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The Sibling Connection


          Anthropologist Margaret Mead left a legacy of 44 books and more than 1,000 articles about her work. When she died in 1978, she was the most famous anthropologist in the world.

          She was born in Philadelphia on December 16, 1901. She had a brother, Richard, who was two years younger, and then a sister. Later she would have two more sisters. She writes of her early life and the death of her sister, Katherine, in her book, Blackberry Winter:

           When I was four and Richard two, a baby sister was born who I was allowed to name Katherine. She was a happy, responsive baby and we delighted in her peals of laughter when she pulled off her socks.

          Christmas, when Katherine was six months old, was glowing and happy. The tree was hung with beautiful little Viennese ornaments and under the tree there was a doll dressed in white fur for the baby. Then in March, she died. The house was hushed and filled with terror for two days and so, when Grandma told us that Katherine had gone to be with Grandfather, I knew what this meant.

          Richard was not as clear about that had happened and for months he would wander disconsolately through the house looking for Katherine. I knew she had died, but my lost little sister lived on in my daydreams. At first I daydreamed about a lost twin sister. Later I dreamed of finding Katherine herself again.

           Katherine's death made a gap in the family. Instead of our being five stair-step children, we fell into two pairs. The younger girls, born two and four years later, were treated almost like a second family and for years they were called "the babies". With Katherine's death something also happened to my parents' relationships. Deeply grieved, Father withdrew, unwilling to give as much love again to a baby, and Elizabeth and Priscilla never had as much warmth and affection from him.

                              
From Blackberry Winter: My Early Years, p. 61

          What her younger sisters failed to receive from her father, was made up for by Margaret herself, who delighted in the babies, and thought of them as her own.

          Margaret grew up and went to college, studying psychology and anthropology. For her, anthropology was a calling, a vocation. She believed that our society had much to learn from more primitive cultures. She did her first fieldwork in American Samoa, focusing on adolescent girls, and four years later went to Manus Island in New Guinea, where she studied the play and imaginations of younger children and the way they were shaped by adult society.

           The experience of losing a sister was clearly a factor in shaping Margaret's life and pointing her towards a career that could help her to understand and make meaning of the loss. When she finally had her own child, a girl, she named her Catherine (this time spelled with a "C") after her lost little sister.





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