Mildred Dawson Szombati Inducted 1985 - Class of 1933

Long before equality for women in business and industry became a popular issue and then a generally accepted fact, Mildred Dawson Szombati was showing the way to its realization.

Mildred Louise Dawson was graduated from Woodward High School in 1933 at the age of 16 and went to work at the Electric Auto-Lite Company in what was then virtually the only industry job available to women - as an assembly line production worker. But because of her determination to make it in a man’s world, she became a true pioneer in the field of engineering as a career for women. At the time she entered the field, in 1942, she was the only woman in this area actively engaged in tool engineering.

At Auto-Lite she became interested in machine tools and was encouraged by several of her supervisors to take night engineering classes at the University of Toledo. This she did over a period of seven years, eventually earning the equivalent of two years of college credits. Auto-Lite,

meanwhile, transferred her to the inspection department and later promoted her to supervisor of precision inspection in the grinding department.

From Auto-Lite she went on to the old Packard Motor Plant on Laskey Road as an apprentice tool designer, honing her skills in board work for all types of manufacturing. Then it was on to the Martin Parry Corporation as a full-fledged tool designer.

During the years she was employed at various engineering positions, she was able to overcome prejudice against women by a team attitude which made the men she worked with feel at ease rather than resentful of her entry into the field.

As a result of her work at the Toledo Pipe Threading Machine Company, she was chosen a "Model Tool Engineer of 1958" by the American Society of Tool Engineers. The citation, presented at the national convention in Philadelphia, said she typified the ideal successful tool engineer. For this honor she was the subject of a Page One story and photograph in The Blade.

While employed at Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation, Mrs. Szombati received what may have been the biggest challenge of her career - to design all the tools needed by Air Force and Navy personnel to disassemble and assemble jet engines in the field. She also was engaged in packaging design, and for this work she received several awards from the Society of Packaging Engineers. One job she takes particular pride in being part of was the design of special polyurethane foamed-in-place packaging used to ship jet engines and component parts anywhere in the world.

It was during her employment at Continental that she was chosen to represent Ohio at the first Women's International Science and Engineers Conference, held in New York City. She was designated "special emissary" of the governor for the State of Ohio.

As she began to get more and more responsible assignments from various employers, her reputation for reliance and competence spread. She was accepted into the Detroit chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and became section representative and recording secretary of the organization. She became active in the society's Certificate of Merit program, spending many hours talking to high school girls in Toledo and the surrounding area to encourage their consideration of engineering as a career. For this activity she received an Outstanding Service and Contribution to the Engineering Profession Award from the SWE in 1977. In another article which appeared in The Blade in June, 1964, she restated her belief in engineering as a field for women. "If a woman dresses correctly, acts properly and does her job well, she will get respect from the men she works with, "the article quotes her as saying.

A past president of the Society of Women Engineers has this to say about Mrs. Szombati: "She was and is a pioneer in the field of tool engineering; she blazed the trail for today's women engineers in the profession. It was not very easy to break the barriers 30 or more years ago. Women had to prove their mettle; they had to do better than the men as they were under constant challenge. Mildred successfully met all these challenges and was recognized by her peers."

Mrs. Szombati retired from the engineering field seven years ago. But retirement does not mean idleness; she is owner-operator of the Colonial Gift and Appliance Shop and a partner in the Colonial Precision Grinding Shop, in Erie, Michigan.

©2020 Woodward Alumni Hall of Fame

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