Mary Ellen Maxwell Bowen

Mary Ellen Maxwell Bowen, 1955

B.A., Denison University
M.L.S., Rutgers University

Community Service

Princeton, N.J.

Citation awarded June, 2005

Mary Ellen Maxwell Bowen’s hallmark, stamped on all the stages of her life, Is her service to the community of Princeton, New Jersey. She and her husband, Denison classmate Bill Bowen, first moved there when Bill was in graduate school.

She started in the organization for wives of graduate students and non-tenured faculty, then became a member of the University League, which fostered social interaction on the campus for faculty and staff, maintained a nursery school and a furniture exchange, and offered English-language courses for dependents of visitors. Mary Ellen first offered her financial expertise to the League but quickly became known for her greatest asset—her intense interest in other people and the ability to make everyone feel welcomed and honored.

When her husband became Princeton’s president, Mary Ellen’s responsibilities and scope of influence expanded dramatically. She added a wide range of formal entertaining to her existing roles as parent and volunteer, and did it all with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm. She became League chair and her deft combination of dedication, wisdom, tact and diplomacy made everyone feel included. Whether she was dealing with students, faculty, staff, alumni and their families, or distinguished visitors to the university, she treated everyone with dignity, respect, and a measure of personal commitment that was appreciated and reciprocated.

Even with all her official duties, Mary Ellen found ways to be her own person. She volunteered in many fundraising events for the Princeton YWCA and also participated in the local branch of Reading for the Blind. She served as president of the Youth Employment Service and was a volunteer in its office, helping to match local jobs with students who wanted them.

Two special areas of interest emerged over time. First, she became a member of the University Art Museum Docents and an ex officio member of the Friends of the Art Museum. Her efforts were so outstanding that the Trustees of Princeton University honored her with the dedication of the Mary Ellen Bowen Gallery in the Museum. She is similarly passionate about the work of the Auxiliary to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary on the Princeton campus and has served as its secretary, vice president and president. Currently, she is serving again as treasurer.

When her husband left the Princeton presidency for the Mellon Foundation, Mary Ellen seamlessly added world-wide outreach to her repertoire. As a splendid ambassador at large, she fosters relationships critical in the world in which we now live, all the while remaining grounded in her community.

She has always been grounded at Denison as well, and is currently a member of the Harris Tight Huffman Society.