21 Thought-Provoking and Inspiring Quotes from Margaret Mead

Owl representing Margaret Mead Quotes as the Featured Image

This month, we’re taking a look at quotes from a cultural anthropologist and all-round feisty woman, Margaret Mead.

While anthropology is the study of humans, human behaviour and society both in the past and currently. Cultural anthropology looks at societal values, norms and cultural differences and development.

So, below you’ll find a short history of Margaret Mead, followed by 21 quotes and finally, a short Fierce Kindness practice exercise to grow from the quotes which I hope will “speak to you”. Enjoy!

Jump straight to the Margaret Mead Quotes here >>

Dr Margaret Mead

Dr Margaret Mead in 1950

Who is Margaret Mead (and why should we care)?

Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia in the USA in 1901 – the eldest of 5 children (although only 4 survived to adulthood). Her father was a finance professor and her mother was a sociologist who studied Italian immigrants.

While Margaret died in 1978 of pancreatic cancer, she contributed (some say defined) the field of cultural anthropology. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1979.

Margaret married – and divorced – 3 times, and had one child, Mary Catherine Bateson, who also became an anthropologist. Later in her life she was romantically linked with anthropologist Rhoda Metraux with whom she worked and lived from 1955 until she died.

From her Wikipedia entry – here’s the career stuff (which I’ve turned into bullets for easy reading):

  • During World War II, Mead served as executive secretary of the National Research Council’s Committee on Food Habits.
  • She served as curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1946 to 1969.
  • She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1948.
  • She taught at The New School and Columbia University, where she was an adjunct professor from 1954 to 1978 and was a professor of anthropology and chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus from 1968 to 1970, founding their anthropology department.
  • In 1970, she joined the faculty of the University of Rhode Island as a Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Anthropology.

But for me, when I read Margaret’s quotes, and anything about her life, I see a woman way ahead of her time. I see someone who followed her passions, challenged existing beliefs and made a difference in a predominantly white, male world.

For example, before she was twenty years of age, studying at the famous Barnard College (which interestingly was founded in New York in 1889 by Annie Nathan Meyer – because Columbia University refused to admit women), Margaret Mead was already finding her anthropology studies unsatisfactory. She is quoted as saying that it was caught up in “the stupid underbrush of nineteenth century arguments” – and if this article which I loved is correct she also believed anthropology to be, “tarred by white supremacy”.

I love her already!

Then, after meeting the trailblazing anthropologist Franz Boas – who was suggesting that human behaviour might boil down more to culture (nurture) than nature (our biology), Margaret changed her thesis topic and set off alone, at the tender age of 23 to travel half-way around the world and study native Samoans in adolescence. This was in the mid 1920s.

Margaret Mead's BookMargaret’s work and impacts

While Margaret was disparaged for choosing to study “children and women”, she followed her heart – and mind. And Margaret’s work changed the world.

She quashed the ridiculous notion that native tribes are “backward” and showed that it was culture – or how we are raised – that informs our behaviour, as well as our social practices.

She wrote her most famous work, Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation in 1928, and Sex and Temperament: In Three Primitive Societies in 1935. There is also an autobiography I have on my wishlist, Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. And there are many, many more books and writings.

In her work, Margaret not only showed the importance of nurture, but importantly she shook up the industrialised world when she wrote about a culture where women were dominant (as opposed to men). Her work contributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s – especially her writings which showed that male and female gender characteristics are heavily impacted by society and cultural conditioning.

Throughout her life she challenged norms, and also explored the themes of education, nurture and how to create positive societal change.

There’s so much to this fascinating woman who threw caution to the wind and changed the world.

Which of course leads me to the quotes…

Here are 21 of my Favourite Margaret Mead Quotes:

Margaret’s most famous quote is probably this:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

And in her quotes, you’ll see that she has a lot of opinions about children, education and growing up, as well as the idea that change starts with us…

Which quotes most speak to you?
  1. “I was wise enough never to grow up, while fooling people into believing I had.” Margaret Mead
  2. “Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.” Margaret Mead
  3. “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Margaret Mead
  4. “Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need.” Margaret Mead
  5. “Laughter is man’s most distinctive emotional expression.” Margaret Mead
  6. “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Margaret Mead
  7. “Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.” Margaret Mead
  8. “We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.” Margaret Mead
  9. “It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.” Margaret Mead
  10. “If the future is to remain open and free, we need people who can tolerate the unknown, who will not need the support of completely worked out systems or traditional blueprints from the past.” Margaret Mead
  11. “I do not believe in using women in combat, because females are too fierce.” Margaret Mead
  12. “Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All social change comes from the passion of individuals.” Margaret Mead
  13. “I measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her fellow human beings.” Margaret Mead
  14. “For the very first time the young are seeing history being made before it is censored by their elders.” Margaret Mead
  15. “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.” Margaret Mead
  16. “Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.” Margaret Mead
  17. “No society has ever yet been able to handle the temptations of technology to mastery, to waste, to exuberance, to exploration and exploitation. We have to learn to cherish this earth and cherish it as something that’s fragile, that’s only one, it’s all we have. We have to use our scientific knowledge to correct the dangers that have come from science and technology.” Margaret Mead
  18. “It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.” Margaret Mead
  19. “We must turn all of our educational efforts to training our children for the choices which will confront them… The child who is to choose wisely must be healthy in mind and body. The children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Margaret Mead
  20. “Prayer does not use up artificial energy, doesn’t burn up any fossil fuel, doesn’t pollute. Neither does song, neither does love, neither does the dance.” Margaret Mead
Here’s your Fierce Kindness “Quotes Practice”

To go deeper, here are 3 next steps:

As you know, one of the core principles of Fierce Kindness is creating a deep connection with yourself. So:

  1. Consider which Margaret Mead quote above:
    • Most UNSETTLES you &
    • Most RESONATES with you?
  2. Write out these 2 quotes in your journal and ponder these questions over a quiet cup of tea or coffee:
    • WHY do you think you were drawn to them?
    • WHAT do you think the quote is trying to say to YOU specifically?
    • What are some IDEAS you’ve been having, of changes you could make in your life – however small?
  3. Finally, to go even deeper, put your 2 chosen quotes somewhere you’ll see them often. And then over the next month, make an effort to notice the quotes – and each time you do, ask:
    • What is this quote teaching me today/now?


I hope you enjoyed these quotes and this fascinating and daring woman.

And if you’re looking for some fun reading, there is a novel, Euphoria by Lily King, which is loosely based on Margaret’s life (including a love triangle) while in New Guinea.

So, as we think about Margaret Mead’s legacy, remember the 3 key elements of Fierce Kindness:

  1. Deepen the connection with yourself. We have all been influenced by our upbringings – what we think is right,wrong and the way we think we “should” be. Connect with yourself so that you learn what you really think and feel – not what you’re supposed to think and feel.
  2. Deepen your connection with others. We are tribal creatures, needing others to survive. But we need authentic connection with others to be happy. Without love, companionship, community, what else truly matters?
  3. Deepen your connection to something bigger than you. Margaret Mead believed change starts with the individual. How can you make a difference? Where can you change your world for the better?

If you liked this Margaret Mead quotes article, you may also like:

Which was your favourite quote? Do you have one that I missed? Comment below!

Image of Owl representing Margaret Mead and her Quotes by jayclarke1 via Pixabay

Image of Margaret Mead via Smithsonian Institute Archives

One Comment

  1. Janet

    I am looking for a quote Mead made at an AAA conference in the 60’s relating to peace.
    “Human society will achieve peace when countries are economically interdependent.”


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