As an archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, Troy Eller English has immersed herself in the world of women engineers. English’s position is funded by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and a large part of her job is to maintain and promote its archival collections and history to SWE, scholarly researchers, and the public. SAA: SWE had an exciting experience being mentioned on the HBO show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. How did information in the archives help build on that mention? TEE: John Oliver recommended that viewers donate to the SWE scholarship fund during a Last Week Tonight episode on September 21, 2014, questioning the scholarships awarded by the Miss America pageant. The following day, SWE headquarters asked me if I had any statistics on the number of SWE scholarships and the total amount awarded since 1957. Thankfully, I had already compiled this data the year before for the SWE Board of Trustees and was able to provide the information quickly. SWE was able to use these numbers in its social media response to the episode (which garnered many scholarship donations). SAA: How else has SWE used archives for marketing purposes? TEE: When I first started this position in 2008, SWE’s marketing team was mostly interested in still images from the archives. However, over the years we’ve gained a better understanding of how the archives can support their marketing work. The social media manager and I ran a Women’s History Month campaign on SWE’s Facebook page for several years, featuring short articles about SWE and women’s history and trivia contests, for which the prizes were poster reproductions from the archives. I’ve provided content for an online timeline, displays at the annual conference, and SWE’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Last year the marketing team contacted me before launching a rebranding and identity project. They were looking for information about the development of SWE’s logo and other visual identity elements, but I also knew that earlier rebranding attempts had failed. I was able to show the marketing team sensitive issues ahead of time so they could better anticipate and address members’ concerns throughout the project. I’m not sure that the marketing team would have thought to contact me five years ago, but because we’ve worked together so much, they knew that the archives might have information useful to them. SAA: How do you connect with SWE members and encourage them to use the archives? TEE: SWE’s magazine editor and I have collaborated quite a bit to engage members in SWE’s archives and history. I write a onepage “scrapbook” article for each issue of the magazine, highlighting events and topics in SWE history with images and documents from the archives. I also work with her on longer articles about SWE history, member contributions, and biographies of women engineers. I have led workshops at the annual conference about conducting oral history interviews and preserving section scrapbooks. I also conduct oral history interviews at the annual conferences, a process that documents SWE history and member experiences and builds interviewees’ affinity for the archives and their place in the Society’s history. The SWE headquarters and I also remind members that the archives can support their work, whether it’s biographical information for awards nominations or documentation for the IRS when a SWE section is facing an audit. One of my favorite projects was extraordinarily nontraditional. I knew that there was a small but active group of SWE members who were quilters. I also knew that quilting has a somewhat subversive history: in addition to providing protection from the harsh elements, quilts also gave women a chance to congregate when they weren’t otherwise allowed or encouraged to do so; documented their lives and history in fabric when the written word traditionally didn’t; and gave women a social and political voice before they had the right to vote. I wrote an article about this in the magazine, encouraged SWE members and sections to submit a quilt square (and explanatory essay) depicting their inspiration or experience as a woman engineer. We displayed the resulting quilt and essays at the annual conference the following year. It wasn’t typical archives work, but it did engage members in a new way and visually showed how members’ unique experiences can be bonded together to create a unified and stronger whole ... And now I have a nifty artifact in the archives. SAA: What’s your favorite story that you’ve come across during your time at the SWE archives? TEE: I’ve come to find that even seemingly mundane decisions made by the Board of Directors can be fascinating. However, I have a particular fondness for the small but mighty American Society of Women Engineers and Architects Records, a halfmanuscript box of awesomeness. It includes a 1919 survey attempting to identify any women who had studied engineering or architecture in college at any time prior. It’s certainly not a comprehensive list, but they identified 136 women who had at least taken one class up to that time. There’s some hilarious correspondence from dubious engineering departments. The collection also includes 1930s correspondence to and from Elsie Eaves, whose position as a department editor of the Engineering News-Record made her perhaps the most visible woman engineer in the country at the time. Young women wrote Eaves asking for career advice, and she admitted in one letter to a professor that she generally discouraged those young women; women were nearly unheard of in the profession and Eaves believed that any young woman who ignored her frank advice and pursued the career anyway would have enough gumption to make it as a woman engineer in a hostile field.
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