Mead and Bateson returned to the United States in 1939, she was
pregnant with their daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, who was
born that December. In this period, the couple prepared their
Balinese materials for publication and began using their professional
skills to assist the Allied war effort in the U.S. They contributed
their expertise as social scientists to groups that applied the
behavioral sciences to such issues as problems of morale in wartime.
Early in 1942, Mead went to Washington, D.C., to head the National
Research Council's Committee on Food Habits. This committee applied
anthropological methods to problems of food distribution and preparation
in war-affected countries. Also as part of the war effort, in
1942 Mead published And Keep Your Powder Dry, a book
on American national character.
During World War II, anthropologists
used the techniques they had developed in small-scale societies
to analyze the "national character" of so-called complex societies.
By gathering information from immigrants to the United States,
as well as from published sources and films, they studied culture
"at a distance." Such research was used to guide government and
military policy, to further cooperation among wartime allies,
and to plan for a postwar world. Similar studies continued after
the war with the Research in Contemporary Cultures project, which
was led by Mead after Ruth Benedict's death in 1948.
Schedule for Margaret Mead's
December 10-13, 1942,
visit to the Menninger Clinic.
Typescript with handwritten notes
by Dr. Karl Menninger.
Menninger Schedule, December 1942
In 1942, Mead began a professional association with the
Menninger Clinic--an innovative mental health facility in
Topeka, Kansas--which lasted the rest of her career. This
schedule shows the topics she was to address during her
first visit: Balinese culture; character structure and international
cooperation; and wartime food problems. Arranging her trip,
"In planning a schedule for me please realise
that the only thing I will resent is not being used.
I want to fill the time as full as possible."
Demanding a full schedule was characteristic of Mead, who
planned trips to include a maximum number of events, including
not only lectures, seminars, and interviews, but also visits
with family and friends.
During World War II, Mead also began consciously articulating
influences on her intellectual development. In this appendix
for the never-completed Learning to Live in One World,
Mead sketched out intellectual "lines of descent," which
connect a variety of social scientists, including Mead's
own parents and her then-husband Gregory Bateson, as well
as Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Erich Fromm,
John Dollard, and Geoffrey Gorer.
Mead sought to give an institutional basis to the research
she and like-minded social scientists were doing. In the
early 1940s, she formed organizations to facilitate the
flow of intercultural research in order to promote international
understanding. This work culminated in 1944 with her founding
of the Institute for Intercultural Studies, dedicated to
"advancing knowledge of the various peoples and nations
of the world, with special attention to those peoples and
those aspects of their life which are likely to affect intercultural
and international relations." Mead's book royalties and
lecture fees went to fund the institute, as did Benedict's
book royalties after her death.
"Appendix for Part Two,"
page of notes from unpublished
1945 book manuscript,
Learning to Live in One World.
Edward Sherwood Mead.
Letter to Margaret Mead,
August 4 [probably 1942].
Input from Father
Even after she was an established writer and scholar, Mead
still sought information and advice from her father, economist
Edward Sherwood Mead (1874-1956). In this letter he appears
to be answering a question that has arisen while she was
writing And Keep Your Powder Dry. The subject
he addresses concerns European craftsmen versus American
mass production machinery and appears in his daughter's
A Student's Comment
Mead's files contain this student essay from a class at
American University, passed on by the pupil's instructor.
The student has written that she does not identify with
the America described in And Keep Your Powder Dry,
but this inability is "due not entirely to the fact that
I am a Negro and not just 'an American'." She wanted Mead
to explain the destructive aspects of American life, the
"Frankenstein" American character which "thrives on power,
greed, and prejudice apart from the host of American people."
In 1946, this student, Fanny (McConnell) Buford, married
the African American writer Ralph Ellison (19141994),
author of the classic novel Invisible Man (1952).
"A Comment on Miss Mead's Book
And Keep Your Powder Dry,"
January 25, 1943.
Typescript. Enclosed in
letter from [Caroline] Ware,
March 17, 1943.
National Character Studies: This type
of culture and personality study came about during the World
War II years, as the methods of culture and personality
were applied to large-scale, so-called "complex cultures."
Researchers sought to understand the cultural patterns of
nation-states such as Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and
the Soviet Union, largely through indirect methods rather
than by traveling to those countries. These are also sometimes
called "studies of culture at a distance."
National character studies in the war and
postwar periods were subsequently criticized by scholars
for their homogeneity and over-generalization. These studies,
some funded directly by government agencies, marked a new
stage in the ongoing relationship between social scientists
and the U.S. government.
National Research Council
Committee on Food Habits.
Morale," Appendix I,
November 19, 1942.
At the request of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead came to
Washington, D.C., early in 1942, to assume the role of Executive
Secretary of the National Research Council's Committee on
Food Habits. One aspect of the committee's work dealt with
determining what foods were essential to the cultural habits
of people from different national backgrounds. Among other
things, ensuring that people had access to the foods most
meaningful to them was important to maintaining morale.
This document from 1942 summarizes some of the committee's
findings on the value of particular foods to different national
Democracies and Dictators
This series of cards comes from a board game developed
and marketed by Mead and Bateson as part of their work on
national defense and morale. The game is premised on "the
basic ideas that Democracies and Dictators play by different
rules and work with different values." The game was designed
so that it could be played by both children and adults.
"Ideally," wrote Mead, "for propaganda purposes it should
be played by the whole family with Papa explaining the points."
Despite Mead's efforts to sell the game to Parker Brothers,
it was never commercially produced.
Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.
"Disaster for Dictators: Crippled
Industries," "Danger for
Democracies: Corruption in Industries,"
"Danger for Democracies: Destruction
of Food," and "Disaster
for Dictators: Food shortage"
playing cards for board game, ca. 1940.
October 14, 1942.
Letter about Rumors
One of Mead's wartime concerns--related to her work on
food habits--was managing rumors. In this letter to her
brother-in-law Leo Rosten, Mead explores the subject of
using rumor clinics to analyze and combat rumors, especially
in rural areas. The letter, which refers to a previous conversation
they had on the subject, is of a sensitive nature. Mead
decided not to send the letter, marking it "Not sent--Keep.
Destroy carbon." Rosten, a social scientist and writer,
did work for the Office of War Information during World
"Rumors Cost Us Lives"
One of the problems social scientists addressed during
the war was how to manage rumors. Seemingly innocent conversations
could, in wartime, provide damaging information to the enemy.
In response to requests from women's groups, the War Department
drafted a "Code of Wartime Conversation," which reminded:
"What it is not safe to print, it is not safe to say!"
This poster from the Library's collection was part of the
American campaign to prevent careless talk.
Rumors Cost Us Lives.
Offset lithograph, ca. 1941-1945.
Prints and Photographs