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Society of Women Engineers Detroit Section Records

Identifier: LR001467

Scope and Content

The collection includes administrative records, such as correspondence, meeting minutes, treasurer’s reports, newsletters, publications, and membership files. Other items include scrapbooks, photographs, newspaper clippings, and miscellaneous brochures. Series 1: Administration, 1952-2007 Series 2: Programming, 1952-2012 Series 3: Newsletters, 1953-2011 Series 4: Subject Files, 1930-2010 Series 5: Photographs and Scrapbooks, 1952-2005


  • 1930 - 2012
  • Majority of material found within 1952 - 2007


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials.


Women engineers were exceedingly rare in the United States prior to the Second World War; engineering was not considered an appropriate career for women and they were not allowed to enroll in many engineering schools, either by decree or by practice. The Second World War and subsequent Cold War, however, created a shortage of technological manpower and provided unprecedented educational and employment opportunities for women engineers. Where women engineering students' attempts to organize in the early twentieth century were largely unsuccessful, by the late 1940s several student and professional groups formed on the East Coast, each calling themselves the Society of Women Engineers and operating independently of the others.

On May 27, 1950, more than sixty women from New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. attended the founding meeting of the unified Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at The Cooper Union's Green Engineering Camp in New Jersey. The specific objectives of the Society were to: inform young women, their parents, counselors, and the general public of the opportunities for women in engineering; assist women in readying themselves for a return to active work after their temporary retirement; serve as a center of information on women in engineering; and encourage women engineers to attain high levels of education and professional achievement. Over the next three years, the Society expanded to the Midwest and West Coast, chartering sections in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

The SWE Detroit Section was chartered on June 30, 1952. Many of the twenty-three charter members had trained as engineers or engineering aides in southeastern Michigan's automotive and manufacturing plants, which had been converted for war work during the Second World War. By the mid-1970s, they were joined by a rapidly increasing number of women who completed engineering degrees outright, propelled by the nation's technological manpower shortage and the educational and career momentum created by the Women's Movement.

Prominent early members of SWE Detroit include Ann O. Fletcher, Mary Virginia Sink, and Lucille Pieti Milne. Fletcher, a patent draftsman at Ford Motor Company in the 1940s through 1960s, enthusiastically recruited technical women at Ford to join SWE Detroit and served as the section's president numerous times. Sink became the nation's first female automotive engineer when she was hired by Chrysler Corporation in 1936. An expert in vehicle emissions control and smog reduction during her 42-year career, Sink co-developed Chrysler's Cleaner Air Package in 1962, emissions control technology that predominated in Detroit automotive companies until a congressional mandate in 1972 called for the use of catalytic converters. Pieti Milne was a mechanical engineer turned spokeswoman in the 1950s for Chrysler's New Worlds in Motion auto show and in Plymouth-sponsored commercial breaks on the CBS sitcom That's My Boy. She married and left the field in the mid-1950s, unhappy with being pigeonholed as a model rather than as a mechanical engineer.

More recently, three SWE Detroit members have been honored with the Society-level SWE Achievement Award for their impactful technical achievements: Roberta Nichols, an alternative fuel expert at Ford Motor Company; Lynn Conway, a pioneering electrical engineer and computer scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and Shirley Schwartz, a chemist and research scientist at General Motors. SWE Upward Mobility Award recipient Sue Cischke was a leader in safety and environmental sustainability at Chrysler, DaimlerChrylser, and Ford.

Since its chartering in 1952, the SWE Detroit Section has featured programming to support women engineers at all stages of their careers, including engineering outreach and scholarship programs for girls, technical talks, professional development conferences, and social events. With over 360 members as of 2018, SWE Detroit is among the Society's largest sections.


8.5 Linear Feet (6 SB, 5 MB)


The Society of Women Engineers was founded in 1950 to encourage young women to pursue engineering and to support women engineers throughout their careers. The Detroit Section of the Society of Women Engineers was chartered June 30, 1952. SWE Detroit is one of the Society's oldest sections and is also among its largest, largely due to the prominence of the automotive and manufacturing industries in southeastern Michigan.

The Society of Women Engineers Detroit Section Collection includes section bylaws, correspondence, meeting minutes, membership files, section newsletters, news clippings, publications about women in engineering, photographs, and scrapbooks.


Arranged in 5 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-4), Series 2 (Boxes 4-5), Series 3 (Box 5), Series 4 (Box 6), and Series 5 (Box 7-11). Folders are arranged alphabetically by subject or type of material.


The historical records of the Society of Women Engineers Detroit Section were placed in the Walter P. Reuther Library by SWE-Detroit Past President Ann O. Fletcher on June 11, 1991. Subsequent accruals were donated by section leaders in 1995, 2001, 2004, 2010, and 2014.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Troy Eller English on February 22, 2019.
Guide to the Society of Women Engineers Detroit Section Records
Processed by Troy Eller English.
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