Possibly one of the most captivating women of the twentieth century, Margaret Mead redefined and extended the field of anthropology, the science of human culture. In fact, she turned anthropology into a household word. She popularized the thought that human differences arose from the imperatives of individual cultures at least as much as from biological determinants. .
The oldest child in her family, she was born on December 16, 1901, in Philadelphia. Finally she had a younger brother and three younger sisters, one of who died in childhood. While raising her family, her mother, Emily Fogg Mead, used to study Italian immigrant families. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, taught at the Wharton School of Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. The Mead family moved often, to farms and towns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Her early schooling was in the hands of her parents, her grandmother and various tutors and craftspeople. even though her parents were agnostics, she decided at age eleven to be baptized an Episcopalian. .
She then met a 20 year-old theology student, Luther Sheeleigh Cressman, in 1917, and they became engaged during her senior year at Doylestown High School in Pennsylvania. She first attended her father's alma mater, DePauw University in Indiana, but she felt out of place in the Midwestern environment of fraternities and sororities. She transferred to Barnard College in New York City, where she lived with a group of women who called themselves the "Ash Can Cats" and who would remain her lifelong friends.
It was at Barnard that she established what was perhaps the most important relationship of her life. Ruth Benedict, fifteen years older, was an instructor in the Anthropology Department under Franz Boas, whose new ideas on anthropology would influence and inspire her throughout her career. Besides anthropology, the two women shared a love for writing poetry. .
In 1923 she married Cressman.