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Margaret Mead was born in 1901, at the end of the Victorian era, into a world in which women had little choice. Young ladies were expected to marry early and bear lots of children. Those who remained unmarried were ridiculed as old maids.
When the story begins, Margaret was living in New York City, engaged to her childhood sweetheart and about to start graduate school in anthropology at Columbia University.
Married life provided security but was lacking in passion. When she was unexpectedly caught up in an affair with a brilliant older man, and then in another with an accomplished female colleague, she began to wonder why love and intimacy had to be limited to one person. The emotions she confronted in her personal life informed the groundbreaking work she would explore as an anthropologist.
As a graduate student in anthropology, Margaret was expected to do her fieldwork with a Native American tribe somewhere in the continental United States. But Margaret had other ideas. She insisted she wanted to go to Polynesia but everyone told her it was too dangerous. Eventually Margaret prevailed. In August of 1925, she traveled 9000 miles, first by train then by ocean liner, to a tiny island in the South Pacific called Samoa. Once there she studied the way that adolescent girls in that “primitive” culture differed from their counterparts back in America. She wrote up her observations as a modest little book called Coming of Age in Samoa. In it she described a society in which unmarried couples enjoyed carefree sex. The subject coincided with issues that she was wrestling with in her own life.
Her book was published in 1927. Margaret introduced the American public to the then radical idea that men and women could relate to one another sexually, outside the confines of marriage. This idea caught on. Coming of Age became an unexpected bestseller. Margaret was only twenty-six years old. Apparently, Americans were intrigued by a young lady who was an adventurer. They were ready to hear the message she was bringing home.
For the next five decades she was recognized as a social commentator and an agent of change. It’s fair to say that without Margaret Mead, the revolutions of the 1960s – including women’s lib and free sex- would never have happened.
Publication date: July 11, 2017
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