The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), founded in 1950, is a not-for-profit educational and service organization. SWE is the driving force that establishes engineering as a highly desirable career aspiration for women. SWE empowers women to succeed and advance in those aspirations and be recognized for their life-changing contributions and achievements as engineers and leaders. SWE has over 17,000 members in nearly 100 professional sections and 300 student sections throughout the United States of America.
The SWE Archives contain a series of letters from the Elsie Eaves Papers, (bequeathed to the Society), which document how in 1919, a group of women at the University of Colorado attempted to organize a women's engineering society. This group included Lou Alta Melton, Hilda Counts and Elsie Eaves. These young women wrote letters to engineering schools across the nation, asking for information on women engineering students and graduates.
This was a time of triumph for women. This was a time of suffragettes and of the shedding of the corsets for the "braless" look. It was a time for a new morality and for the introduction of the first Equal Rights Amendment (which failed). It was a time of post-war prosperity, the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, gangsterism and stock market speculation. One would think there were a lot of women engineers out there willing to join Alta and Hilda and Elsie in their effort to form a women's engineering society.
They found 63 women enrolled in engineering at 20 universities. Their hearts jumped when they found 43 of those at the University of Michigan alone! From a letter that Hazel Quick wrote to Hilda Counts, we know that the Michigan women had organized a group in 1914, which they called the T-Square Society, although no one was sure (even then) if it was a business, honorary or social organization.
Many negative responses were received from schools which did not admit women into their engineering programs. From the University of North Carolina, Thorndike Saville, associate Professor of Sanitary Engineering, sent this gem: "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 supportive of women in engineering, but not of a separate society. 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, 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." 
Though the Society of Women Engineers did not become a formal organization until 1950, its origins are in the late 1940s when shortages of men due to World War II provided the new opportunities for women to pursue employment in engineering. Female student groups at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Cooper Union and City College of New York in New York City, New York began forming local meetings and networking activities.
On the weekend of May 27, 1950, about fifty women
representing the four original sections of the Society of Women
Engineers, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Boston met for the first National
Convention at Green Engineering Camp of the Cooper Union in New Jersey to elect the
first president of SWE,
Dr. Beatrice A.
It wasn't until 1960s after Russia launched Sputnik and 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.
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. In 1973, SWE signed an agreement with the National Society of Professional Engineers to recruit more women engineers and students as members.
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. Today, SWE has over 17,000 student, graduate, and corporate members, and continues its mission as a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational service organization.
Its mission statement, adopted in 1986, is "Stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, demonstrate the value of diversity."
Collegiate sections are organized at the local, regional, and national levels, and have annual regional conferences and an annual national conference.
One method that SWE uses to provide support for women in engineering is through scholarships. SWE offers scholarships for incoming freshmen, undergraduate students, and graduate students in various fields of engineering.
Society of Women Engineers Regional Sections
An example of a collegiate section: