The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research

By Derek Freeman | Go to book overview

12
Mead's Samoan
Fieldwork in Retrospect

MEAD'S LETTER OF MARCH 14, which announced that her investigation of the problem Boas had assigned to her was "practically completed," reached Franz Boas at Columbia University in New York City on the morning of Tuesday, April 20, 1926. On January 4, 1926, in a letter to the Board of National Research Fellowships in the Biological Sciences, Boas had noted, in his role as Mead's supervisor, that the "principal object" of her investigation in Samoa was "to attempt to determine how far the behavior of an adolescent girl is determined by the cultural environment." On January 6, in her report to the National Research Council about her fieldwork in Manu'a, Mead had made "absolutely no showing in conclusions at all," as she confessed to Boas. Yet just over two months later, in her letter to Boas of March 14, she claimed that because at puberty there was no "curb" on the expression of sexuality, adolescence in Samoa was without "stress." This was an impossibly brief period in which to have completed the systematic research on which these sweeping generalizations could be validly based--especially when, for over half of this period, Mead had not been investigating the behavior of adolescent girls at all but instead had been researching the ethnology of Manu'a for the Bishop Museum.

Boas, however, had no knowledge of this, nor did he know of the singular fashion in which, on the island of Ofu, Mead had suddenly acquired from Fa'apua'a and Fofoa the information on which her characterization of Samoan adolescence was based. Boas's reply, his last com-

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