The ‘founding mother of eating disorder treatment’ passes away at the age of 94

Vivian Meehan graduated from the School of Nursing in 1947

March 26, 2020
Brett Stursa

Vivian Meehan
Vivian Meehan

As a nurse, Vivian Meehan understood the seriousness of her daughter’s illness when she returned from college weighing 68 pounds. But as she sought help from the medical community, she felt like her daughter’s eating disorder was minimized and information was hard to come by. With the conviction that others were struggling and that expertise was something that could be found in people without degrees, she formed a support group for people with eating disorders. From there, she launched the first helpline and referral service for people with eating disorders. Eventually she founded the first organization dedicated to eating disorders – the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders – and dedicated her life to supporting people with eating disorders.

“She really was the first of her kind,” said her husband Christopher Athas.

Meehan, who graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Nursing in 1947, died from multiple myeloma at the age of 94. A memorial service was held in November.

“She was really the founding mother of eating disorder treatment in the country,” said Stephen G. Galston, MD, who has psychiatric offices in Illinois. “She’s definitely a national figure — a motivated, passionate, warm person who cared about this patient population so much. She made the world more aware of eating disorders.”

Over the years, Meehan organized many conferences, testified before the U.S. Congress on several occasions and appeared on many national television programs. Her pioneering work garnered many accolades, including the J.P. Lippincott Creative Nursing Award presented at the White House by Rosalyn Carter, the Presidential Volunteer Action Award Citations from President Ronald Reagan, the Meehan-Hartley Leadership Award from the Academy for Eating Disorders, and the Points of Light Award from President George H.W. Bush.

Vivian Meehan on C-SPAN

Categories: Alumni News