Transcript of Margaret Mead's address
to the IWY delegation.
Women of America: This conference
may well be a turning point, not only in
the history of the women's movement. . .
but, in the history of the world itself.
We have a chance, at last, to act as
women in a way that women have not
been able to act, virtually since the paleolithic period.
Someone talked last night about restoring women to full partnership with
men. They haven't been there since the
development of large-scale civilization,
when they were left behind at the hearth
as the men organized up and up and up
until now they have got to the position
where they can cook millions of tons of
food without ever remembering that anybody eats it.
Women's traditional tasks through history, during which they cooperated with
men to make a full society, were to care
for the young and the old and the weak
and the poor and the preservation of society. When they were left behind and
robbed of any political power for the last
10,000 years, civilization has been in
charge of only one sex.
Men know a lot about dying but they
don't know enough about living. It has
been women's biological and social and
cultural task through history to live.
It is true that women risk their lives in
childbirth and men risk their lives on the
borders protecting their country. Men
had to be willing to die and to kill for the
safety of their women and children and
their land and their faiths, but women
had to be willing to live day after day,
year after year, caring for the everyday
needs of children who would have died
At this moment in history, the United
States is the richest and strongest .country
in the world. It is the country . . . that
has the greatest chance to save the world.
The women's movement has at least
succeeded in placing enough women in
strategic positions of power. . . We have
women on Congressional committees; we
have women in disarmament agencies; we
have women in all the points that are essential for an understanding that we must
stop this arms race and we must stop the
proliferation of nuclear power if we are
going to protect the people of the world.
So, it may be thought that we have
now reached "take-off" point. We have a
President who is willing to undertake
leadership in stopping nuclear weapons
proliferation and deescalating the arms
race and stopping ourselves from being
"merchants of death."
It is not, I say, without historic significance that we share the news today with
an attempt to solve the problems between
Israel and the Arabs by human friendliness instead of by giving weapons to both
sides. It is amazing what it is possible now
to do. I think if we can ask, on the one
hand, why women have arisen to the call
for peace, and then, gone home again and
risen, and then, gone home again and
risen, and then, gone home again, we can
say we have never had a concerted movement before because most of the appeals
that have been made to us have been
threats and women are very hard to scare.
It has been women's task throughout
history to go on believing in life, when
there was almost no hope, and they are
unable to deal only with despair. What we
must present to every woman in this
country today is that if we will act unitedly, forget every other consideration on
earth, as we do when our children are at
stake, we may be able to turn this world
around and produce a world in which our
children and other people's children will
On Sunday, November 20, 1977, delegates to the National Women's
Conference stood and sang "Happy Birthday Dear Margaret" in honor of
anthropologist Margaret Mead's 75th birthday. Moments later, she urged
women to work for peace. "Women are the nurturers and one of the
things we care about is life."
That same evening audiences gave 77 year old folksinger Malvina
Reynolds a standing ovation after her concert with Margie Adam and
Sweet Honey in the Rock. "Hearing Malvina sing was sufficient payment
for all the hours I worked," said one IWY volunteer.
Malvina Reynolds died last March 17 and Margaret Mead died on
Perhaps in no other modern academic discipline did one person stand so
clearly head and shoulders above her colleagues as did Dr. Mead. "Anthropology without Margaret Mead—unthinkable," was the reaction of one
A celebration of life
In words and
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