“Now I’ve heard everything! The excuse of ‘Danger’ for not hiring women in Chemical Engineering is one of the weakest I’ve heard to date,” Ruth Shafer, employment committee chairman, declared in a March 20, 1958, letter. Writing to Dorolyn Lines, Denver Section chairman, Shafer noted, “but that doesn’t help your prospective graduates if they’re faced with it.”
Shafer’s consternation had been prompted by Lines’ query as to whether there were any types of chemical engineering work suited for women, after three female engineering students at the University of Colorado had been repeatedly rebuffed by multiple interviewers on the basis of the supposed danger of the field.
Beyond sharing job opportunities, in the 1950s the employment committee also sought to ease the challenges and discouragements SWE members faced in the hiring market. After conferring with Roslyn Gitlin, a founding member of SWE and editorial assistant at Chemical Engineering magazine, Shafer confirmed in another letter that some companies declined to hire women for pilot plant work, due more to their physical strength and an unwillingness to build women’s restrooms than dangerous working conditions. However, she furnished contact information for several large companies known to hire female chemical engineers, demonstrating the value of the network within SWE to overcome hiring discrimination.
– Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist