Brenda Meehan, professor emerita of history and of religion at the University of Rochester and an internationally regarded scholar in Russian history, died Aug. 27 in Rochester. She was 64.
After earning her doctorate from the University of Rochester in 1970, Meehan joined the faculty as an assistant professor of history in 1972 and spent her entire academic career at the University. She founded the Russian Studies program and served as its director for 20 years. In addition to teaching history courses, she served as a senior associate dean in the then College of Arts & Science, was instrumental in the creation of the women's studies program, and later was a founding member of what is now the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies.
"Brenda was one of those faculty members who improved every part of the University of Rochester and every person's life that she touched," said Provost Charles Phelps. "We will miss her greatly."
Meehan's early research focused on 18th and 19th century Russia and her first book, Autocracy and Aristocracy: The Russian Service Elite of 1730 (1982), earned the National Endowment for the Humanities award for outstanding book in the humanities. Her ensuing projects focused on Russian women and religion. Her book Holy Women of Russia became the subject of a panel discussion during a regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion following its publication in 1993. It is considered a groundbreaking contribution to the study of women's and church history.
"In the history department, we appreciated Brenda especially for her dedication and skill as a teacher, her selflessness and commitment as a mentor to her graduate students and junior colleagues, her loyalty to the University and her friends, her sense of humor, and above all, her humility, integrity, and uncommon good sense," said Theodore Brown, professor of history and immediate past chair of the history department.
Over the course of her career, Meehan won grants from the Ford Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life. She was a Senior Fellow of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and of the National Humanities Center. Meehan also was an associate of the Russian Research Center at Harvard University in the 1970s and of the Harvard Divinity School in the 1990s.
In December 2004, a session at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies was devoted to recognizing her accomplishments as a scholar. Participants in the roundtable, titled "Aristocratic Elites, Women, and the Russian Religious Mind: Appraising the Work of Brenda Meehan," described her work as "pioneering, profound, and wide-ranging."
In 2005, Meehan received the Susan B. Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award from the University's Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership.
Meehan received her bachelor's degree from the College of New Rochelle and her master's degree from Columbia University, where she attended the Russian Institute. At Rochester, she taught a wide range of popular courses on Imperial Russia, Stalin's Russia, Russian women, Russian religious ideas, and history and culture. Because of her illness, she retired in 2004.
A memorial service was held at the University of Rochester on Aug. 31. Meehan is survived by her life partner, Melanie A. May; daughters Megan Waters of Washington, D.C., and Karen Waters of Seattle, Wash.; grandchildren Xavier, Matthias, Tate; and friend and ex-husband John J. Waters Jr., professor emeritus of history at the University of Rochester. Contributions may be made in support of Multiple System Atrophy Research to: The University of Rochester, c/o Janet L. Butler Fund, 1351 Mt. Hope Ave., Suite 223, Rochester, NY 14620; or to the Ursuline Retirement Fund, c/o Ursuline Provincialate, 1338 North Ave., New Rochelle, NY, 10804-2121.