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Women Engineers Exhibit opens at Wayne State University Archives

"Petticoats and Slide Rules" Traveling Exhibit Opens Oct. 8 at the Walter P. Reuther Library; Tells Dynamic Story of Women in Engineering History

September 9, 2002


Detroit, MI---"Petticoats and Slide Rules" do go hand in hand, as the dynamic history of women engineers illustrates.

This idea was first presented in 1952 to the Western Society of Engineers, during the celebration of the "Centennial of Engineering" in Chicago. There, woman engineer Margaret Ingels presented her speech "Petticoats and Slid Rules." As a member of the newly founded engineering group, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), she enlightened her audience with stories of women "trailblazers" and "pioneers," in order to pay tribute and spread the word that, indeed, there were women engineers predating the "blue jeans" era.

The special historical exhibit "Petticoats and Slide Rules: SWE, A History of Women Engineers" pays tribute to trailblazers and pioneers, from before the "blue jeans" era to the present. Opening Oct. 8, at the Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives on the campus of Wayne State University, the exhibit is an "interactive" history featuring materials from the SWE historical collection at the Reuther Library.

The Archives at the Reuther Library is the official repository of SWE historical materials. Photos, videos, interviews and artifacts highlight over five decades of promoting equal opportunity for women in engineering, as well as inspirational stories of women who "paved the way" for future generations.

Made possible by a grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund, the "Petticoats and Slide Rules" exhibit will remain at the Reuther Library through December2002 then travel to various national venues.

From Emily Roebling's work on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1880s, to former U.S. astronaut Sally K. Ride's pioneering flight into space in 1983, women have participated in American science, technology and industry for over 100 years. Yet, historically, the number of women in the engineering profession has been significantly low. Since its founding in1950, SWE has grown in size and stature, challenged stereotypes and contributed to the engineering profession in many ways.

For over 50 years, SWE has stood behind a diverse engineering workforce and the idea that women can be engineers. That mission continues today with a membership of more than 15,000 individual professionals and students from22 countries, more than 300 student sections and nearly 100 professional sections organized in 10 geographic regions.

Looking back at the Society's development in the early 1950s, the Reuther Library and SWE's volunteer Archives Committee will recognize Lillian Murad-Bablanian, who led SWE as President in 1952-1953. A chemical engineer who earned her B.S. from the Pratt Institute in 1947, in 1949 Murad founded her own business, Muratex Chemicals in New York, where she developed and introduced "water-base pigment binders applicable to natural and synthetic fabrics." According to her biography, the "fad" of guilded drapes, dresses, shoes, bags, etc., was a direct result of this new technique. A founding charter member of the national SWE in 1950, she was honored by the engineering honorary society Tau Beta Pi in 1952 as "Women's Badge wearer No. 143" and spent most of her career leading educational publicity, especially for women in science and engineering. She will be recognized as SWE's oldest living past president.

In addition, all founding/charter members and SWE Fellows-themselves women pioneers in the field of engineering-will be recognized at the exhibit's opening reception.

"Petticoats and Slide Rules" is meant to inspire and educate future generations about the changing roles of women in the engineering profession. Students are a major target audience. That is why the Reuther Library, a unit of Wayne State University's College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs, (CULMA) has partnered with Wayne State University's College of Engineering to create an educational component to the exhibit. Prof. Gerald O. Thompkins, assistant dean, who will be teaching an Introduction to Engineering course this Fall, has offered to conduct a "field trip" across campus for a visit to the exhibit. Freshmen engineering students-who most likely have never seen a slide rule, yet alone used one-will have the opportunity to view the exhibit, participate in an open-discussion and write about their experience in a one-page essay. Top essays will be forwarded to the editorial office of SWE Magazine, SWE's premier publication.

The SWE exhibit will open in conjunction with "The Art of Engineering, "the 2002 National SWE Conference, which will take place Wednesday, Oct. 9,through Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Cobo Conference/Exhibition Center in Detroit, MI. Keynote speaker and former astronaut Sally K. Ride will give her address, "Reach for the Stars," at the official opening event on Thursday evening. Information, including registration, can be accessed at the Society of Women Engineers.

In addition to technical and educational sessions, awards and recognition programs, career fairs and student promotional activities, a visit to the exhibit at Wayne State is listed twice as a non-technical tour option for conference participants.

For further information on scheduling a special tour, or general questions about the SWE exhibit, contact swearchives@wayne.edu or (313) 577-9373. The Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, is located at 5401 Cass Avenue, across the street from the Detroit Historical Museum and the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, Detroit, MI, 48202. Telephone:(313) 577-4024; Fax: (313) 577-4300.

NOTE TO MEDIA: You are cordially invited to attend the opening reception of "Petticoats and Slide Rules," at the Reuther Library, Tuesday, October8, 2002, from 5:30 PM - 8:30 PM. For more information, please contact Lauren Kata at swearchives@wayne.edu or (313) 577-9373.

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