One of the pioneers of modern American anthropology, Mead was known as a tireless field investigator and a skillful writer with a popular appeal. Conducting most of her ethnographic work in Samoa and other islands of Oceania, she emphasized the determining influences of culture on the individual personality, and she focused on cultural differences in child rearing, gender roles, sexual rules, and sexual practices. In addition to descriptions of life in “primitive” societies, Mead’s writings included strong criticisms of gender roles and conventional sexual morality in the United States.
The most controversial of her twenty-three books included Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935), and Male and Female (1949). Although governmental agents rarely censored her books, conservative critics often tried, and sometimes were able, to keep these books out of local libraries, and from time to time high school teachers were criticized for including her works in reading lists. In 1961, for example, the Mothers United for Decency of Oklahoma City operated a “smutmobile” which prominently displayed a paperback edition of Male and Female.