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New Archival Collection Highlights Drexel’s Historic Connection to the Society of Women Engineers

March 2, 2023

The Philadelphia Section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) recently donated a collection of organizational records to the Drexel University Archives, which are now available for students and researchers to explore in the Archives’ reading room.


The collection includes historical documents and publications from the Philadelphia SWE, such as information about past recipients of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) national scholarships, Philadelphia section alumnae, and the national organization’s tax returns.


Archivists display commemorative pamphlet/bulletin from 1996 Drexel SWE 50 year anniversary celebration.
A commemorative pamphlet from the Drexel SWE 50-year anniversary celebration in 1996

Other documents describe the Drexel SWE student chapter, including Drexel student members and an event program created in 1996 for the student group's 50th anniversary celebration.

These materials are of particular interest to the Drexel Archives (as well as researchers) since Drexel students played an integral role in forming the National Society of Women Engineers back in the late 1940s.   


Women & Engineering at Drexel


Drexel (then the Drexel Institute of Technology) extended enrollment opportunities across genders in 1943. Even then, there were glaringly few women in engineering at Drexel—but those 17 women who first enrolled in the program gravitated to one another and formed the support group that would be  instrumental in founding the national SWE organization—an organization that is now over 75 years old and has encouraged thousands of women in the field. In fact, the name “Society of Women Engineers” itself was derived from an English term paper written by then Drexel freshman Phyllis Diamond Rose (BS ’53).


Some items in the Philadelphia SWE collection show how local student activism evolved into an internationally acknowledged professional organization and demonstrate Drexel’s relationship within the larger scientific and industrial community, engineering, and its impact as an institution.


Using the Philadelphia SWE Collection


There are many ways to use these materials, now available to view in person at the University Archives in W. W. Hagerty Library, from creating content for social media to conducting deeper research to inform student projects and formal presentations. Archives Technician Simon Ragovin suggests that “[researchers] study this collection in juxtaposition to other collections at Drexel and elsewhere, to get more context for the experiences of women engineers at Drexel and in Philadelphia, and in comparison to other institutions and locations.”


Files on a desk with an archival file box
The collection includes numerous documents and newsletters from the Philadelphia Section of SWE

For example, a researcher could look up Dr. Ewaugh Finney Fields, a professor of mathematics and the first Black woman to be named a dean at Drexel, or Dr. V. Aileen Rogers, the first full-time woman faculty member in the College of Engineering, and discover their connections to SWE. Or explore the University Archives’ complete run of Lexerd yearbooks, featuring pages dedicated to student organizations and information about Drexel SWE’s activities over the years.


Additional research reveals that Drexel Professor A.W. “Doc” Grosvenor was the first faculty advisor and sponsor of the cohort of Drexel students who would eventually help form the national Society of Women Engineers in 1950. He was named an honorary member of SWE and a notable member of the Philadelphia Section for his key role in “supporting the group of women engineering students who were meeting together in the mid-1940s and wanted to form a group that would be officially recognized on campus.” His wife Dorothy was also an instructor at Drexel and “we have information that suggests that she was effectively his collaborator,” according to Ragovin.


To learn more about Drexel’s legacy of involvement with SWE, be sure to check out the Drexel University Society of Women Engineers website, the Libraries’ Women in Engineering Resource Guide and articles from the DrexelNow archives, like Drexel Engineering Celebrates Remarkable Women Engineers and Where the Society Started.


A Timeline of Women in Engineering at Drexel and the SWE:


1943: Drexel enrolls the first 17 women into the engineering program; these students will become a major impetus to the formation of the Society of Women Engineers[1]


1945: Dorothy Young, Drexel’s Dean of Women, hosts an informal tea party to create a community for women in the engineering program[1]


1948: Paper written by Phyllis Diamond Rose (BS ’53) introduces concept of “Society of Women Engineers”[1]


1949: Chaired by Alma Forman, PE (BS ’49), a group of women engineering students holds a regional conference in April that is attended by 83 engineering students from 19 different colleges[1]


1950: The Society of Women Engineers is formally recognized as a national society[2]

“More than 60 people participated in the founding meeting of the Society of Women Engineers on May 27, 1950, which was held at the Cooper Union’s Green Engineering Camp in New Jersey. Participants came from a loosely connected group of women engineers and engineering students at Drexel University, and from the Cooper Union and City College in New York, as well as from Boston and Washington, D.C.”[1]


1996: Drexel commemorates the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Drexel chapter of SWE[3

[1] Falcone, Alissa. "Where the Society Started." Drexel Magazine, Features, Summer 2015,

[2] “About SWE.” Society of Women Engineers, 2022,

[3] “Drexel Women in Engineering Celebrate 50 Years of Accomplishment.” Drexel Magazine, Summer 1999,