Margaret Mead sitting between two Samoan girls, circa 1926.
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Margaret Mead sitting between two Samoan girls.

Credit: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

The daughter of progressive Pennsylvania Quaker educators, Margaret Mead in 1923 left her new husband to live by herself among Samoans. In 1926 she published Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth, an instant best-seller that the New York Public Library later ranked one of the important books of the 20th century. In the decades that followed, Mead was one of the nation’s towering public intellectuals, showing Americans how to think in new ways about family, sexuality, and gender.

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