Charles King in Nautilus:
In July 1925, Margaret Mead, a doctoral student at Columbia University, set off on a cross-country train journey with a young faculty member, Ruth Benedict. Mead was bound for the west coast and then American Samoa, her first fieldwork expedition as a junior anthropologist. Benedict was stopping in New Mexico to study myth and ritual in the Zuni Pueblo. The journey took them through Ohio to Illinois, across the prairie, then south toward the deserts. It was the longest the two of them had ever spent together, certainly the longest without their husbands in tow.
They had become acquainted more than two years earlier, Mead as an undergraduate at Barnard College, Benedict as her teaching assistant. It had taken time for Mead to stop referring to “Mrs. Benedict,” but over the years, something had changed. “She rests me like a padded chair and a fireplace,” Benedict jotted in her diary. Now, on the train west, Mead would remember weeping in Benedict’s arms, parsing her troubled marriage and other romantic entanglements. Benedict would later lie awake thinking of the nights they spent on the train—making love, kissing Mead’s fingers, trailing her lips across the palm of her hand. “Tofa, my sweetheart,” Mead wrote in a letter once she got to Samoa, using the local term for goodbye. “In my dreams I bury my face in your hair.” She had long signed her notes to Benedict with “love,” as one might to an older sister. But now she could say it all plainly, outright. “And always I love you.”