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SWE: Emma Barth Diaries

Identifier: LP001953

Scope and Content

The Emma Barth Diaries chronicle the daily life of a woman engineer, 1939-1979 (not all years are covered). Series 1, arranged chronologically, consists of the original preserved diaries. A separate collection of user copies—photocopied and enlarged pages of each diary—is available as Series 2 of this collection.


  • 1939 - 1979


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Please note: for general use, researchers are first directed to user copies in Series 2. Original diaries are available for special use only, please see reference archivist for more information.
Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Mechanical engineer Emma C. Barth, PE, was part of the 20th-century generation of women who faced unprecedented employment opportunities as a result of World War II. Wartime circumstances created new organizations and programs specifically designed to recruit women into service, and in the call for womanpower, science and engineering played a central role. It was in this atmosphere that Emma Barth capitalized on her interest in engineering.

Prior to the war, during the Depression years, she received her education from the University of Pittsburgh, earning both a B.A. (1931) and an M.A. (1937) in German, and an M.A. in Education. Employment at that time, however, was scarce: the only teaching work available was part-time work in evening and summer schools. Anxious for full-time work, and interested in engineering because that was her brother’s field of study, Barth enrolled in drafting courses at the Pittsburgh Aeronautics Institute in 1942. She secured a job as a draftsman for the H.J. Heinz Co. that same year.

For both women educated in engineering before the war, and women like Barth who took courses as part of a wartime training program, wartime labor shortages created opportunities to apply technical skill in the workplace. As a draftsman for Heinz, Barth worked in the canning plant, which was temporarily converted into a drafting office, and there she drafted wooden wings for gliders. Following her position at Heinz, she joined Westinghouse Electric as a draftsman in 1944, in the Turbine Generator Division at Westinghouse’s East Pittsburgh Office.

Emma Barth’s experience as a draftsman for Westinghouse, working in industry, inspired her to pursue a degree in engineering, in the hopes that she could remain employed in the field. When she began her job in 1944 there were 18 women in her department—which she believed was a fairly common number of women in drafting at the time. Barth, however, had hopes for advancing out of the women’s drafting department. On the advice of a friend in the engineering department, she enrolled in engineering classes at the University of Pittsburgh in 1944. Paying for the classes herself, she went to school in the evening for seven years and in 1951 graduated with a B.S. in General Engineering—the only female in her class and the first woman to graduate in engineering from the University of Pittsburgh Evening School.

An ambitious engineer, Emma Barth was committed to professional development. She was a founding member and later president of the SWE Pittsburgh Section, and was also the first editor of the SWE Newsletter. In 1952, she became an engineer-in-training and joined the Society of Professional Engineers. She obtained her Pennsylvania Professional Engineers License in 1961, and after she retired in 1977, she became a PSPE life member. For her years of service and encouragement to young women, she received the Westinghouse Community Service Award in 1977, the first woman to receive that award. Engineering wasn’t her only passion, however; she was a serious drama student, who practiced voice exercises daily and participated in a local theatre group.


6.5 Linear Feet (3 MB, 5 SB)


The Society of Women Engineers: Emma Barth Diaries include over 160 diaries Barth wrote between 1939 and 1979. These diaries chronicle the 35 years Barth spent working as a mechanical engineer and her involvement in the Society of Women Engineers and the Society of Professional Engineers, as well as her outside activities and interests.

Barth began her career as an engineer in 1942, when she enrolled in drafting courses at the Pittsburgh Aeronautics Institute and took a job as draftman for the H. J. Heinz Company. In 1944 she accepted a draftsman position at the East Pittsburgh office of the Westinghouse Electric Co., where she was one of just 18 women in the Turbine Generator Division. After joining Westinghouse, Barth took night classes at the University of Pittsburgh for seven years, graduating with a B.S. in General Engineering in 1951.

Barth was a founding member and later the president of the Pittsburgh Section of the Society of Women Engineers, and served as the first editor of the SWE Newsletter. She became a member of the Society of Professional Engineers in 1952 and obtained her Pennsylvania Professional Engineers License 1961. Upon her retirement from Westinghouse in 1977, Barth received the Westinghouse Community Service Award, the first woman to ever do so.


Arranged in 2 series - Series 1 (Boxes 1-3), and Series 2 (Boxes 4-8). Material arranged chronologically.


The Emma Barth Diaries were deposited to the Society of Women Engineers archival collection in May of 1999.

Related Materials

SWE collections

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in June 2003.
Guide to the SWE: Emma Barth Diaries
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA