Society of Women Engineers


The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is an international
not-for-profit A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for a collective, public or social benefit, in contrast with an entity that oper ...
educational and service organization founded in 1950 and headquartered in the United States. The Society of Women Engineers is the world’s largest advocate and catalyst for change for women in engineering and technology. SWE has over 40,000 members in nearly 100 professional sections, 300 collegiate sections, and 60 global affiliate groups throughout the world.


The SWE Archives contain a series of letters from the Elsie Eaves Papers (bequeathed to the Society), which document the origins of the Society in the early 20th century. 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 only recognized within the campus community, it set the foundation for the development of the international Society of Women Engineers. This group included Lou Alta Melton, Hilda Counts, and Elsie Eaves. These women wrote letters to Engineering education, engineering schools across the nation asking for information on female engineering students and graduates. They received responses from 139 women throughout 23 University, universities. They also received many negative responses from schools that did not admit women into their engineering programs. From the University of North Carolina, Thorndike Saville, Associate professor, Associate Professor of Sanitary engineering, 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." Some responses were generally supportive of women in engineering, but not of a separate society in particular. 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 State University, 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." 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 collaborate and share their ideas comfortably.


Though the Society of Women Engineers did not become a formal organization until 1950, its origins date to the late 1940s, when shortages of men due to World War II provided new opportunities for women to pursue employment in engineering. Female student groups at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia and at Cooper Union and City College of New York in New York City began forming local meetings and social network, networking activities. On April 3, 1949, seventy students attended a conference at Drexel to start organizing. These seventy students traveled from 19 universities. 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, Beatrice Hicks. The first official annual meeting was held in 1951, in New York City. It was not until the 1960s, after Russia launched Sputnik and widespread 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 World War II, women were often discouraged from entering into engineering. During the war, their efforts had been 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 after the Henniker, New Hampshire, 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 rights, 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 (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. 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 that SWE adopted a regionalization plan designed to bring the leadership closer to the membership. Today, SWE has over 40,000 student and professional 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 the United States.


The SWE's mission statement is to "Empower women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion." The organization is open to every gender and background in an effort to support and promote diversity. The Society of Women Engineers awards multiple scholarships each year to women in undergraduate and graduate Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM degree programs. In 2019, SWE disbursed nearly 260 new and renewed scholarships valued at more than $810,000. Because the Society is a not-for-profit organization, its scholarships are funded by private donations and corporate sponsors. 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."


While developing the Society, the organizers assembled masses of information into archives. A committee for these archives was established in 1953. The Society's archives were established in 1957 by the Archives Committee, who voluntarily collected and maintained the Society's records. The archives are 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 detail 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, which have traditionally been viewed as male-dominated endeavors but depended on the contributions of many women as well. 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.

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 and Society levels. SWE hosts annual ''We Local'' regional events across the world. These events connect members in all stages of their careers and host similar events to the larger annual conference. SWE hosts one annual conference in a different location each year. In recent years, over 16,000 members have attended the three-day conference, making it the largest event of its kind. This conference includes professional development workshops, inspirational speakers, and a career fair.


Every year, SWE holds a GEARS Day event at universities such as the University of Pennsylvania to help high school girls understand and explore the possibilities of engineering as future careers. Different workshops are offered, such as Engineering as an Environment Consultant, Bio-pharmaceutical Manufacturing, etc.


Individual awards

* The Achievement Award, the highest award offered by the national organization, is granted annually to a woman engineer for outstanding contributions over a significant period of time in any field of engineering. * The Suzanne Jenniches Upward Mobility Award recognizes a woman who has succeeded in rising to a management position within her organization. Recipients must have 20 years of experience and must have influenced creating a better environment for women in the workplace. * The Resnik Challenger Medal awards an individual who has made a breakthrough in space exploration. * The Rodney D. Chipp Memorial Award is given to a man or company who has made an impact on the advancement of women in engineering. * The Distinguished Engineering Educator Award recognizes an educator who has made contributions to the engineering profession. * The Distinguished New Engineer Award honors those who have shown outstanding characteristics over the first 10 years of their careers. * SWE Fellows * The Distinguished Service Award honors a member who has actively served a SWE section for at least 20 years. * The Entrepreneur Award is given to a woman who has started her own STEM-related business. * The Work Life Balance Award recognizes a person who is instrumental in creating a program to help other employees balance their work and family responsibilities. * The Emerging Leaders Award honors a woman engineer whose career has resulted in significant accomplishments. * The Global Leadership Award goes to a role model who has led an internationally based team. * Global Team Leadership Award * The Prism Award is given to a woman who has at least 15 years of experience and has created her own path throughout her career. * Advocating Women in Engineering Award * Spark Award

Collegiate member and advisor awards

* Outstanding SWE Counselor Award * Outstanding SWE Faculty Advisor Award * Outstanding Collegiate Member Award

Multicultural awards, collegiate competitions and section awards

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

Mission awards

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, 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 that 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'', which remains its current periodical title, with the subtitle "magazine of the Society of Women Engineers". 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.

Past presidents

Notable historical members

See also

*Engineering *Glossary of engineering *Engineering ethics


* * SWE Histor

* Allaback, Sarah, "The First American Women Architects", University of Illinois Press, 2008, ()., p. 34 * Kindya, Marta Navia, "Four Decades of The Society of Women Engineers", Society of Women Engineers (1990) (ASIN: B0006E93SA)

External links

* {{authority control American engineering organizations Women's organizations based in the United States Women in engineering, * Organizations for women in science and technology Engineering societies based in the United States Non-profit organizations based in Illinois Organizations established in 1950 1950 establishments in the United States Science and technology in the United States