MaryEllen Green Dohrs, a pioneering automotive designer who created the interiors of high-end General Motors cars in the early 1950s, died Wednesday, according to her children. She was 92.
Dohrs was one of the first female designers hired by GM after World War II. After she graduated from Pratt Institute in New York, she joined GM in 1950 at age 20, making her the youngest designer to ever work for the automaker, according to the book Damsels in Design: Women Pioneers in the Automotive Industry, 1939-1959 by Constance Smith.
Dohrs created the interiors of GM show cars and specialty cars for important customers, according to the GM Heritage Center. She designed the pleated leather seats in the 1950 all-red Cadillac convertible and the interior of the Hopalong Cassidy Cadillac, a 1950 Series 62 Convertible owned by William Boyd, an actor who portrayed a cowboy hero named Hopalong Cassidy, Smith wrote.
Dohrs was one of just a few female designers at the time, but she disliked being characterized by her gender, according to an obituary provided by her family. In 2019, she said at a Women in Design conference in Detroit, "I still resist calling me and my type women designers ... unless writers preface others as men designers."
Dohrs' time with GM preceded the automaker's all-female design team, dubbed the Damsels of Design, hired in the mid-1950s by its styling chief, Harley Earl.
In a statement, GM said: "Following her time as Pratt Institute’s first female student within the Industrial Design department, MaryEllen Dohrs joined General Motors as one of the Design organization’s first women. That choice and her work that followed contributed greatly to the pioneering spirit that powers the company. A new GM Design Center expansion currently underway will house one of her sculptures in hopes that her spirit will live on future generations of designers."
Dohrs later worked for Sundberg-Ferar, where she drew up award-winning designs for the interior of the 1955 Packard Caribbean and took on assignments for Samsonite, Whirlpool and IBM, according to the obituary.
Dohrs' automotive roots began during her childhood in Los Angeles. Her father was an auto dealer and distributor, according to a 2018 issue of the Society of Automotive Historians Journal.
Dohrs died in West Palm Beach, Fla., after a short stay in hospice care.