Society of Women Engineers

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The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), founded in 1950, is a not-for-profit educational and service organization in the United States. SWE has over 37,000 members in nearly 100 professional sections and 300 student sections throughout the United States.


The SWE Archives contain a series of letters from the Elsie Eaves Papers (bequeathed to the Society), which document how in 1919, a group of women at the University of Colorado attempted to organize a women's engineering society. This group included Lou Alta Melton, Hilda Counts and Elsie Eaves. These young women wrote letters to engineering schools across the nation, asking for information on women engineering students and graduates.

They found 63 women engineering students at 20 universities, 43 of those at the University of Michigan alone. From a letter that Hazel Quick wrote to Hilda Counts, we know that the Michigan women had organized a group in 1914, called the T-Square Society, although no one was sure (even then) if it was a business, honorary, or social organization.

Many negative responses were received from schools that did not admit women into their engineering programs. From the University of North Carolina, Thorndike Saville, associate Professor of Sanitary Engineering wrote: "I would state that we have not now, have never had, and do not expect to have in the near future, any women students registered in our engineering department."[1]

Some responses were supportive of women in engineering, but not of a separate society. Many of the women contacted as a result of the inquiries wrote about their support for such an organization. Besides the Hazel Quick letter from Michigan, there was a reply from Alice Goff, expressing her support of the idea of a society for women in engineering and architecture, "Undoubtedly an organization of such a nature would be of great benefit to all members, especially to those just entering the profession."[1]


Though the Society of Women Engineers did not become a formal organization until 1950, its origins are in the late 1940s when shortages of men due to World War II provided the new opportunities for women to pursue employment in engineering. Female student groups at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Cooper Union and City College of New York in New York City, began forming local meetings and networking activities.

On the weekend of May 27–28, 1950, about fifty women representing the four original districts of the Society of Women Engineers; New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Boston, met for the first national meeting at The Cooper Union's Green Engineering Camp in northern New Jersey. During this first meeting, the society elected the first president of SWE, Dr. Beatrice A. Hicks. The first official annual meeting was held in 1951, in New York City.[2]

It wasn't until the 1960s after Russia launched Sputnik and interest in technological research and development intensified that many engineering schools began admitting women. Membership in SWE doubled to 1,200 and SWE moved its headquarters to the United Engineering Center in New York City.

After WWII women were discouraged from entering into engineering. During the war, their efforts were seen as a patriotic duty. After the war, women in engineering were seen as an abnormality.

Over the next decade, an increasing number of young women chose engineering as a profession, but few were able to rise to management-level positions. SWE inaugurated a series of conferences (dubbed the Henniker Conferences[3] after the meeting site in New Hampshire) on the status of women in engineering and in 1973, signed an agreement with the National Society of Professional Engineers in hopes of recruiting a larger percentage of working women and students to its ranks.

At the same time, SWE increasingly became involved in the spirit and activities of the larger women's movement. In 1972, a number of representatives from women's scientific and technical committees and societies (including SWE) met to form an alliance and discuss equity for women in science and engineering. This inaugural meeting eventually led to the formation of the Federation of Organizations of Professional Women (FOPW). In addition, SWE's Council resolved in 1973 to endorse ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and a few years later, resolved not to hold national conventions in non-ERA-ratified states. The Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed by Alice Paul in the 1920s after women gained the right to vote and still has not been ratified to this day. In 1973, SWE signed an agreement with the National Society of Professional Engineers to recruit more women engineers and students as members.

By 1982, the Society had swelled to 13,000 graduate and student members spread out in 250 sections across the country. The Council of Section Representatives, which in partnership with an Executive Committee had governed the Society since 1959, had become so large SWE adopted a regionalization plan designed to bring the leadership closer to the membership. Today, SWE has over 17,000 student, graduate, and corporate members, and continues its mission as a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational service organization.

The Society of Women Engineers organization exists today in large part because gender differences in Engineering do not proportionally reflect population breakdowns of men and women in the United States. The field overall is heavily male dominated largely in part due to gender socialization and reinforced gender norms. Theories such as the STEM pipeline seek to better reinforce how different science, math, and engineering fields tend to over or under represent different groups of people in this country.


Its mission statement, adopted in 1986, is "Stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, demonstrate the value of diversity." [4] Anyone is welcome to join, male or female, of all backgrounds to truly promote diversity.[5] SWE welcomes all STEM majors even though it is predominately engineering based.[6]

The non-profit organization awards scholarships to members pursuing bachelors or graduate level degrees, every year. in 2016, SWE gave more than $750,000 in scholarships to 231 students. Scholarships raged from $1,000 to $14,500 each.[7] SWE's CEO and executive director Karen Horting stated that SWE "could not have such a successful program without our corporate and foundation partners and generous individuals who support our scholarships, and our hope is to continue to grow the program and provide financial resources to those studying for a career in engineering and technology." [8]

SWE is also working to provide opportunities to help promote change for women in STEM fields. SWE organizes opportunities to network, further profession development, and recognize all of the great things that women contribute to STEM Fields.


Capt. Paz B. Gomez delivers keynote address at the Society of Women Engineers conference in Baltimore
Rear Adm. Gretchen S. Herbert speaks with young women at event sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers.

SWE offers support at all levels, from K-12 outreach programs and collegiate sections to professional development in the workplace.

SWE is organized at the local, regional, national, and international levels. Each region holds an annual regional conference and there is an annual conference for the Society as a whole. Local sections host programs and events related to SWE's mission for their members and the local community.

Every year, SWE holds GEARS Day event in universities such as University of Pennsylvania to help high school girls understand and explore more about engineering possibly in their future careers. Different workshops are offered, such as Engineering as an Environment Consultant, Bio-pharmaceutical Manufacturing, etc. Students will spend a day with members of the SWE community to explore more about the engineering world. [9]

Achievement Award

The highest award offered by the national organization is the SWE Achievement Award and is granted annually to a woman engineer for outstanding contributions over a significant period of time in any field of engineering.[10]

Past award recipients include:[11]


In 1951 and only a year after the society was first established, the SWE began publishing the Journal of the Society of Women Engineers which included both technical articles and society news. In 1954, the journal was superseded by the SWE Newsletter, a magazine format which focused primarily on SWE and industry news. In 1980, it was again renamed, this time to US Woman Engineer. In 1993, the title was changed yet again to SWE and this remains their current periodical title with the subtitle 'magazine of the Society of Women Engineers'.[12] The fifth volume of SWE was published in 2011 to celebrate the society’s 60th anniversary and to explore SWE's history in more depth using its archives.


Located at Wayne State University’s Walter P. Reuther Library in Detroit, Michigan, USA, the Society's archives were established in 1957 by the Archives Committee, who voluntarily collected and maintained the Society's records. In 1993, SWE designated the Walter P. Reuther Library as the official repository of its historical materials.

Located within the Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection, the Houston Area Section of the Society of Women Engineers contains correspondence, business and financial records, photographs, and publications of the organization.

See also


  1. ^ a b Four decades of the Society of Women Engineers: Marta Navia Kindya: Books
  2. ^ "Commemorating SWE Founders Day". All Together. 2016-05-25. Retrieved 2018-01-10. 
  3. ^ Career Guidance for Women Entering Engineering. Proceedings of an Engineering Foundation Conference (New England College, Henniker, New Hampshire, August 19-24, 1973)
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Women engineer future through SWE". Retrieved 2016-09-27. 
  6. ^ "NewsCenter | SDSU | Student Organization Spotlight: Society of Women Engineers". Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
  7. ^ UGC, Chicago Tribune. "The Society of Women Engineers Awards Record Value in Scholarships To-Date". Retrieved 2016-10-05. 
  8. ^ UGC, Chicago Tribune. "The Society of Women Engineers Awards Record Value in Scholarships To-Date". Retrieved 2016-10-05. 
  9. ^ "Society of Women Engineers University of Pennsylvania |". 
  10. ^ "Alum Watts Butler Wins Society of Women Engineers' Highest Award". McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. University of Texas at Austin. 12 September 2016. Retrieved 21 August 2017. 
  11. ^ "SWE Achievement Award - Past Award Recipients". Society of Women Engineers. Retrieved 21 August 2017. 
  12. ^ "SWE Magazine". Society of Women Engineers. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  • English, Troy Eller. "Society of Women Engineers Publications" (PDF). Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  • SWE History [1]
  • Allaback, Sarah, "The First American Women Architects", University of Illinois Press, 2008, (ISBN 0-252-03321-3)., p. 34
  • Kindya, Marta Navia, "Four Decades of The Society of Women Engineers", Society of Women Engineers (1990) (ASIN: B0006E93SA)

External links

  • Official SWE−Society of Women Engineers website
  • Official SWE- Society of Women Engineers Linked-In
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