YOU CAN ONLY GAIN BY TRYING

“Women representing the engineering profession must be of unquestionable professional status,” explained Past President Katharine Stinson in the November 1956 SWE Newsletter. “We are a minority group, and for many years to come, whether we like it or not, we must accept the fact that the qualifications of women engineers are subject to closer scrutiny than those of men.”

While not strictly necessary for many positions, in its early years SWE sections often encouraged their members to pursue professional registration, reinforcing their credentials for skeptical male peers. “We have MANY who are qualified but who — so far — have not made the extra effort needed,” noted Tess Tierney in the November 1957 SWE Detroit newsletter, continuing, “We want to supply that extra helpful push.” To that end, Tierney encouraged members to form a weekly study group preparing themselves for the first part of the licensing exam. “Think about this,” she demanded. “You can only gain by trying.”

SWE Director-at-Large Dot Merrill gave a speech titled “Brains Have No Sex” to a large and “enthusiastic” audience at a 1956 meeting of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers.
The SWE Newsletter celebrated members who received their professional licenses. The October 1955 issue congratulated Vice President Dorothea Perry, who skipped the annual convention that year to secretly take — and pass on the first try — the registration exam in Pennsylvania.
In addition to bolstering their own credentials, members’ professional licenses also raised the profile of and respect for the Society. The Boston Section had a regular column in the publication New England Professional Engineer, sharing news of SWE and its members to a largely male audience.
The title of Merrill’s speech came from a compilation of anecdotes and jokes Merrill created in January 1956 to spice up her many speaking engagements. After relating a story about not being allowed in the dining room of the Engineers Club of Chicago, even though she was the dinner speaker at an ASME meeting, and noting that the engineering club in Philadelphia similarly didn’t allow women in the bar, Merrill wrote, “Oh well, someday we’ll not have these situations. Brains do not have sex.”

– Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist

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