved, a pattern within which men must learn, in return for a variety of elaborate rewards, new forms in which sexual spontaneity is still possible, and women must learn to discipline their receptivity to a thousand other considerations.
    • "Male and Female" in Ladies' Home Journal, Vol. 66, (September 1949), p. 36;

Balinese Character (1942)

Co-written with Gregory Bateson
In Bali life is a rhythmic, patterned unreality of pleasant, significant movement, centered in one's own body to which all emotions long ago withdrew.
  • [Our goal was to] translate aspects of culture never successfully recorded by the scientist, although often caught by the artist, into some form of communication sufficiently clear and sufficiently unequivocal to satisfy the requirements of scientific enquiry.
    • p. xi
  • Each man's place in the social scheme of his village is know; the contribution which he must make to the work and ceremonial of the village and the share of the whole which he will receive back again are likewise defined. For failure to receive what is due to him, he is fined even more heavily than for failure to give that which is due from him. Just as a man must accept his privileges as well as discharge his duties, so is he also the guardian of his own status and if, as may happen to a high caste, that status is affronted, he himself must perform a ceremony to restore it.
    • p. 7
  • Orientation in time, space, and status are the essentials of social existence, and the Balinese, although they make very strong spirits for ceremonial occasions, with a few startling exceptions resist alcohol, because if one drinks one loses one's orientation. Orientation is felt as a protection rather than as a strait jacket and its loss provokes extreme anxiety.
    • p. 11
  • They draw back into themselves, and are thrown back on their own bodies for gratification. The men become narcissistic and uncertain of the power of any woman, no matter how strange and beautiful, to arouse their desire, but the women remain continually receptive to male advances.
    • p. 26
  • The older child who has lost or broken some valuable thing will be found when his parents return, not run away, not willing to confess, but in a deep sleep The thief whose case is being tried falls asleep
    • p. 39 as cited in: E. Bruce Goldstein (1994) Psychology. p. 511
  • [In Bali] life is a rhythmic, patterned unreality of pleasant, significant movement, centered in one's own body to which all emotions long ago withdrew.
    • p. 48

And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942)

  • There is no necessary connection between warfare and human nature. Human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive.
    • p. 134
  • If we are to give our utmost effort and skill and enthusiasm, we must believe in ourselves, which means believing in our past and in our future, in our parents and in our children, in that particular blend of moral purpose and practical inventiveness which is the American character.
    • p. 234—235; cited in Portraits Of Industry (2004) by Lorie A. Annarella, p. 5
2nd edition 1955
  • Female animals defending their young are notoriously ferocious and lack the playful delight in combat which characterizes the mock combats of males of the same species. There seems very little ground for claiming that the mother of young children is more peaceful, more responsible, and more thoughtful for the welfare of the human race than is her husband or brother.
    • Introduction
  • How are men and women to think about their maleness and their femaleness in this twentieth century, in which so many of our old ideas must be made new? Have we over-domesticated men, denied their natural adventurousness, tied them down to machines that are after all only glorified spindles and looms, mortars and pestles and digging sticks, all of which were once women's work? Have we cut women off from their natural closeness to their children, taught them to look for a job instead of the touch of a child's hand, for status in a competitive world rather than a unique place by a glowing hearth? In educating women like men, have we done something disastrous to both men and women alike, or have we only taken one further step in the recurrent task of building more and better on our original human nature?
    • p. 1; Start of first chapter entitled "The Significance of the Questions We Ask"
  • I have tried, in this book, to do three things. I try first to bring a greater awareness of the way in which the differences and the similarities in the bodies of human beings are the basis on which all our learnings about our sex, and our relationship to the other sex, are built. Talking about our bodies is a complex and difficult matter. We are so used to covering them up, to referring to them obliquely with slang terms or in a borrowed language to hiding even infants' sex membership under blue and pink ribbons. It is difficult to become aware of those things about us which have been, and will always be, patterned by our own particular modesties and reticences. We reject, and very rightly, catalogues of caresses arranged in frequency tables, or accounts of childhood that read like a hospital chart...
    • p. 4-5
  • The differences between the two sexes is one of the important conditions upon which we have built the many varieties of human culture that give human beings dignity and stature.
    • p. 7
  • Envy of the male role can come as much from an undervaluation of the role of wife and mother as from an overvaluation of the public aspects of achievement that have been reserved for men.
    • p. 77
  • Man's role is uncertain, undefined, and perhaps unnecessary. By a great effort man has hit upon a method of compensating himself for his basic inferiority. Equipped with various mysterious noise-making instruments, whose potency rests upon their actual form's being unknown to those who hear the sounds — that is, the women and children must never know that they are really bamboo flutes, or hollow logs, or bits of elliptic wood whirled on strings — they can get the male children away from the women, brand them as incomplete, and themselves turn boys into men. Women, it is true, make human beings, but only men can make men.
    • p. 84 as cited in: John Whiting, Eleanor Hollenberg Chasdi, Roy D'Andrade (2006) Culture and Human Development: The Selected Papers of John Whiting. p. 240
  • The recurrent problem of civilization is to define the male role satisfactorily enough … so that the male may in the course of his life reach a solid sense of irreversible achievement, of which his childhood knowledge of the satisfactions of child-bearing have given him a glimpse. In the case of women, it is only necessary that they be permitted by the given social arrangements to fulfil their biological role, to attain this sense of irreversible achievement. If women are to be restless and questing, even in the face of child-bearing, they must be made so through education.... Each culture--in its own way--has developed forms that will make men satisfied in their constructive activities without distorting their sure sense of their masculinity. Fewer cultures have yet found ways in which to give women a divine discontent that will demand other satisfactions than those of child-bearing.
    • p. 168-169, as cited in F. Carolyn Graglia (1998) Domestic Tranquility: A brief against Feminism.
  • Coming to terms with the rhythms of women's lives means coming to terms with life itself, accepting the imperatives of the body rather than the imperatives of an artificial, man-made, perhaps transcendentally beautiful civilization. Emphasis on the male work-rhythm is an emphasis on infinite possibilities; emphasis on the female rhythms is an emphasis on a defined pattern, on limitation.
    • p. 181
  • Learned behaviors have replaced the biologically given ones.
    • p. 161
  • [Mead saw at least two major problems in dating. First, it encourages men and women to define heterosexual relationships as situational, rather than ongoing] You "have a date," you "go out with a date," you "groan because there isn't a decent date in town." A situation defined as containing a girl — or boy — of the right social background, the right degree of popularity, a little higher than your own.
    • p. 286, with bracket text from: Mary Ann Lamanna, Agnes Czerwinski Riedmann, Agnes Riedmann [2006] Marriages & Families: Making Choices and Facing Change. p. 191
  • People are still encouraged to marry as if they could count on marriage being for life, and at the same time they are absorbing a knowledge of the great frequency of divorce.
    • p. 335
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
    • Quoted in: Kabir, Hajara Muhammad (2010). Northern women development. [Nigeria]. ISBN 978-978-906-469-4. OCLC 890820657


  • I have been accused of having believed when I wrote Sex and Temperament that there are no sex differences … This, many readers felt, was too much. It was too pretty. I must have found what I was looking for. But this misconception comes from a lack of understanding of what anthropology means, of the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder, that which one would not have been able to guess.
    • Preface of 1950 edition of Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935), p. xxvi
    • [Anthropology demands] the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess.
      • As quoted in Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2012) by Carl C. Gaither and Alma E. Cavazos-Gaither
  • It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary... to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.
    • As quoted in Teacher's Treasury of Stories for Every Occasion (1958) by Millard Dale Baughman, p. 69
  • When human beings have been fascinated by the contemplation of their own hearts, the more intricate biological pattern of the female has become a model for the artist, the mystic, and the saint. When mankind turns instead to what can be done, altered, built, invented, in the outer world, all natural properties of men, animals, or metals become handicaps to be altered rather than clues to be followed. Women want mediocre men, and men are working hard to be as mediocre as possible.
    • Quote magazine (15 June 1958)

People and Places (1959)

People and Places : A Book for Young Readers
  • In the modern world we have invented ways of speeding up invention, and people's lives change so fast that a person is born into one kind of world, grows up in another, and by the time his children are growing up, lives in still a different world.
    • p. 198
  • Our first and most pressing problem is how to do away with warfare as a method of solving conflicts between national groups within a society who have different views about how the society is to run.
    • p. 198


  • The first step in the direction of a world rule of law is the recognition that peace no longer is an unobtainable ideal but a necessary condition of continued human existence. But to take even this step we must return to a calm and responsible frame of mind in which we can face the long patient tasks ahead.
    • "Are Shelters the Answer?", in The New York Times Magazine (26 November 1961), p. 125
  • Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.
    • Attributed in La Abogada newsletter, Vol. 3 (1967) by International Federation of Women Lawyers, p. 5
  • As an anthropologist, I have been interested in the effects that the theories of Cybernetics have within our society. I am not referring to computers or to the electronic revolution as a whole, or to the end of dependence on script for knowledge, or to the way that dress has succeeded the mimeographing machine as a form of communication among the dissenting young. Let me repeat that, I am not referring to the way that dress has succeeded the mimeographing machine as a form of communication among the dissenting young.
    I specifically want to consider the significance of the set of cross-disciplinary ideas which we first called “feed-back” and then called “teleological mechanisms” and then called it “cybernetics,” a form of crossdisciplinary thought which made it possible for members of many disciplines to communicate with each other easily in a language which all could understand.
  • Women should be permitted to volunteer for non-combat service, [...] We have no real way of knowing whether the kinds of training that teach men both courage and restraint would be adaptable to women or effective in a crisis. But the evidence of history and comparative studies of other species suggest that women as a fighting body might be far less amenable to the rules that prevent war from becoming a massacre and, with the use of modern weapons, that protect the survival of all humanity. That is what I meant by saying that women in combat might be too fierce.
    • "Remarks about the Military Draft" (June 1968) in Margaret Mead, Some Personal Views (1979), edited by Rhoda Metraux, pp. 35–36
  • Our humanity rests upon a series of learned behaviors, woven together into patterns that are infinitely fragile and never directly inherited.
    • As quoted in Familiar Medical Quotations (1968) by Maurice Benjamin Strauss, p. 288

Continuities in Cultural Evolution (1964)

  • For Immanuel Kant, the term anthropology embraced all the human sciences, and laid the foundation of familiar knowledge we need, to build solidly grounded ideas about the moral and political demands of human life. Margaret Mead saw mid-twentieth-century anthropology as engaged in a project no less ambitious than Kant's own, and her Terry Lectures on Continuities in Cultural Evolution provide an excellent point to enter into her reflections.
    • p. xii
  • In this book I am concerned with certain kinds of communication: communication between parents and children, between associates of the same status, between members of different societies and, through the mediation of various kinds of coding—tools, art, script, formulas, film—between cultures distant from each other in time and place. I shall be concerned to show that we must deal not only with evolutionary sequences, in which our ability to articulate and codify parts of the culture enormously increases our ability to intervene in the cultural process, but also with the coexistence at any period of history of earlier forms of communication side by side with later ones.
    • p. xxxi
  • We — mankind — stand at the center of an evolutionary crisis, with a new evolutionary device — our consciousness of the crisis — as our unique contribution.
    • p. 3
  • The student of culture is concerned with a characteristic which man displays more markedly than any other known creature — the ability to transmit what he has learned. In following the procedure I suggest, the learning of Homo sapiens would be treated as a further specialization of the concept of grades, with the recognition that in some species — possibly even in some orders — the ability to learn may represent not only an improvement, in an evolutionary sense, but also an increase in vulnerability. Man's unique, high ability to learn, coupled as it is with a small amount of built-in behavior, represents such a vulnerability.
    • p. 30-31
  • Cultural systems will be treated as extensions of the power to learn, store, and transmit information, and the evolution of culture as dependent upon the biological development of these abilities and the cultural developments that actualize them. Man's increasing mastery over the natural world, with its increments of available energy use, can be seen from this point of view as one consequence of his capacity to learn, invent, borrow, store, and transmit the necessary technological and political inventions for the changes of scale involved in increasing utilization of energy. Instead of focusing attention on discontinuities — the invention of tool-making tools, the invention of agriculture, the invention of writing, and the invention of invention as a conscious pursuit—this discussion will focus on the continuities involved and on the extent to which older forms of communication, energy use, and social organization also undergo transformation in the course of cultural evolution.
    • p. 31-32
  • The ability to learn is older — as it is also more widespread — than is the ability to teach.
    • p. 44
  • In 1946, a Macy Foundation interdisciplinary conference was organized to use the model provided by "feedback systems," honorifically referred to in earlier conferences as "teleological mechanisms," and later as "cybernetics," with the expectation that this model would provide a group of sciences with useful mathematical tools and, simultaneously, would serve as a form of cross-disciplinary communication. Out of the deliberations of this group came a whole series of fruitful developments of a very high order. Kurt Lewin (who died in 1947) took away from the first meeting the term "feedback". He suggested ways in which group processes, which he and his students were studying in a highly disciplined, rigorous way, could be improved by a "feedback process," as when, for example, a group was periodically given a report on the success or failure of its particular operations.
    • p. 272-273
  • In this very special form, feedback became part of the jargon of Group Dynamics, which has also assumed many of the characteristics of a cult in the efforts made to conserve some of the rigor of procedure with which Kurt Lewin and the experimentalist, Alex Bavelas, had attempted to imbue it. In this case, far from serving as a catalyzing, high-level theoretical tool, the term feedback has become a jargon-catchall for any kind of report back to government, management, the subjects of an experiment, subjects during an experiment, and so on. Stripped of its intellectual potential, the term knocks about the corridors of Unesco and for the most part those who use it have no idea that this bit of enjoined, Group Dynamic-recommended behavior is in any way related to the forbidding cross-disciplinary integration known as cybernetics.
    • p. 273
  • Today our approaches to children are fragmented and partial. Those who care for well children know little of children who are sick. The deep knowledge that comes from the intensive attempt to cure is separated from the knowledge of those whose main task is to teach.
    • p. 321
  • My material on Samoa was gathered during a nine-month field trip in 1925–26 as a Fellow in the Biological Sciences of the National Research Council, on a research project designated as the study of the adolescent girl.
    The Samoan Islands, with a population in 1926 of 40,229, are peopled by a Polynesian group, a people with light brown skin and wavy black hair who speak a Polynesian language. The islands were Christianized in the first half of the nineteenth century and were administratively divided between a League of Nations Mandate under New Zealand called Western Samoa, which comprised the islands of Upolu and Savaii, and American Samoa, which was governed by the United States Navy.
    All my detailed work was done in the remote islands of the Manua group, principally in the village of Tau on the island of Tau.
    • p. 338


I have spent most of my life studying the lives of other peoples — faraway peoples — so that Americans might better understand themselves.
  • Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we've put it in an impossible situation.
    • Culture and Commitment : A Study of the Generation Gap (1970), p. 72
  • Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.
    • Twentieth Century Faith : Hope and Survival (1972), p. 61
  • No matter how many communes anybody invents, the family always creeps back. You can get rid of it if you live in an enclave and keep everybody else out, and bring the children up to be unfit to live anywhere else. They can go on ignoring the family for several generations. But such communities are not part of the main world.
    • "Future Families", in The American People in the Age of Kennedy (1973) edited by David M. Kennedy , p. 108
  • We are living beyond our means. As a people we have developed a life-style that is draining the earth of its priceless and irreplaceable resources without regard for the future of our children and people all around the world.
    • * "The Energy Crisis — Why Our World Will Never Again Be the Same", in Redbook (1974); later in Progress As If Survival Mattered : A Handbook For A Conserver Society (1977) by Hugh Nash, p. 166
  • The contempt for law and the contempt for the human consequences of lawbreaking go from the bottom to the top of American society.
    • As reported in "Impeachment?" by Claire Safran, in Redbook (April 1974)
  • Life in the twentieth century is like a parachute jump: you have to get it right the first time.
    • As quoted in Margaret Mead, World's Grandmother (1975) by Ann Morse, Charles Morse, Harold Henriksen, p. 9
  • Sooner or later I'm going to die, but I'm not going to retire.
    • Interviewed in Los Angeles on the occasion of her 75th birthday, December 1976, as quoted in Newsweek Vol. 88, p. 157
  • We women are doing pretty well. We're almost back to where we were in the twenties. (1976)
    • As quoted in Margaret Mead: A Life (1984) by Jane Howard, p. 362
  • Our treatment of both older [people and children] reflects the value we place on independence and autonomy. We do our best to make our children independent from birth. We leave them all alone in rooms with the lights out and tell them, Go to sleep by yourselves. And the old people we respect most are the ones who will fight for their independence, who would sooner starve to death than ask for help.
    • As quoted in "Growing Old in America" by Grace Hechinger, in Family Circle magazine (25 July 25 1977)
  • I do not believe in using women in combat, because females are too fierce.
    • As quoted in Quote Unquote (1977) by Lloyd Cory, p. 364
  • The United States has the power to destroy the world, but not the power to save it alone.
    • As quoted in Quotations for Our Time (1977), by Laurence J. Peter, p. 509
  • If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.
    • Attributed to Mead in Mead Childhood Education Vol. 54 (1977) by Association for Childhood Education International, p. 126
  • Instead of needing lots of children, we need high-quality children.
    • Attributed to Mead in: Fleur L. Strand (1978) Physiology: a regulatory systems approach. p. 509
  • It has been a woman's task throughout history to go on believing in life when there was almost no hope. lf we are united, we may be able to produce a world in which our children and other people's children will be safe.
    • Margaret Mead (1978) cited in: United States. National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year The spirit of Houston: the First National Women's Conference. Vol. 84, Nr 1978, p. 153
  • It seems to me very important to continue to distinguish between two evils. It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.
    • As quoted in Margaret Mead : Some Personal Views (1979) edited by Rhoda Métraux
    • Variant: At times it may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.
      • As quoted in American Quotations (1992) by Gorton Carruth and Eugene H. Ehrlich

Culture and commitment, 1970

Source: M. Mead (1970) Culture and commitment: a study of the generation gap. American Museum of Natural History.
  • Today, as we are coming to understand better the circular processes through which culture is developed and transmitted, we recognize that man's most human characteristic is not his ability to learn, which he shares with many other species, but his ability to teach and store what others have developed and taught him. Learning, which is based on human dependency, is relatively simple. But human capacities for creating elaborate teachable systems, for understanding and utilizing the resources of the natural world, and for governing society and creating and creating imaginary worlds all these are very complex. In the past, men relied on the least elaborate part of the circular system, the dependent learning by children, for continuity of transmission and for the embodiment of the new. Now, with our greater understanding of the process, we must cultivate the most flexible and complex part of the system; the behavior of adults. We must, in fact, teach ourselves how to alter adult behavior so that we can give up postfigurative upbringing, with its tolerated configurative components, and discover prefigurative ways of teaching and learning. We must create new models for adults who can teach their children not what to learn but how to learn and not what they should be committed to, but the value of commitment.
  • p. 14-15 as cited in: Theodore Schwartz (1979) Socialization As Cultural Communication. p. 14-15

Blackberry Winter, 1972

Source: Margaret Mead (1972) Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. Autobiography
  • I think it was my grandmother who gave me my ease in being a woman. She was unquestionably feminine — small and dainty and pretty and wholly without masculine protest or feminist aggrievement. She had gone to college when this was a very unusual thing for a girl to do, she had a very firm grasp of anything she paid attention to, she had married and had a child, and she a career of her own. All this was true of my mother as well. But my mother was filled with passionate resentment about the condition of women, as perhaps my grandmother might have been had my grandfather lived and had she borne five children and had little opportunity to use her special gifts and training. As it was, the two women I knew best were mothers and had professional training. So I had no reason to doubt that brains were suitable for a woman. And as I had my father's kind of mind — which was also his mother's — I learned that the mind is not sex-typed.
    • p. 54-55
  • Because of their age — long training in human relations — for that is what feminine intuition really is — women have a special contribution to make to any group enterprise, and I feel it is up to them to contribute the kinds of awareness that few men... have incorporated through their education.
    • Ch. 14
  • I have spent most of my life studying the lives of other peoples — faraway peoples — so that Americans might better understand themselves.
    • Cited in: Justin Wintle (2002) Makers of Modern Culture. Vol. 1, p. 350

Changing Styles of Anthropological Work, 1973

Source: Margaret Mead (1973) "Changing Styles of Anthropological Work" in: Annual Review of Anthropology p. 1-24
  • The last 20 years have· seen an enormous growth of institutions devoted to anthropological enterprises, membership within the discipline, and students, text ­books, and paraphernalia. From a tiny scholarly group that could easily be fitted into a couple of buses, and most of whom knew each other, we have grown into a group of tremendous, anonymous milling crowds, meeting at large hotels where there are so many sessions that people do well to find those of their colleagues who are interested in the same specialty. Today we look something like the other social science disciplines, suffering some of the same malaise, and becoming cynical about slave markets and worried when grants and jobs seem to be declining.
    • p. 1
  • There has been an increased but still rather limited response to general systems theory, as variously reflected in the work of Bateson, Vayda, Rappaport, Adams, and an interest in the use of computers, programming, matrices, etc. But the interaction between general systems theory (as represented, for example, by the theoretical work of Von Bertalanffy) has been compromised, partly by the state of field data, extraordinarily incomparable as it inevitably is, as well as historical anthropological methods of dealing with wholes. General systems theory has taken its impetus from the excitement of discovering larger and larger contexts, on the one hand, and a kind of microprobing into fine detail within a system, on the other. Both of these activities are intrinsic to anthropology to the extent that field work in living societies has been the basic disciplinary method. It is no revelation to any field-experienced anthropologist that everything is related to everything else, or that whether the entire sociocultural setting can be studied in detail or not, it has to be known in general outline.
    • p. 8
  • General systems theory, in a sense, is no news at all, as Von Foerster found out when he attempted to organize a conference of general systems people and anthropologists. In a sense, the situation is comparable to that found by the Committee for the Study of Mankind, in which a committee that included Robert Redfidd tried to get each discipline to consider its relationship to the concept of Mankind. An­thropologists replied, "we are related already," and so they were. Something similar may be said of attempts to date in mathematical anthropology. The kind of information that a computer program can finally provide, on a level of a particular culture, is simply a reflection of how detailed field work has been done, and to the careful field worker, on kinship, for example, it provides no illumination.
    • p. 8

Margaret Mead: Some Personal Views (1979)

Edited by Rhoda Métraux
  • We will be a better country when each religious group can trust its members to obey the dictates of their own religious faith without assistance from the legal structure of their country.
    • p. 71
  • A city must be a place where groups of women and men are seeking and developing the highest things they know.
    • p. 118
  • Laughter is man's most distinctive emotional expression. Man shares the capacity for love and hate, anger and fear, loyalty and grief, with other living creatures. But humour, which has an intellectual as well as an emotional element belongs to man.
    • p. 121
  • I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.
    • p. 249
  • If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve-year-old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one's subject matter.
    • p. 252-253


  • Fathers are biological necessities, but social accidents.
    • Attributed in Two Hugs for Survival (1982) by Harold A. Minden (1982), p. 22
  • To cherish the life of the world.
    • Epitaph, as quoted in Margaret Mead : A Voice for the Century‎ (1982) by Robert Cassidy, p. 152
  • Be lazy, go crazy.
    • As quoted in Margaret Mead: A Life (1984) by Jane Howard, p. 60
  • Everything is grist for anthropology's mill.
    • As quoted in Margaret Mead: A Life (1984) by Jane Howard, Ch. 21, p. 319
  • Prayer does not use up artificial energy, doesn't burn up any fossil fuel, doesn't pollute. Neither does song, neither does love, neither does the dance.
    • As quoted in Margaret Mead: A Life (1984) by Jane Howard; cited in Journey Through Womanhood : Meditations from Our Collective Soul (2002) by Tian Dayton, p. 46
  • Throughout history, females have picked providers for mates. Males pick anything.
    • Attributed in 3,500 Good Quotes for Speakers (1985) edited by Gerald F. Lieberman, p. 114


  • I was brought up to believe that the only thing worth doing was to add to the sum of accurate information in the world.
    • Attributed in Psychology (1990) by Carole Wade and Carol Tavris, p. 372
  • One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night.
    • Attributed in The Quotable Woman (1991) by the Running Press, p. 53
  • It is an open question whether any behavior based on fear of eternal punishment can be regarded as ethical or should be regarded as merely cowardly.
    • Attributed in American Quotations (1992) by Gorton Carruth and Eugene H. Ehrlich, p. 149
  • The way to do fieldwork is never to come up for air until it is all over.
    • Attributed in Simpson's Contemporary Quotations (1992) edited by James B. Simpson, p. 142
  • A city is a place where there is no need to wait for next week to get the answer to a question, to taste the food of any country, to find new voices to listen to and familiar ones to listen to again.
    • Attributed in The New Quotable Woman (1993) by Elaine Partnow, p. 331
  • Thanks to television, for the first time the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders.
    • Attributed in Banned Books Week '93: Celebrating the Freedom to Read (1993) by Robert P. Doyle, p. 62
  • Of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law.
    • Attributed inBright Words for Dark Days: Meditations for Women Who Get the Blues (1994) by Caroline Adams Miller, p. 10
  • We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.
    • Attributed in How They Work In Indiana : Business-Education Partnerships (1994) by Andrew L. Zehner (1994), p. 3
  • I think extreme heterosexuality is a perversion.
    • Attributed in Open Minds: Exploring Global Issues Through Reading and Discussion (1996) by Steven Widdows and Peter Voller, p. 69


  • What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.
    • Attributed in Teaching Music Through Performance In Band, Vol. 3 (2000), edited by Richard B. Miles, Larry Blocher, Eugene Corporon, p. 13
  • The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today.
    • Attributed in Educational Psychology (2000) by Anita E. Woolfolk, p. 212
  • Sister is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship.
    • Attributed in Sisters by Birth Friends by Choice : All the Things I Love About You (2003) by Ellyn Sanna
  • I learned the value of hard work by working hard.
    • Attributed in You Vs. You: Sport Psychology Got Life (2005) by Wayne Mazzoni, p. 90
  • No society has ever yet been able to handle the temptations of technology to mastery, to waste, to exuberance, to exploration and exploitation. We have to learn to cherish this earth and cherish it as something that's fragile, that's only one, it's all we have. We have to use our scientific knowledge to correct the dangers that have come from science and technology.
  • Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.
    • Attributed in Talent Development for English Language Learners: Identifying and Developing Potential (2013) by Michael S. Matthews, Ph.D. SBN-13:9781618211057

Quotes about Margaret Mead

  • She (Judith Plaskow) and Martha Ackelsberg are fond of quoting Margaret Mead's words: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has"
    • Joyce Antler Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (2020)
  • Margaret Mead was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn.
    • Jimmy Carter, in "Presidential Medal of Freedom Announcement of Award to Margaret Mead" (19 January 1979) at The American Presidency Project
  • Mead's anthropology had many other red, white and blue- blooded virtues. One was the common anthropological conceit, out of which she made a career, to the effect that the ultimate value of studying other cultures was the use we could make of them to reconstruct our own – a heady kind of intellectual imperialism, as if the final meaning of others' lives was their significance for us.
  • Margaret Mead was probably the most famous anthropologist of her time, and even more probably the most controversial. Author of more than fifteen hundred books, articles, films, and occasional pieces; a tireless public speaker traveling the world to instruct and persuade; a field researcher of extraordinarily extensive and varied experience; a hyperactive organizer of projects, conferences, programs, and careers; and possessed of a seemingly endless fund of opinions on every subject under the sun that she was all too willing to share with anyone who asked, and many who did not; she left no one who came into contact with her or her works indifferent to either.
  • Margaret Mead describes us as a "third generation" society. She does not mean, of course, that we are all the grandchildren of pioneers and immigrants; but she does mean that our parents shared the attitudes of the children of foreigners, who because of their strange families, with their old-country ways, their effusive gestures, the flavor of their speech, leaned over backward to rule out any foreignness, any color at all. We suffer from that background, with its hunger for uniformity, the shared norm of ambition and habit and living standard. The repressive codes are everywhere.
  • we may protest that women's small contribution to culture doesn't indicate a lack of capacity but merely reflects the way men have contrived things to be: we can blame women's small place in culture on culture. But this leaves unanswered the question of why it is that over so many hundreds of years women have consented to follow the male dictate and allowed men to fashion the culture according to male design. It also leaves unanswered the even more fundamental question of why it is that in every society which has ever been studied-so Margaret Mead tells us-whatever is the occupation of men has the greater prestige
    • Diana Trilling "Women's Liberation" in We Must March My Darlings (1977)
  • Marriages held together solely by desire are by definition unpredictable; as thrice-married Margaret Mead once blurted out to psychologist and divorce counselor Judith S. Wallerstein, "Judy, there is no society in the world where people have stayed married without enormous community pressure to do so."
    • Ellen Willis “Marriage on the Rocks” in No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (1992)


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
    • Attributed in Curing Nuclear Madness (1984) by Frank G. Sommers and Tana Dineen, p. 158; also in And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker (1992), edited by Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans, and Andrew Frothingham. No contemporaneous source is known. Ralph Keyes, in the introduction to The Quote Verifier (2006), p. xvi, gives this as an example of situations where derivative sources merely cite each other and no one knows the original source.
    • Variants:
      Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
      Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have.
      A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
      Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does.
      Never doubt that a thoughtful, committed individual can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
  • Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.
    • This was designated "Meade's Maxim" in a 1979 book (1,001 Logical Laws..., p. 153), and not linked directly to Margaret Mead; since around 2001, this has often been attributed to Mead, but there is no definitely documented evidence of this. Anecdotal testimony indicates she did say it in the 1970s : "I heard her say these words in a class as a graduate student. I took them down as notes for the class. I can't say they were unique to her, but she certainly said this." — Alex Randall, Grad student with Mead (1974-1977).[citation needed]
  • I [Paul Brand] was soon to be reminded of a lecture given by anthropologist Margaret Mead, who spent much of her life studying primitive cultures. She asked the question, "What is the earliest sign of civilization?" A clay pot? Iron? Tools? Agriculture? No, she claimed. To her, evidence of the earliest true civilization was a healed femur, a leg bone, which she held up before us in the lecture hall. She explained that such healings were never found in the remains of competitive, savage societies. There, clues of violence abounded: temples pierced by arrows, skulls crushed by clubs. But the healed femur showed that someone must have cared for the injured person—hunted on his behalf, brought him food, and served him at personal sacrifice. Savage societies could not afford such pity.
    • This anecdote, published after Mead's death, is contradicted by Mead herself in an interview she gave in Talks with Social Scientists, published in 1968. Mead was asked "When does a culture become a civilization?" She replied, "Well, this is a matter of definition. Looking at the past we have called societies civilizations when they have had great cities, elaborate division of labor, some form of keeping records. These are the things that have made civilization. Some form of script, not necessarily our kind of script, but some form of script or record keeping; ability to build great, densely populated cities and to divide up labor so that they could be maintained. Civilization, in other words, is not simply a word of approval, as one would say 'he is uncivilized,' but it is technical description of a particular kind of social system that makes a particular kind of culture possible."
    • Paul Gilk questioned this anecdote in The Kingdom of God Is Green (2012): "...from the pulpit, a gentle and well-meaning mainstream Protestant pastor could tell a little Margaret Mead story about a healed femur, link that healed femur with the origins of civilization, and then be a little miffed when challenged (I think gently—perhaps not) on his use of concepts."
    • In the episode "Mortification and Civilization" of his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed, author John Green questioned this quote, saying "...versions of this story show up in many different places — in sermons, and in self-help books and newspaper stories. I didn't yet know whether Margaret Mead had really said this, but it was clear to me that a lot of people wanted her to have said it."
    • Versions of the anecdote have been attributed to Margaret Mead in:
      • Paul Brand and Philip Yancey's Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (1980)
      • Paul Brand and Philip Yancey's Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants (1993)
      • John C. Bowling's A Way with Words: Finding Wonder and Meaning in the Language of Life (1998)
      • Charles Francis' Wisdom Well Said (2009)
      • Leslie Parrott's Trading Places: The Best Move You'll Ever Make in Your Marriage (2009)
      • Ira Byock's The Best Care Possible: A Physician's Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life (2012)
      • Ronald Schleifer's Pain and Suffering (2014)
      • Natesan Ramalingam Iyer's A Path to Discover (2020)
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works by or about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: