Society of Women Engineers’ Letters from 1919

To raise awareness of gender discrimination & SWE's Founders Day, SWE and DJG used sexist letters circa 1919 from engineering schools explaining why women can't be admitted.




SWE’s Founders Day on May 27 was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of gender discrimination and use historical documents written by two University of Colorado engineering students in 1919.

These two women wrote letters to U.S. colleges of engineering asking if any female students had been enrolled. They were trying to start the American Society of Women Engineers and Architects, a precursor to SWE, and they were looking for potential members. The women sent letters to every engineering and architecture department they could find asking for information about any women who had taken courses. SWE’s archives contained these letters and their responses from deans and professors, remarkable statements that featured little confidence and immense doubt in the current and future presence of women in engineering.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) partnered with David James Group to implement an integrated public relations and marketing campaign that utilized its robust historical archives and member stories. The result was not only an influx of PR attention, but a reminder of how far we’ve come in workplace diversity inclusion and how far we need to yet go.

DJG went forward with an integrated approach, combining media relations, content and social media to raise awareness of the letters.

A content piece including copies of the original letters were placed on SWE’s blog and news source called All Together. A media pitch was crafted and DJG reached out to dozens of national-focus media partners for coverage of the story. Simultaneously, images of the letters and their contents were pushed out on all of SWE’s social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The story was picked up by several publications such as The Atlantic, Glamour, InStyle, and Fortune. Media placements from the campaign totaled approximately 52 million impressions. The viral letters were also used by Boeing to create a powerful video featuring women engineers at Boeing reading and reacting to the content of the letters. The video has been viewed more than 200,000 times.

Today, nearly 100 years later, the Society of Women Engineers’ membership encompasses 40,000+ women in engineering and technology. Currently, just 13 percent of working engineers are women. The work done to highlight the letters from 1919 was a grave reminder that we have come far, yet have such a long way to go.

SWE accepted a 2018 Golden Trumpet Award from the Publicity Club of Chicago for the campaign.

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