Naomi Meara (1937 - 2007)

by Justine Calcagno, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Counseling Psychologist, Dr. Naomi Meara (1937-2007) was deeply committed to addressing issues of women’s advancement and to developing the profession of counseling psychology. Dr. Meara researched women’s educational aspirations and sought to build the counseling psychology community, fostering dialogue on ethical practices. Finally, Meara was an astounding mentor. Truly a steadfast feminist and ethicist, Meara left a profound impact on those close to her, as well as upon the field of counseling psychology.

Naomi Meara was born in Columbus, Ohio, on February 26, 1937. Her parents, both public school teachers, valued education and believed in the equal abilities of women and men.  Meara attended an all-girls Catholic school. She had a strong relationship with her family, and this cohesion gave her an early sense of the value of care and loyalty in relationships. Meara had trouble reading in elementary school; however, the nuns by whom she was educated took particular interest in her, and she overcame this difficulty.

Upon entering college, Meara had her first experience with gender discrimination.  She was once told by a professor, “[I]t is a waste of time to educate women” (Davis, 2001, p. 344). Despite this, Meara earned a BA in English and BS in education from Ohio State University in 1958. With the completion of her dissertation, “A factor analytic study of the relationship between attitudinal variables and academic learning,” Meara earned her PhD in psychology from Ohio State in 1967 (Meara, 1968). Upon graduating, she became an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin La Crosse.

In 1979, Meara became an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, where she proudly led the development of an APA-accredited counseling psychology program. Drawn in part by her lifelong commitment to the Catholic Church, in 1986, Meara then took a position as a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame.  Remaining at Notre Dame for the rest of her career, Meara chaired the department from 1988 to 1991, and was appointed to the Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor of Psychology endowed chair in 1996.

Meara “took pride in her identity as a counseling psychologist” (Patton, Davis, & Schmidt, 2009, p. 472). Devoted to the development of the APA’s Division 17 (Counseling Psychology), she became one of the division’s first prominent women (L. Chalk, personal communication, January 26, 2010). She was elected president of Division 17 in 1988. Throughout her career, Meara was appointed to numerous committees and task forces related to the profession in the APA, APA’s Division 17, and the universities where she worked.

Meara used her professional status to further the advancement of women within the profession.  In 1974, Meara founded Division 17’s Committee on Women. As a member of the Division’s Executive Committee, Meara used her influence to increase the budget for the Committee on Women, from $250 in 1974 to $1,000 in 1975 (Davis, 2001).She also served on the Notre Dame Committee on Women. Finally, Meara also researched women’s educational achievement, publishing several research articles on the topic in prominent journals (e.g., Chalk, Meara, Day, & Davis, 2005).

Meara’s devotion to women’s issues was perhaps tied to her more general concern for ethics. Through her behavior she illustrated “how one can strive to actualize virtues that make for support, respect, and fair-mindedness in relationships with others” (Patton et al., 2009, 474). Influenced by another mentor, Lyle Schmidt, this general concern for ethics carried over into Meara’s lifelong interest in the professional ethics of Counseling Psychology. She introduced the field to virtue ethics, an ethical philosophy that emphasizes moral character in ethical decision making. Meara also held positions on the APA Task Force on the Scope and Criteria of Accreditation as well as the Ethics Task Force at Notre Dame.

Above all else, Dr. Naomi Meara stands out as a wonderful mentor. She was compassionate and caring toward others, as well as humorous and humble. Meara’s service to the field of counseling psychology and her devotion to women’s advancement, through service, research, and teaching, were bold and admirable. When asked what she would like to be remembered for, Meara replied that she was not sure she deserved to be remembered. She then followed with the assertion, “[T]he goal is to be competent and to provide for the common good” (Davis, 2001, p. 355). She has certainly achieved these goals, and certainly deserves to be remembered.

References

Chalk, L., Meara, N., Day, J., & Davis, K. (2005). Occupational possible selves: Fears and aspirations of college women. Journal of Career Assessment, 13(2), 188-203.

Davis, K. (2001). Naomi M. Meara: Toward the common good. The Counseling Psychologist, 29(3), 336-357.

Meara, N., & Day, J. (2000). Epilogue: Feminist visions and virtues of ethical psychological practice. Practicing feminist ethics in psychology (pp. 249-268). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Meara, N. (1968). A factor analytic study of the relationship between attitudinal variables and academic learning. Dissertation Abstracts International, 28, Retrieved from PsycINFO database.

Patton, M., Davis, K., & Schmidt, L. (2009). In memoriam: Naomi M. Meara, 1937–2007. The Counseling Psychologist, 37(3), 472-475.