'An instrument of joy'

Sisterly advice from Margaret Mead

The following letter can be found in both More Letters of Note and Letters of Note: Sex. It was also, in 2020, read for us at Letters Live by Gillian Anderson. Scroll to the bottom for video.


Margaret Mead was for many years the leading anthropologist on the planet, thanks largely to Coming of Age in Samoa, a groundbreaking and controversial book she wrote after a research trip in 1925 in which a light was shone on the previously alien lives and relaxed sexual attitudes of adolescent Samoan girls. Although since contested, Mead’s findings were a revelation, and in fact have been credited with influencing the sexual revolution of the 1960s. In 1926, a year after setting foot on the Samoan island of T’au, Mead learnt of a sexual awakening much closer to home: that of her younger sister, Elizabeth. This letter of advice was her response.

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