Margaret Mead was the eldest of five children born to a Quaker family, in Pennsylvania. Her father was a professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pa, and her mother was a sociologist, who studied Italian immigrants.
Her family moved frequently, and because of this, her early education was kind of fractured, she was both home schooled, and traditional schooled. She was accepted at De Pauw University, where she studied for one year, then transitioned over to Barnard College, where she earned a Bachelor's degree, in 1923. In 1924 she obtained her Masters from Columbia University, and in 1925, she set out to do fieldwork in Polynesia. She came back from that, and ended up working at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, as an assistant curator, while she worked on her Ph.D, which she got from Columbia in 1929.
She was married to Luther Cressman, a theological student during this time. They divorced in 1928. She often referred to this marriage as "my student marriage". She next married a New Zealand native, Reo Fortune. He was also an anthropologist. They were married until 1935. Interestingly, she describes this marriage as more passionate. She had been told she could not have children, but when, in 1935 a different doctor told her that she might be able to have children, they divorced.
She married, again, in 1936 (no grass grew under her feet), and kept this man, (a British anthropologist named Gregory Bateson) until 1950. They had a daughter, Mary, who grew up to be an anthropologist, as well. Interestingly, Dr. Benjamin Spock was Mary's pediatrician, and Margarets views, and experiences from observing other cultures, and implimenting some of what she liked (such as breastfeeding on the baby's demand, instead of a set schedule) influenced Dr. Spock, and ended up in his writings. Her husband, whom she loved dearly, left her in 1950, and she was heartbroken. They remained friends, and she took his picture with her on every trip, and even had it at her deathbed
She also had a close, and, many claim (including her daughter Mary) a sexual relationship with Ruth Benedict. She never outwardly proclaimed her bisexual ness, but said, instead that it is to be expected that an individuals sexual orientation may evolve throughout life. She had a second female partner, Rhoda Metraux, also an anthropologist. They combined their professional lives, as well. Their personal (romantic) letters were printed in book form in 2006.
As far as her career, she did much. She was a curator of ethnology at the Natural History Museum from 46-69, she taught at Columbia as an adjunct professor from 54-78, she was the professor of anthropology and the chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Fordham University from 68-70, she founded their anthropology department. She has also held numerous positions in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
She also wrote some important research books, her first about Samoa, "Coming of Age in Samoa", which was very controversial when it was published, in 1928, after she had spent time there studying. She also wrote a book called "Sex and the Temperament in Three Primative Societies, where she documented female dominancy in some of these tribes, shocking the then male dominant world.
She also spent much time researching the European Shtetl, this study financed by the American Jewish Committee. She spent much time interviewing many European born Jews about their family structures and experiences. Some blame this study for the "Jewish Mother" stereotype.
Margaret died, of Pancreatic Cancer in 1978, and is buried in Buckingham, Pa.