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More than sixty years ago, when women identified themselves by their marital status, and newspaper help wanted ads placed employment opportunities into separate categories for men and women, a group of more than sixty pioneering women engineers and engineering students gathered to build a national organization. They met in New Jersey, at The Cooper Union's Green Engineering Camp, on May 27-28, 1950 to officially form the Society of Women Engineers, and to make their way into a profession that did not necessarily welcome them. They did so not out of a desire to agitate or to rock the boat, but rather because they wanted the opportunity to develop their abilities, to give expression to their potential, to contribute to society.
Groups of women engineers and women engineering students had been meeting informally in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. They understood the value of sharing encouragement and information; of the strength that comes from solidarity with like-minded peers. And they knew that as a group they could accomplish so much more that isolated individuals to make large-scale change, to open the halls of engineering to women.
They were women who swam against the tide of their time. When a survey of women engineers was conducted in 1919, there were only 139 known women engineering or architecture students in U.S. history. The labor shortage during the Second World War did lead some women to explore engineering and pursue technical careers. However, when SWE was founded far less than one percent of working engineers were women, many employers remained skeptical of their abilities, and the general public still considered engineering to be a masculine profession unsuitable for women.
Since its founding, SWE has focused its efforts on introducing young women to careers in engineering, demonstrating to employers and the public the critical role women engineers play in creative teams, and providing support to women engineers as they advance in their careers.
Explore SWE's accomplishments through our interactive timeline <link to: timeline>, learn about members' experiences in SWE's oral history projects, follow SWE's history in some of its groundbreaking publications, or explore the Society's historical records in the archives collections below.
SWE preserves its historical heritage through collections that document the national organization's origins, activities, and members. These collections reflect our main focuses on career guidance, using conferences, scholarships, awards and other programs to encourage women to enter or return to the engineering profession and to attain high levels of educational and professional achievement; publicizing the role of women in engineering, placing them in engineering jobs and promoting them in industry and professional circles; serving as a center of information on women in engineering; and allying itself with other organizations to promote equal opportunities and equal rights for women.
SWE's archives are located at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. For all inquiries regarding the SWE archival collections or to make an appointment to conduct research at the library, please contact the SWE Archivist at 313.577.2863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Documents the operations, entities, programs, members, and activities of the Society from its inception. Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, speeches, biographies, articles, clippings, and statistics, among other records.
Complements the National Society records with visual documentation of members, activities, events, and conferences.
Includes a complete run of SWE's national newsletters and magazines.
Thirty-six original videotaped and transcribed interviews with early SWE members.
SWE has partnered with StoryCorps in 2007 and 2008 to record interviews between friends, colleagues, and family members to discuss their experiences as women engineers. The interviews are archives at the Reuther Library and at the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center.
A one-box collection that documents the early effort of female engineers to organize a national professional society for women engineers and architects. The collection includes a 1919 survey conducted by women engineering students at the University of Colorado, who were trying to identify other women engineers.
Programs, proceedings, correspondence, and reports that document the conference from the 1960s - 1990s. The majority of the collection is comprised of material from the two conferences (1964 & 1984) sponsored by SWE in the United States.
Approximately 100 personal monthly diaries written by SWE member Emma Barth during her days as a practicing engineer in the 1940s - 1970s.
The personal papers of SWE member Ellen Hippeli, who retired from United States Air Force in 1972 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Hippeli was the first female program director at the Nevada Test Site and worked on numerous projects to test the effects of nuclear radiation on humans, electronics, and equipment.
The personal papers of past president Ada Pressman (1979-1980). The material in these papers represent Pressman's education and professional career at Bechtel, as well as her invlovement in the SWE and other organizations.
The SWE Archives were established in 1957 by the nationally standing Archives Committee, who voluntarily collected and maintained the Society's records. In 1993 SWE designated the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI as the official repository of its historical materials. The Archives tell the dynamic and pioneering story of American women who, facing an almost systematic resistance to female participation in the engineering profession, challenged gender stereotypes and promoted the rights of all individuals to pursue careers in science and engineering.
For all inquiries regarding the SWE archival collections or to make an appointment to conduct research at the library, please contact the SWE Archivist at 313.577.2863 or email@example.com.
The SWE archives are funded in part through the Amy C. Spear Archives Memorial Fund. For more information on how to support the Archives collections or programs, please contact the SWE National Office.