Former General Motors Designer MaryEllen Green Dohrs Passed Away At Age 928
Former General Motors designer MaryEllen Green Dohrs passed away last week in West Palm Beach, Florida at the age of 92. Dohrs worked at General Motors for about three years, designing interiors for a variety of show cars and special projects.
MaryEllen Green Dohrs was born in September of 1929 as MaryEllen Green in Hollywood, California. Her interest in cars began at an early age, as her father was automotive dealer. She also expressed an interest in making things, such as model airplanes and model boats.
After graduating from the Pratt Institute in New York, Dohrs joined up with General Motors in 1950 at the age of 20. At the time, she was the youngest designer to ever work at an automaker. Dohrs was also one of the first female industrial designers hired by General Motors after World War II, and preceded “The Damsels of Design,” the all-female design team appointed by Harley Earl.
Dohrs worked on the interior design of General Motors show cars, but also worked on specialty cars for well-known customers. Just a few examples of Dohrs’ work includes things like the pleated leather seats found in the 1950 Cadillac convertible, as well as the interior of the 1950 Series 62 Convertible known as the Hopalong Cassidy Cadillac, which was owned by actor William Boyd.
Considered a pioneer in the automotive industry, Dohrs rejected characterization based on gender, saying at a Women In Design conference in 2019, “I still resist calling me and my type women designers, unless writers preface others as men designers.”
After General Motors, Dohrs worked for Sundberg-Ferar, where she did design work for a variety of high-profile clients, including IBM, Packard, Samsonite, Whirlpool, Seeberg, and others.
Later in life, Dohrs pursued her interest in water color painting, pen and ink, and sculpture, also serving as an art teacher.
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As one myself making my living as an artist, I think she is (was) a wonderful contributor to our eyes and emotion. I’ve loved cars from birth, learning how to read by studying the chrome nameplates and ripping magazine advertisements out of magazines (sorry Mom) and bugging my parents and grandparents to take me to the dealers in the early autumn so I could check out all the new cars with their changes in styling – this was in the late 1950’s and into the 60’s. the golden age of the American automobile. I still have brochures that I collected from the dealers back then.
BTW, the headlights seen on the bottom left of the museum photo are those of a ’57 Eldorado Brougham.
Were duo/quad headlights legal in 1957?
No but Harley Earl and GM went ahead with it anyhow.
Someone, somewhere coined the name “Damsels of Design” to describe Mary Ellen and the other Lady Designets @GM in the 1950s. There’s a video on YouTube under that name, I believe.
Directly from the article…”Dohr was also one of the first female industrial designers hired by General Motors after World War II, and preceded “The Damsels of Design,” the all-female design team appointed by Harley Earl.”
The talented and vivacious MaryEllen Green Dohrs received a job offer from GM’s Henry Lauvre before graduation from the certificate program at Pratt Institute in 1950 way before the original six Damsels of Design arrived in the mid-1950s. She joined GM at in 1950 needing her mother’s written permission. Her automotive portfolio included the interior design for the 1950 Anniversary Cadillac, the Hopalong Cassidy Cadillac interior and the 19955 Caribbean.
Her profile was dictated in part by MaryEllen herself to me for my book – DAMSELS IN DESIGN (not Damsels of Design) – was published in 2018 at which time I was awarded the AACA’s McKean Cup.
MaryEllen latest artwork can be seen in The Women of General Motors – due out later this year.
… a tremendous career which was not allowed to me … but she made her dreams reality.