The oldest child in her family, she was born on December 16, 1901, in Philadelphia. Finally she had a younger brother and three younger sisters, one of who died in childhood. While raising her family, her mother, Emily Fogg Mead, used to study Italian immigrant families. Her father, Edward Sherwood Mead, taught at the Wharton School of Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. The Mead family moved often, to farms and towns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Her early schooling was in the hands of her parents, her grandmother and various tutors and craftspeople. even though her parents were agnostics, she decided at age eleven to be baptized an Episcopalian.
She then met a 20 year-old theology student, Luther Sheeleigh Cressman, in 1917, and they became engaged during her senior year at Doylestown High School in Pennsylvania