Lucy Philip Mair read Classics at Cambridge University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1923. She went to the London School of Economics (LSE) to study social anthropology under Bronisław Malinowski, and did field work in Uganda studying social change. In 1932, she returned to the UK to submit her PhD dissertation and was awarded her degree. She began lecturing at the LSE the same year. During World War II, she worked for the Royal Institute for International Affairs and the Ministry of Information. After the war, she helped train Australian administrators to work in Papua New Guinea. She returned to teach at the LSE as a reader in colonial administration and in 1963 was named professor, a position she held until her retirement in 1968. Prof. Mair published numerous books and papers in her career, but her best-known work was Primitive Government (1962).