She was born in New York.
She received her PhD along with Margaret Mead under Franz Boas at Columbia University where she subsequently taught until her death. A cultural relativist, in her work Patterns of Culture (1934), she describes the tiny subset of human behavior exhibited in any society. Benedict is best known for her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946), is a study of the society and culture of Japan produced at the behest of the War Department during World War II; however, it has long since been discredited since Benedict had no direct experience in Japan, the book was the result of interviews conducted in Japanese internment camps inside the US. Today, the book is considered shallow and overtly racist. During World War II she was an adviser to the U.S. government on Japan.
She died in New York.