SAME at 100: A Diverse Membership Base, 1926

Explore the SAME Centennial Timeline with #SAME100

From SAME’s inception in 1920, all were welcome to join, provided simply that they had an interest in the national defense. There were different classifications of membership at the time, including “engineer member” and “associate member” but over the years these distinctions faded away. As is frequently remarked about today: we may not all be American, we may not all be military, and we may not all be engineers—but we are all SAME, and we are all members.

Ethel BaileyThe first female member of the Society was Ethel Bailey, who joined in 1926. A mechanical engineer, her specialty was microphotography. In World War I, she was an inspector of airplanes and airplane engines with the Signal Corps. She also served in World War II, and later was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

SAME’s first female member named a Fellow was Pearl Burke, in 1977. She first joined government service in 1942. She became an engineer with USACE New Orleans District who had been very involved at the Post level as well as on the planning committees of several SAME Annual Meetings, and later was a National Director of SAME.

The Society’s first female National President was Jane Penny, P.E., F.SAME, who was elected by the membership to serve in that role 2015-2016. An executive with AECOM, and who began her career as a civilian engineer with the U.S. Air Force, Penny oversaw the implementation of the 2020 SAME Strategic Plan and was also President when the SAME Foundation was formally established. And, in May 2020, SAME will officially kick off its second century as an organization, and the first President of its next 100 years will be a woman, Heather Wishart-Smith, P.E., PMP, LEED AP, F.SAME, F.ASCE, who is currently an executive with Jacobs and began her career as a officer in the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. She has been a leading advocate for mentoring and encouraging youth to pursue STEM fields; in 2018 she was recognized with the SAME Academy of Fellows Gerald C. Brown Mentoring Award for excellence in mentoring efforts. A century after SAME’s founding, promoting diversity and inspiring inclusion remains a driving force of the Society’s impact on the profession, and the nation.

The inaugural issue of The Military Engineer in January-February 1920 articulated the Society’s vision for inclusion and diversity from the very beginning.

“The patriotic interest in national defense which is now so apparent amongst our citizens of all classes, must be fully capitalized before it cools off and leaves us again in the apathetic state of pre-war days.

As an important means to this worthy end, we are establishing at this time a Society of American Military Engineers. This society will serve no selfish purpose. It is dedicated to patriotism and national security. Its objects are, in brief, to promote solidarity and co-operation between engineers in civil and military life, to disseminate technical knowledge bearing upon progress in the art of war and the application of engineering science thereto, and to preserve and maintain the best standards and traditions of the profession, all in the interests of patriotism and national security.

Eligibility qualifications for membership in this Society are drawn on the broadest possible lines, consistent with the achievement of its aims.”

The first female member of the Society was Ethel Bailey, who joined in 1926. A mechanical engineer, her specialty was microphotography.


This declaration of membership eligibility on the “broadest possible lines” would be perhaps the single biggest factor in SAME’s impact, and endurance, over 100 years. The Society did not turn people away; rather, it welcomed them with open arms, because we all have a role to play in national security.

In fact, as was commented on in TME soon after the U.S. Air Force was established in 1947, the founders of SAME foresaw the growth of the Armed Forces and the expansion of joint interaction, and nothing in its constitution needed to be amended to account for the new military service, whose members quickly became involved in SAME and entered its leadership ranks.

The Society of American Military Engineers is now 100. Founded in 1920, in the interests of patriotism and national security, the organization has never wavered from a vow to support the needs of the United States and strengthen the profession of engineering. As was stated in the inaugural issue of The Military Engineer a century ago: “this Society will serve no selfish purpose.”

The genesis of SAME was born from the lessons of World War I, and the realization of those who went “over there” that the engineering community was unprepared for what was confronted. That prescient leadership would prove invaluable, as “The War to End All Wars” was anything but. 

During 2020, the Society is celebrating a century of service to the nation through local and national events, programs and special activities, and coverage in print and online. At Bricks & Clicks, we will be publishing information from the TME archives, capturing the growth of SAME and the emergence of engineering and technology on the world’s stage. Follow and contribute using #SAME100