Mary Catherine Bateson, a cultural anthropologist who was the writer of quietly groundbreaking books on girls’s lives — and who as the one little one of Margaret Mead had as soon as been probably the most well-known infants in America — died on Jan. 2 in Dartmouth, N.H. She was 81.
Her husband, J. Barkev Kassarjian, confirmed the loss of life, at a hospice facility. He didn’t specify the trigger however stated she had suffered a fall earlier that week and skilled mind harm.
Dr. Bateson’s dad and mom, Dr. Mead and Gregory Bateson, an Englishman, had been celebrated anthropologists who fell in love in New Guinea whereas each had been learning the cultures there. (Dr. Mead was married to another person on the time.) They handled their daughter’s arrival virtually as extra subject work, documenting her delivery on movie — not a typical follow in 1939 — and persevering with to document her early childhood with the intention of utilizing the footage not simply as house motion pictures but additionally as academic materials. (Dr. Bateson’s first reminiscence of her father was with a Leica digital camera hanging from his neck.)
Benjamin Spock was her pediatrician — she was Dr. Spock’s first child, it was typically stated — and his celebrated books on little one care drew from classes realized by Dr. Mead.
Still, it wasn’t her babyhood, her lineage or her scholarship — an professional on classical Arabic poetry, she was as polymathic as her mom — that introduced Dr. Bateson renown; it was her 1989 e-book “Composing a Life,” an examination of the stop-and-start nature of ladies’s lives and their adaptive responses — “life as an improvisatory art,” as she wrote.
In the e-book, Dr. Bateson used her personal historical past and people of 4 mates as examples of bold girls at midlife. (She was 50 on the time of its publication.) All 5 had lived lengthy sufficient to have skilled loss, the strains of motherhood, sexism, racism, profession setbacks and betrayals. In Dr. Bateson’s case, she had been ousted as dean of school at Amherst College in Massachusetts in an obvious back-room deal orchestrated by male colleagues. It left her damage at first; her anger would take years to blossom.
Written with wry compassion and a behavorial scientist’s sharp eye, the e-book grew to become in its approach an unassumimg blockbuster and a touchstone for feminists. Jane Fonda hailed it as an inspiration, as did Hillary Clinton, who as first girl invited Dr. Bateson to advise her.
“Reading ‘Composing a Life’ made me gnash my teeth and weep,” the writer and Ms. journal co-founder Jane O’Reilly wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1989. “I scribbled all over the margins, turned down every other page corner and underlined passages with such ferocity that my desk was flecked with broken-off pencil points.”
The insights within the e-book, Dr. Bateson wrote, “started from a disgruntled reflection on my own life as a sort of desperate improvisation in which I was constantly trying to make something coherent from conflicting elements to fit rapidly changing settings,” as if she had been rummaging frantically within the fridge to make a meal for sudden company.
Mary Catherine Bateson was born on Dec. 8, 1939, in New York City. Her father was in England on the time; an avowed atheist, he despatched his spouse a congratulatory telegram instructing, “Do Not Christen.”
Mary Catherine was reared in keeping with the rituals and practices her dad and mom had noticed of their fieldwork, together with being breastfed on demand; her mom would seek the advice of with Dr. Spock. So dedicated was Dr. Mead to record-keeping that when Mary Catherine was in faculty and needed to throw out her childhood paintings, her mom declared that she had no proper to take action.
Mary Catherine grew up in Manhattan, principally within the floor ground flats of two townhouses in Greenwich Village that Dr. Mead shared in succession with mates who lived on the higher flooring. As Dr. Mead was typically away from house for work — or, when at house, working full-time — it was a handy dwelling association: Mary Catherine could possibly be sorted when mandatory by a full bench of unofficial siblings and their dad and mom, in addition to an English nanny and her adolescent daughter.
Dr. Mead’s housekeeping strategies had been additionally novel: When house, she cooked and ate dinner together with her daughter however eschewed dishwashing, in order to not waste time that could possibly be higher spent with Mary Catherine or on her work. Day after day, dishes piled up in dizzying verticals “like a Chinese puzzle,” awaiting a maid who would arrive on Mondays, as Dr. Bateson recalled in an earlier e-book, “With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson” (1984).
The memoir is an affectionate but sober portrait of two very sophisticated folks. “One of the premises of the household in which I grew up,” Dr. Bateson wrote diplomatically, “was that there was no clear line between objectivity and subjectivity, that observation does not preclude involvement.”
In his evaluation of the e-book in The Times, Anatole Broyard noted that Dr. Bateson had introduced “almost as much sophistication to bear on the picture of her childhood and her parents as they did on her.”
“We are used to novelists and poets giving us their highly colored or hyperbolic versions of their fathers and mothers,” he went on, “but Miss Bateson, who was born in 1939, is a behavioral scientist as well as a writer with considerable literary skill.”
Her dad and mom had been married for 14 years earlier than divorcing. Dr. Mead died in 1978 at 76. Gregory Bateson died in 1980 at 76.
Mary Catherine attended the private Brearley School in Manhattan. At 16, after accompanying her mother on a trip to Israel for one of Dr. Mead’s lectures, she stayed behind and spent part of that year on a kibbutz, where she learned Hebrew. Over the years she would also learn classical Arabic, Armenian, Turkish, Tagalog, Farsi and Georgian, the latter because she thought it would be fun.
She entered Radcliffe at 17, studied Semitic languages and history, and graduated in two and a half years. She had already met Dr. Kassarjian, a Harvard graduate student at the time, but promised her mother that she would not marry until she finished college. She earned her Ph.D. in linguistics and Middle Eastern languages at Harvard in 1963; her husband earned his there in business administration.
Early in their marriage, she and Dr. Kassarjian lived in the Philippines and then Iran, following his career running Harvard-related graduate institutes in those countries. Dr. Bateson found work as an academic and an anthropologist, learning Tagalog in the Philippines and Farsi in Iran to do so. They lived in Iran for seven years, until they were forced out in the late 1970s by the revolution there, having to leave most of their possessions behind.
Dr. Bateson taught at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis University and Spelman College in Atlanta, among other institutions. At her death, she was professor emerita of anthropology and English at George Mason University in Virginia and a visiting scholar at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.
Her husband is a professor emeritus of management at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and professor emeritus of strategy and organization at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Dr. Bateson published a number of books on human development, creativity and spirituality, including “Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom” (2010).
In addition to her husband, she is survived by their daughter, Sevanne Kassarjian; her half sister, Nora Bateson; and two grandsons.
At her death, Dr. Bateson was working on a book titled “Love Across Difference,” about how diversity of all stripes — gender, culture and nationality — can be a source of insight, collaboration and creativity.