Get our newsletters

By the Way: Women have come of age since the days of Margaret Mead


When I heard a news broadcast that 40,000 women had joined the Ukrainian fighting forces, I immediately thought of Doylestown’s famous daughter, Margaret Mead. Her 1928 book, “Coming of Age in Samoa,” knocked the socks off many Westerners’ views of female sexuality.

It was published the same year that D.H. Lawrence’s novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” shocked the world. Mead’s book caught the tide of changing sexual mores in the United States. It was a time of the first chaotic chapter of sexual revolution — and it was nearly 100 years ago.

I had long admired the great anthropologist and seen her in New York City. We both were Bucks Countians and both graduates of Barnard College. When I was a student there I often saw her walking on campus, alone, determined, usually headed across Broadway to Columbia University where she was a professor.

But I did not meet her until I was a young reporter assigned to cover a talk she gave in the Doylestown area. I was a bit star-struck and I can’t recall much of our conversation. What I do remember, though, is that at one point she said, “No country that has armed its women has ever survived.”

Looking at that remark now, I thought. “That does not bode well for Ukraine.” But I reconsidered. I do not mean to argue with Margaret Mead’s statement. It probably is true as it refers to the past when women were summoned to battle at the last moment.

But Mead made that remark maybe a half-century ago. I doubt she would have said that today. Even with her astounding research and knowledge, she could not have foreseen the earth-shaking cultural changes that have actually pried open doors once forbidden to women. Nor could I.

Could she have imagined then, before man first walked on the moon, that women would become astronauts? Walk in space? Fly jet planes? Head billion-dollar corporations? Could I imagine it? Not likely.

Mead died in 1978. I’ve been blessed with enough years to see girls grow into spectacular young women and witness adult women evolve from house mouse to superwoman — and the changes have been stunning.

In Doylestown alone, the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce in the last few years has featured talks by an astronaut, an admiral and the CEO of Philadelphia International Airport — all females. Yes, they are exceptional, but think of all the women before them who were denied entry to their fields, lost a chance to be what they wanted to be and had to turn their talents to more traditional roles.

Look at the ranks of plebes at West Point and see the strong and fit but still feminine young women, their shoulders straight, their hair pulled back under their caps, but do not underestimate them. And do not underestimate their sisters standing strong in the Air Force, the Navy and the Coast Guard.

And listen to what a college classmate, my best friend, told me about her 18-year-old granddaughter who was heading to the Midwest to college. “I’m not worried about her safety,” she said. “She’s a Black Belt in karate.”

I hate to admit it but when I was dating I sat useless, a mere decoration in the passenger seat, while my date walked around the car and opened the door for me. It was simply expected. (When we’re walking my husband does still open doors for me, but not the car door. I figured that one out a long time ago.)

And how long has it been since a man tipped his hat to me? “Pathetic,” my daughter would laugh. That whole way of being is a world away from her experience. She has a female colleague, a young mother, who works on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. My daughter’s generation sees no barriers.

So, do we need to worry about the women serving n Ukraine’s military or the country’s survival? I don’t think so, but I think the Russians might.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.