MADISON – In tribute to the pioneering women of the 20th century who broke into the “male” field of engineering, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) have created a traveling multimedia history.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wendt Library will host the exhibit “Petticoats and Slide Rules” for 12 weeks this fall.
For more than 50 years, SWE has encouraged women in engineering education and in the field. It has celebrated achievement and stood for equal rights in a field where women historically were shunned, says Alice Pawley, an industrial and systems engineering Ph.D. student and UW-Madison chapter member of SWE. The exhibit highlights the struggles and the successes of women engineers from the early 1900s to present, featuring materials from the SWE archives at Wayne State University, including photographs, letters, diaries and news clips.
“I think people will enjoy learning about this group of indomitable women who overcame the challenge of horrendous studying and working conditions to achieve their goal of doing engineering,” says Pawley. “As an engineer myself, I know it isn’t often we get to focus on actual women who came before us.”
These women include Margaret Ingels, whose 1952 speech to the Western Society of Engineers claimed that petticoats and slide rules do go together. Only the second woman in the United States to graduate with an engineering degree, Ingels was a great advocate of equality in education admissions, employment and pay for women who wished to enter the male-dominated field of engineering.
“We walk with engineering’s history every day, and many of us don’t even recognize it,” says Pawley. “It’s a great story, with consequences we still live with.”
For example, while Ingels is remembered as an author and a speaker, she also left a legacy as an engineer. Ingels devised the “effective temperature” scale, an equation relating humidity, air movement and heat to comfort. She then worked to develop and advocate residential air conditioning.
The exhibit was funded by a grant from the Ford Motor Co. The UW-Madison visit is sponsored by the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute and the UW-Madison chapter of SWE. They hope that the exhibit will increase awareness of the history of women in engineering.
“I think a lot of engineering students have decided they don’t like history, and that it’s not relevant to how they are now,” says Pawley. “It’s critical to realize that we’re not that far removed from how things were then, when women were even more rare in engineering than they are now.”
All are welcome to attend the opening reception at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Wendt Library, 215 N. Randall Ave. The exhibit, located on the library’s main level, will be open to the public through early December during the library’s hours: 7:30 a.m-1 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays, noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays (opening at 2:30 p.m. on football Saturdays) and 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Sundays. Public parking is available in Lot 17, 1525 Engineering Drive, and Lot 20, 1390 University Ave., at rates of $5 for a half day or free on weekends and after 4:30 p.m. weekdays.