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Society of Women Engineers Records

Identifier: LR001539

Scope and Content

SWE National Records document the origins, operations, entities, programs and activities of the Society of Women Engineers, from its inception as the first society dedicated to the advancement of women in engineering. It includes correspondence, minutes, reports, speeches, biographies, articles, clippings, and statistics, among other records.

Materials found in the collection, especially those in the Headquarters, Conferences, Committees, and Awards series, reflect one of the Society’s key objectives to offer career guidance to encourage women to enter or return to the engineering profession and to attain high levels of educational and professional achievement. Also documented are SWE’s attempts to publicize the role of women in engineering, to place them in engineering jobs and to promote them in industry and professional circles. Evidence of SWE’s relationships with other engineering and women’s organizations, as well as the engineering industry, to promote equal opportunities and equal rights for women can primarily be found in the Governance, Officers, and Headquarters series.

The strength of SWE lies in its membership and grassroots organizations. The lives and achievements of individual members as well as some prominent women engineers are well documented in the biographical files in Series XI. The operation and activities of SWE on a local level are reflected in Series VIII: Regions, Sections, and Students Sections. While the SWE National Records do not provide the entire picture of local involvement, they do give a good idea of the breadth of activities conducted by a majority of its local entities. Programs, meeting minutes, flyers, charters, and correspondence from hundreds of SWE sections and student sections can be found in this series. Well documented is the regionalization of the sections in the early 1980s, an important event in the growth and governance of the society.

SWE has also prided itself on serving as a center of information on women in engineering. The Subject Files series reflects this through clippings, brochures, papers, conference programs, and articles on a myriad of subjects relative to women in engineering, both directly related to SWE and of general interest to its membership. SWE’s records while documenting the society itself, and giving insight into women’s organizations in the twentieth-century U.S., also provide a look at evolving scientific and technical challenges, the changing climate in the engineering profession, and the history of women in the workforce.

Series I: SWE Founding Records, 1949-2002 Correspondence and records related to early SWE Sections, SWE’s founding meeting in 1950 and incorporation.

Series II: SWE Governance, 1950-2003 Minutes, reports, and correspondence of the Board of Directors/Executive Committee Council, Section Representatives/Council of Representatives, and Membership Meetings; By-Laws; Procedures Manuals; and Policy and Interpretation

Series III: SWE Officers, 1949-2000 Correspondence and reports generated by or received by SWE officers and directors-at-large, including documents that were collected and bound for some officers for informational purposes. Executive Secretary/Executive Director files can be found in Series IV: SWE Headquarters.

Series IV: SWE Headquarters, 1950-2000 Office files including administration, Executive Secretary/Executive Director’s office, budget and financial reports, conferences, external affiliations with other societies and organizations, corporate membership, special programs, editorial operations (including annual/semi-annual publications), and annual reports. Records dealing with SWE’s occupation in the United Engineering Center are included.

Series V: Membership, 1948-1996 Historic member records, membership rosters/directories, serial number lists, biographical data surveys, information pertaining to MASWE and male membership, and other files related to general SWE membership (annual membership meeting minutes are filed under Series 2: SWE Governance). *Active membership records are managed electronically at SWE HQ, and are not scheduled to be sent to the Archives.

Series VI: Conferences, 1949-2007 Conference/convention programs, proceedings and related materials for SWE’s annual national conferences and student conferences. Also includes the Eastern Regional and Eastern Seaboard Conference, precursors to SWE’s region conferences.

Series VII: Committees, 1950-2001 Correspondence, procedures, reports, and other materials relating to all SWE committees, including standing, temporary, and ad hoc committees and taskforces. This series also includes any materials generated and saved from the SWE Editorial Board, and special committees and councils such as the “SWE Communications Council” Many SWE publications such as brochures, can be found under the committee responsible for their production. Records for many particular programs and events can also be found under the committee responsible for their management.

Series VIII: Regions, Sections, Student Sections Subseries A: Sections, 1950-2005 Correspondence, by-laws, reports, meeting materials and newsletters, and some charters and petitions for many SWE Sections. This subseries does not contain material from all SWE sections, nor does it cover complete dates of operation for those included.

Subseries B: Student Sections, 1954-1999 Correspondence, newsletters, charters and petitions for some SWE Student Sections. This subseries does not contain material from all SWE student sections, nor does it cover complete dates of operation for those included.

Subseries C: Regions, 1951-1997 Correspondence and conference records for the various SWE Regions, as well as information on the Student Regions,

Subseries D: Governance, 1951-1997 Material generated by or that pertained to all sections, student sections, and regions, including committees such as the Section Affiliations Committee, reports, and section manuals. Well documented is SWE’s regionalization restructuring in 1983-1984.

Series IX: Awards, 1958-2004 Correspondence, general information, packets, applications, and nominations for SWE Awards and Scholarships. See also the Awards Committee in Series VII for more general information and correspondence and Series XI, Subseries B: SWE Biographical Files for some nomination packets not found in this series.

Series X: History, 1949-2000 Materials written and collected over the years by SWE members on the history of SWE, as well as information on the SWE 50th Anniversary, including the SWE History Award.

Series XI: Subject Files Subseries A: Women in Engineering General, 1885-2004 Clippings, articles and speeches, publications, statistics and surveys, non-SWE conferences, and library materials that fall into the general category, “women in engineering.” Includes materials on women in engineering that were once maintained at SWE Headquarters as the “SWE Reference Library.”

Subseries B: Biographical Files Articles, clippings, correspondence, award nomination packets, and résumés providing information on SWE and some non-SWE women engineers.


  • 1930 - 2007
  • Majority of material found within 1949 - 1998


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.


The origins of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) lie in student groups organized at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia and Cooper Union and City College of New York in New York City in the late 1940s. Increased defense spending and a shortage of men during World War II had provided unprecedented educational and employment opportunities for women engineers. As a result, female graduate engineers began organizing local meetings and networking activities in order to exchange information and address mutual concerns.

On May 27-28, 1950, about fifty women representing the four original districts or sections — metropolitan New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D. C., and Boston — attended the first "national convention" of the Society of Women Engineers at Green Engineering Camp of the Cooper Union in New Jersey and elected Dr. Beatrice A. Hicks president. Over the next three years, the Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Los Angeles sections were chartered.

Even though there was a shortage of engineers in the 1950s, it wasn't until the 1960s, after Sputnik had intensified the United States government's commitment to technological research and development, that engineering schools began opening their doors to women; SWE membership doubled to 1,200 and the organization moved its headquarters into the newly constructed United Engineering Center in New York City.

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 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.

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. Going into the 21st century, SWE comprised over 17,000 student, graduate and corporate members, in ten regions and over 100 professional and 300 student sections. It continues its mission as a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational service organization.


102.5 Linear Feet (181 MB, 12 SB)


The Society of Women Engineers is a non-profit educational service organization, founded in 1950 as the first organization dedicated to the career guidance, advancement, and recognition of women engineers. The organization's national records exemplify the struggle women have faced over time, gaining entrance into a male dominated discipline and bear witness to the triumphs and honors women have enjoyed as engineering students and practicing professionals. While documenting the Society itself, and giving insight into women’s organizations in the twentieth-century U.S., they also provide a look at evolving scientific and technical challenges, the changing climate in the engineering profession, and the history of women in the workforce. Specifically, the records document the origins, operations, entities, programs and activities of SWE, from its inception, and the accomplishments of its members.


Arranged in eleven series - Series I (Box 1), Series II (Boxes 1-21), Series III (Boxes 21-30), Series IV (Boxes 31-62), Series V (Boxes 63-71), Series VI (Boxes 71-82), Series VII (Boxes 83-113), Series VIII (Boxes 114-144), Series IX (Boxes 145-180), Series X (Boxes 180-181), and Series XI (Boxes 182-193). Folders are arranged alphabetically by subject and then chronologically by calendar year, unless otherwise noted.

Series VIII: Regions, Sections, and Students Sections is further divided into four subseries. Series XI: Subject Files is divided into two subseries: Subseries A is arranged by subject or type of record; Subseries B: Biographical Files are arranged alphabetically by surname.


The Society of Women Engineers Records were first deposited at the Reuther Library in 1994—subsequent deposits have occurred, and the Reuther Library continues to serve as the official repository for SWE national records.

Related Materials

American Society of Women Engineers and Architects Records (precursor to SWE); International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists Records (founded by SWE); SWE Detroit Records (SWE section); Society of Women Engineers Publications; Profiles of SWE Pioneers Oral History Project Interviews; SWE StoryCorps Interviews; SWE Grassroots Oral History Project Interviews; Emma Barth Diaries (SWE member); Ada Pressman Papers (past president of SWE).


Photographs, oversize items such as posters, and audio/video tapes were transferred to the Reuther’s Audiovisual Department. Guides or inventories are available. Books that originally constituted a reference library at SWE’s headquarters and copies of SWE Magazine were transferred to the Reuther’s Library Department.

Variant Title Information

The collection was known as Society of Women Engineers National Records until February 28, 2019.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Kathryn Dowgiewicz on November 1, 2008.
Guide to the Society of Women Engineers Records
Processed by Kathryn Dowgiewicz.
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