Dear Editor

Before SWE members shared their opinions in online message boards, comment sections, or on social media, they recorded those thoughts in letters to the editor of SWE’s publications. Although these letters often took the form of book recommendations and job postings in the Society’s early years, in later decades the semiregular column became a soapbox for members to publicly discuss and debate the larger issues of the day.

Members used the forum to call for the inclusion of disabilities in SWE’s definition of diversity, changes to the Society’s membership requirements, and improved child care options at SWE conferences. They debated the best way to influence the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and to push back against sexist advertising in professional publications. They criticized the prohibition of male speakers at the 1979 national convention (as it was called at the time) and the abundance of articles in SWE’s magazine written by male authors in the early 1990s. They discussed larger social issues, including the feasibility of raising a family while maintaining a career, their experiences with gender stereotypes, and the utility of hiring quotas. In doing so, their letters provide a snapshot of members’ professional concerns decades ago and offer a reference point when considering the progress SWE, and society at large, has made in years since.

The Fall 2007 issue of SWE Magazine featured a letter to the editor from Odegua Florence Ogunbor, who shared the experiences of professional women in Nigeria and contemplated how she and SWE could help close the gender gap in engineering education. She went on to become the leader of the SWE Lagos Affiliate in Nigeria.
In the late 1970s, members vigorously debated SWE’s boycott of states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. In letters to the editor published in the March/April 1980 issue of U.S. Woman Engineer, Danuta Solecka Urbikas supported the boycott to dent the sexist attitudes she experienced in one nonratified state, while Harriet R. Smith argued that it would be more effective to flood those states with “professional women of the highest caliber.”
In a letter published in the August 1957 issue of the SWE Newsletter, Margaret Kipilo responds to Olive Mayer’s March 1957 letter to the editor asking for opinions on the format of the annual convention, overcoming gender discrimination, achieving equal pay, and more.

– Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist