Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia, PA and raised in nearby Doylestown, Pennsylvania by a university professor father and a social activist mother. She graduated from Barnard College in 1923 and received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1929. She set out in 1925 to do her fieldwork in Polynesia. In 1926 Mead joined the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, as assistant curator, eventually serving as its curator of ethnology from 1946 to 1969. During World War II, Mead served as executive secretary of the National Research Council's Committee on Food Habits. In addition, she taught at Columbia University as adjunct professor starting in 1954. Following the example of her instructor Ruth Benedict, Mead concentrated her studies on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture. (Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, 1993.) She held various positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, notably president in 1975 and chair of the executive committee of the board of directors in 1976.Although considered a pioneering anthropologist by some, there has been disagreement with certain findings in her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), based on research she conducted as a graduate student; and her published works based on time on the Sepik and on Manus, as literate people from the cultures she described have challenged some of her observations.
Margaret Mead was married three times, first to Luther Cressman and then to two fellow anthropologists, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson, with whom she had a daughter, also an anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson. Her granddaughter, Sevanne Margaret Kassarjian, is a stage and television actress who works professionally under the name Sevanne Martin.
She died in New York City on November 15, 1978, aged 76.