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Mary Rowe papers

Identifier: MC-0709

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Scope and Contents

Mary P. Rowe was Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1973 to 2014. Her position was called Special Assistant for Women and Work when she started at MIT in February 1973 and she reported directly to MIT President Jerome Wiesner and MIT Chancellor Paul Gray. Later, the title became simply Special Assistant, and with Clarence G. Williams, who filled an analogous position as Special Assistant (starting as Special Assistant for Minority Affairs), the two formally became the first ombudspersons at MIT when MIT President Paul Gray established the Ombuds Office in 1980.

The Mary Rowe personal archives (MC 709) is closely tied to the MIT Institute Archives administrative collection AC 232 which contains administrative records of MIT and consulting work, publications, and presentations created by Mary Rowe in her position as Special Assistant to the President from 1973 to 2014.

Any researcher interested in research about issues of conflict management, discrimination, gender roles, gender equity, alternative dispute resolution, sexual harassment, the organizational ombuds profession and its effect on the workplace, and other workplace issues over a forty year period from the 1970s to 2000s, should consult and use both collections. With ongoing support from MIT, Mary Rowe was a consultant and speaker at academic, non-profit, international, and corporate institutions, and a writer, teacher, and a leader in the development of a broader ombuds profession. The organizational ombudsperson task was “to provide confidential and informal assistance to managers and employees [and others] on work-related concerns.”

The bulk of collection MC-0709 dates from the 1980s and 1990s and is comprised of records from the Corporate Ombudsman Association (later in 1992, The Ombudsman Association) and the University and College Ombudsman Association. The Corporate Ombudsman Association (COA) had its first meeting at MIT in 1982. Mary Rowe was a co-founder and then its first president when it was formally organized in 1984. Some records of the Corporate Ombudsman Association (COA) are found in boxes 5-11, 35 and 36. and some records of the organization after its reconfiguration to The Ombudsman Association (TOA) are found in boxes 12-25 and 36-38.

Other ombuds organizations are represented in the collection. Materials include files about annual conferences and are useful to show the evolving nature of the profession and highlight work place issues that emerged at specific times. There is information of an informal academic group, the California Caucus of College and University Ombudsman. The Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR), and the East Coast Area Ombuds Group which has met regularly at MIT are also represented. Some records of the University and College Ombudsman Association (UCOA) are found in boxes 1-4, and 35. Some records of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) -- formed after the merger of UCOA and TOA -- are found in box 26. Membership directories of these organizations show the breadth of interest and representation in the ombuds profession.

Materials in the collection document practices of persons holding ombuds positions in all types of organizations including government, academic, corporate, multi-national, international, and non-profit organizations. There is information on important initiatives to address shared issues including effectiveness of organizational ombuds, ethics, the Standards of Practice as they affect “privileged” communication, and the need for shield laws. The “Crystal Ball” files show the landscape of ombuds work, illuminating the effort to collect and share “new issues" and potential issues of the future. Surveys of members, programs of annual conferences, and articles by various practitioners show the development of the organizational ombuds profession from its beginning through its first decades. There are a number of training materials. Teaching cases covering specialized topics can be found in box 22. The Ombudsman Association offered a series of comprehensive courses, Ombudsman 101, 202, and 303. Mary Rowe collaborated with others in teaching these and other courses offered by TOA. Course materials can be found in boxes 22, 23, 24, 37 and 38. Materials in boxes 27-30 were transferred together. They provide an overview of Organizational Ombuds history, including bibliographies, directories, reports of surveys, seminal articles on the development of the ombuds profession, and important articles on confidentiality issues in the practice of the ombuds profession.

Articles by various ombuds association members can be found throughout the collection. Mary Rowe has written a number of articles about diversity, gender roles in families, discrimination, harassment, mentoring, and the work and usefulness of organizational ombuds. Many of her publications are together in boxes 31 to 34.


  • Creation: 1968 to 2021


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open.

Digital Access Note

Some parts of this collection are available online: Links to specific online digital items are found within their entry in this finding aid. Portions of certain digitized files are not available online at the request of the creator.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Biographical note

Mary P. Rowe earned a BA from Swarthmore College, and a PhD in economics from Columbia University. Before coming to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) she worked at Abt Associates for several years as a child care economist. At MIT she served as Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson from 1973 to 2014. Beginning in 1985 she was also Adjunct Professor of Negotiation and Conflict Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

In February 1973, MIT President Jerome B. Wiesner appointed Mary P. Rowe to a newly created position reporting directly to the President of MIT -- Special Assistant to the President and the Chancellor for Women and Work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (later more broadly Special Assistant to the President). The 1973 MIT News Office appointment announcement stated:

"As assistant to President Jerome B. Wiesner and Chancellor Paul E. Gray, Dr. Rowe will be involved in the Institute’s efforts to move forth through affirmative action toward equality of opportunity in employment and education for women, and to improve the quality of life for women associated with MIT." Notably, from the beginning, Rowe saw both men and women, with any kind of workplace concern.

In 1980, MIT President Paul Gray established the Ombuds Office and appointed Rowe and Clarence G. Williams as MIT’s first ombudspersons. Mary Rowe served for 42 years as an organizational ombuds reporting directly to five presidents of MIT.

As a conflict management specialist experienced in interpersonal negotiations, Rowe heard from hundreds of women and men a year about serious conflicts and concerns. In 1973 she coined the term “micro-inequities” to expand on Dr. Chester Pierce’ seminal work on micro-aggressions; (he had described apparently “little,” hostile, racist acts in 1970). Rowe used the term “micro-inequities” in order to include all micro acts of unfair behavior of every kind caused by unconscious bias, negligence and ignorance, including “micro-aggressions.”

In the 1970’s she wrote many internal reports about harassment, micro-inequities and other diversity issues. Her first-year reports to the President, Academic Council, and other Institute committees resulted, in December 1973, in MIT President Wiesner’s declaring one of the nation's first policies addressing harassment. Her work at MIT with leaders in systems thinking led her to apply systems thinking to her work. In the 1970’s and 1980’s she described “integrated conflict management systems,” beginning with one of the nation’s earliest articles about such systems.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Rowe fostered ~100, informal affinity groups, and then helped them to propose at least 600 small and large changes in policies and procedures and structures at MIT. Over the years, because of cases in the office and the work of affinity groups, Rowe was able to help MIT establish policies about conflict of interest, academic integrity, sexual orientation, and violence in the workplace. She worked closely with senior managers to help in developing many gender-and-race-equitable practices. These included fostering salary equity, and equitable procedures for recruitment, promotion, benefits to support “work and family,” mentoring and dispute resolution.

She began decades of writing about micro-affirmations, mentoring, and academic support structures to promote diversity and inclusion. She consulted widely to corporations, academic institutions, and to government agencies, and international and multi-national organizations.

Her research interests also include the uses of power in interpersonal negotiations; conflict management system design; and coping with difficult people. She has been especially interested in the role of "bystanders" in helping to affirm professional and productive behavior within organizations. Recent articles discuss what managers can do to support bystanders in organizations and communities, a micro-affirmations research agenda, and the value to society of the profession of organizational ombuds.

From 1973 through 1975, Rowe co-developed and taught an MIT seminar course: Androgyny. She helped MIT librarian David Ferriero to develop the Men’s Studies and Women’ s Studies Collections in the MIT Libraries. She helped to develop and teach an inaugural course on AIDS: Scientific Challenge and Human Challenge, in the MIT Biology Department with David Baltimore in the early 1980s. As Adjunct Professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management, beginning in 1985, Rowe taught a new course, Negotiation and Conflict Management.

In 1982, Rowe was a co-founder (and the first president) of the Corporate Ombudsman Association, later re-incorporated as The Ombudsman Association (TOA). With many others, she taught Ombudsman 101, 202, and other courses offered by The Ombudsman Association. She has worked with others on ten surveys of the ombuds profession. She was also a member of the University and College Ombuds Association (UCOA) and strongly supported its discussions with the American Bar Association, which helped in the development of the profession of organizational ombuds. Rowe supported the union of UCOA and TOA which became the International Ombudsman Association. In 2016 Mary Rowe was one of two ombuds on the chiResolutions team that co-authored a 600-page Report on the use of Ombuds in Federal Agencies for the Administrative Conference of the United States. The Ombudsman in Federal Agencies--FINAL REPORT (2016) This Report resulted in ACUS Recommendation 2016-5 – The Use of Ombuds in Federal Agencies.

Historical note

The Corporate Ombudsman Association (COA) was started in 1982 to serve individuals with responsibilities for a wide range of employee issues. Mary Rowe, then Ombudsperson and Special Assistant to the President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a founder. The COA was formally incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1986 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The purpose of the COA was to serve the interests of individuals whose primary responsibility is handling employee concerns, and to enhance the quality and value of the ombudsman function to business and industry. Activities included an annual conference, training seminars and committees to work on topics of continuing interest such as harassment, privacy, and ombuds ethics.

In 1992, to reflect the breadth of organizations of its membership, the Corporate Ombudsman Association was re-incorporated as The Ombudsman Association (TOA).

The University and College Ombudsman Association (UCOA) was incorporated October 24, 1984, in the State of Illinois.

In July 2005 the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) was officially formed by a merger of the University and College Ombuds Association (UCOA) and The Ombudsman Association. IOA is an international association of Ombuds practitioners in corporations, universities, non-profit organizations, government, and other organizations.


13.7 Cubic Feet (38 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection documents the activities of Mary P. Rowe, the Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Materials, dating from 1980 through the 2000s, include files from the Corporate Ombudsman Association (later The Ombudsman Association), the University and College Ombudsman Association (UCOA), the International Ombudsman Association (IOA), and document practices of persons holding ombuds positions in all types of organizations.


Collection was arranged into six series: Series 1. University and College Ombudsman Association; Series 2. Corporate Ombudsman Association; Series 3. The Ombudsman Association; Series 4. International Ombudsman Association; Series 5. Organizational Ombuds History; Series 6. Writings and Other Materials; Sub-Series 1. Publications; Sub-Series 2. Manuscript Drafts, Talks and Reviews; Sub-Series 3. Teaching and Other MIT Materials; Series 4. Articles About Mary Rowe.

Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site. At least two business days notice is required for use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Mary Rowe in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019.


No information known about appraisal of materials donated prior to 2019. Excess duplicate materials were weeded as necessary.

Related Materials

MIT. Office of the President, records of Mary P. Rowe, Special Assistant to the President and Ombuds, AC 0232, Department of Distinctive Collections, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Related Materials

MIT. Department of Biology curricula records, AC 0457, Department of Distinctive Collections, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Related Materials

Mary Rowe faculty website:

Processing Information

Additional descriptive notes on file folder covers were written by Mary Rowe. If orginal folders were replaced, a photocopy of the original cover was made and put into the new folder. In July 2017, documents were transferred from their original containers into 34 manuscript boxes.

MIT Sloan School Faculty Page of Mary Rowe

This external (MIT Sloan School) page contains a detailed biography section and extensive annotated publications list of Mary Rowe.
Mary Rowe Personal Archives
Liz Andrews, Alex McGee
2019 May
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US