Society of Women Engineers

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 helped establish a small community of women with an engineering or science background. While this organization was recognized within the campus community, it did set the foundation for the development of the Society of Women Engineers[1]. This group included Lou Alta Melton, Hilda Counts, and Elsie Eaves. These women wrote letters to engineering schools across the nation, asking for information on female engineering students and graduates[2]. They received responses from 139 women throughout 23 universities[3]. They also received many negative responses from schools that did not admit women into their engineering programs[4]. 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[5]." 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."[5] The women in Michigan organized a group in 1914 called the T-Square Society. Although it was not clear if this group was a business, honorary, or social organization, it was proposed as a safe space for women to share and collaborate their ideas comfortably[6].


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 April 3rd, 1949, seventy students attended a conference at Drexel to start organizing. These seventy students traveled from 19 universities.[7]

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(the Society of Women Engineers), Dr. Beatrice A. Hicks. The first official annual meeting was held in 1951, in New York City.[8]

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[9] 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 Business and Professional Women's Foundation[10] (BPWF). 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 female engineers and students as members.

By 1982, the Society had swelled to 13,000 graduate and student members spread out over 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 largely because the gender balance in engineering does not proportionally reflect population breakdowns of men and women in the United States. Encouragement of female students and promotion of Engineering as a field of study for women is a necessary and fundamental function of the organization. Engineering and related fields are heavily male-dominated, in part because of gender socialization and artificially reinforced gender norms. Theories such as the STEM pipeline seek to understand and balance 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 to "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."[11] The organization was open to every gender and background in an effort to support and promote diversity.[12]

The Society of Women Engineers, a not-for-profit organization, awards multiple scholarships each year to women in undergraduate and graduate STEM degree programs[13]. About 233 scholarships were awarded for the 2017 school year amounting to $715,000.[14] 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."[15]


While developing the society, the organizers had assembled masses of information that they decided to assemble into archives. The committee for these archives was established in 1953 and is currently located at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Some of the media includes information about a short lived society involving both architects and engineers from 1920. The archives include the history and creation of SWE as an organization, and the history of women's involvement in engineering. Due to these collections of women's work on scientific projects, the archives show an alternate perspective on events such as the 'Space Race'.[16]

Current Work

SWE offers support at all levels, from K-12 outreach programs and collegiate sections to professional development in the workplace. Programs are in place to help collegiate and professional members interact with their local communities.


The Society of Women Engineers is organized at the local, regional, national, and international levels. SWE hosts annual We Local regional events across the world. These events connect members in all stages of their careers and hosts similar events to the larger annual conference. SWE hosts one annual conference in a different location each year. Over 11,000 members attend the three-day conference making it the largest event of its kind.[17] This conference includes professional development workshops, inspirational speakers, and a career fair.


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. [18]


Individual awards[19]

Collegiate member and adviser awards

Multicultural awards, collegiate competitions and section awards[21]

  • The Boeing Company Multicultural Award
  • Motorola Foundation Multicultural Award
  • Collegiate Poster Competition
  • Collegiate Rapid Fire Competition
  • Team Tech Competition

Mission awards[22]

Collegiate and professional

  • Best Practice
    • Awards and Recognition
    • Communication
    • Global
    • Membership Retention and Engagement
    • Mentoring
    • Outreach
    • Partnership with Collegiates, Professionals, Industry and Academia
    • Professional Development
    • Public Policy
    • SWE Leadership Development and Mentoring
    • SWE Resource Promotion
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Bronze


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'.[23] 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. Bix, Amy Sue. Girls coming to tech! : a history of American engineering education for women. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 9781461957249. OCLC 869736038.
  2. LaFrance, Adrienne (2017-05-23). "Historic Rejection Letters to Women Engineers". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-09-14.
  3. Hahn, Laura D. (2018). Women and Ideas in Engineering : Twelve Stories from Illinois. Wolters, Angela S. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252050671. OCLC 1048922881.
  4. LaFrance, Adrienne (2017-05-23). "Historic Rejection Letters to Women Engineers". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-09-14.
  5. Kindya, Marta Navia (6 August 1990). "Four decades of the Society of Women Engineers". Society of Women Engineers. Retrieved 6 August 2018 via Amazon.
  6. "Shibboleth Authentication Request". doi:10.1080/07341519708581922. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. "Women Students Form a Society of Engineers". New York Herald Tribune. Apr 4, 1949.
  8. "Commemorating SWE Founders Day". All Together. 2016-05-25. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  9. Cole, Sandford S. (August 19–24, 1973) [31 July 1973]. Fitzroy, Nancy D. (ed.). "Career Guidance for Women Entering Engineering". Proceedings of an Engineering Foundation Conference (New England College, Henniker, New Hampshire). Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  10. Business and Professional Women's Foundation
  11. "About SWE - Society of Women Engineers". Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  12. "Women engineer future through SWE". Retrieved 2016-09-27.
  13. "SWE Scholarship Deadline: May 1 for Incoming Freshmen". All Together. 2018-04-24. Retrieved 2019-09-14.
  14. "Scholarships | Society of Women Engineers". Retrieved 2018-01-25.
  15. UGC, Chicago Tribune. "The Society of Women Engineers Awards Record Value in Scholarships To-Date". Retrieved 2016-10-05.
  16. Eller, Troy (Aug 15, 2012). "Publicity, Recruitment, and History: Society of Women Engineers". Centaurus. 54 (4): 299–304. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0498.2012.00275.x.
  17. "Conferences | Society of Women Engineers". Retrieved 2018-01-27.
  18. "Society of Women Engineers University of Pennsylvania |". Archived from the original on 2015-09-18.
  19. "Individual Awards | Society of Women Engineers". Retrieved 2018-01-27.
  20. "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.
  21. "Past Award Recipients | Society of Women Engineers". Retrieved 2018-01-27.
  22. "Past Award Recipients | Society of Women Engineers". Retrieved 2018-01-27.
  23. "SWE Magazine". Society of Women Engineers. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  • English, Troy Eller. "Society of Women Engineers Publications" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 April 2017. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  • SWE History
  • 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)
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