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Society of Women Engineers

Commemorating SWE Founders Day

Sixty-six years ago, a resolute group of women who were ahead of their time gathered to create the foundation for what is now a nearly 35,000-member-strong organization at the forefront of the profession — today’s global Society of Women Engineers.

Published On: May 2016
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Group photo of SWE’s Founding Meeting at Camp Green May 27, 1950

By Anne Perusek, SWE Director of Editorial and Publications

Sixty-six years ago, a resolute group of women who were ahead of their time gathered to create the foundation for what is now a nearly 35,000-member-strong organization at the forefront of the profession — today’s global Society of Women Engineers.

Over the weekend of May 27, 1950, some 60 women engineers and engineering students came together in New Jersey at the Green Engineering Camp of The Cooper Union to take part in the first national meeting of the Society of Women Engineers.

Beatrice Hicks, SWE's first president

Beatrice Hicks, SWE’s first president

The women represented the Society’s four original districts, or sections: metropolitan New York City; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; and Boston. It was during this historic gathering that the founding members elected Beatrice Hicks as SWE’s first president.

Just one year later, 112 people attended the first official SWE national convention in New York City. This was the forerunner of the WE annual conferences now held in the United States and overseas.

Over the years, the spirit of the founders has continued, with each new generation of SWE leaders and members building upon the efforts of those who preceded them, injecting freshness and vitality in accord with the issues of the day.

Centennial of Engineering joint conventions

Detroit Section members (l to r) Alice Wetter, Patricia Brown, Frances Jenkins, Geneva Van Horn, and Maxine Regnier at the 1952 Centennial of Engineering joint conventions of the Western Society of Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers, September 1952

As former executive director and CEO, Betty Shanahan, F.SWE, CAE, noted in her SWE Magazine column marking the 60th anniversary of Founders Day:

“The commitment to grow, to reinvent the organization, to face new challenges, and to continually expand the definition of success is also an expression of thanks and appreciation to the founders. Because of them, we continue in this fashion. Our celebration of Founders Day recognizes all … [who] evolved a vision for SWE as a catalyst and champion for the success of women in engineering and technology.”

Founders Day is a time to take pride that, along with thousands of others, each of us has helped to advance the pioneering vision expressed by the founders decades ago on that weekend in May.

You can see video footage of SWE’s founding members that was originally captured on film by Morton Gerla, husband of SWE founding member and past president Miriam “Mickey” Gerla, and donated to SWE’s archives by their daughter, Lisa Gerla-Feder. The founding meeting is recorded on the first two minutes thirty seconds of the film.

Beatrice Hicks honorary doctorate

Dr. Beatrice Hicks (center), first president of the Society of Women Engineers and 1963 SWE Achievement Award recipient, stands with other graduates after receiving an honorary Doctorate of Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, June 11, 1965. (l to r) Dr. Hornig, Werner Amann, Dr. Beatrice Hicks, Dr. Richard Folsom, Dr. Augustus B. Kinzel, and Craig W. Angell

Please visit SWE’s history page to learn more about SWE’s pioneers, including their oral histories. SWE also has many historical photos and publications that can be accessed for research.

The SWE 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 at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI as the official repository of its historical materials. The Archives tell the dynamic and pioneering story of American women who, facing an almost systematic resistance to female participation in the engineering profession, challenged gender stereotypes and promoted the rights of all individuals to pursue careers in science and engineering.

For all inquiries regarding the SWE archival collections or to make an appointment to conduct research at the library, please contact SWE Archivist Troy Eller English at 313.577.2863 or swearchives@wayne.edu.

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