June 8, 2018 Women in Design Conversation and Discussion at The Fisher Building in Detroit

The EyesOn Design Lecture Series of the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology and the Leland Chapter, Detroit of the Society of Automotive Historians co-hosted a panel discussion featuring author Constance Smith and designer MaryEllen Green and on Friday, June 8, 2018 in the Peacock Room of the Fisher Building in downtown Detroit.

Hosted by Leland Chapter President Brian Baker, and moderated by Elizabeth Wetzel, GM Director of Design User Experience, the forty attendees were treated to an exceptional ninety minute panel discussion, conversation and question & answer session.

Constance Smith is the author of the recently published book, Damsels in Design, which features MaryEllen among many other women designers of the era.  A graduate of the Pratt Institute in New York, Smith was recruited by GM’s Charles “Chuck” Jordan.  Her comprehensive automotive design and engineering experience included work in safety, advanced electronics and airbag implementation.    Smith’s 2018 book Damsels in Design may come to be regarded as a benchmark in bringing the history of women in the automotive industry to light.  Her book focuses on twenty women who were active in automotive design from 1939 to 1959 and presents their stories, frustrations and accomplishments, as well as their post-automotive design work and personal achievements in the arts.  The staggering number of period images Smith collected for this book is a masterful accomplishment in itself.

MaryEllen Green (decd January, 2022) was a member of Harley Earl’s GM Styling group in the early 1950’s.  Her father was a successful automobile dealer and distributor, so Green stemmed from automotive roots, which she considered to be a significant advantage in her early career.  At GM she worked on concept cars, show cars and special projects.  From GM Green moved to Sunberg-Ferar design, where she was loaned to Dick Teague’s design department at Packard to design the seats and interior panels for the 1955 Packard Caribbean.  Green is one of the women featured in Part I of Smith’s book.

The late Margaret “Peggy” Sauer, one of the women featured in Part III of Smith’s book, joined GM Styling in 1955 in the Oldsmobile studio.  She later worked in the Cadillac and Buick studios before joining Raymond Loewy’s Avanti Team.  Her Oldsmobile concept car credits include the Mona Lisa, the Chantreuse, the Carousel and the Rendezvous.  Sauer’s long time close friend, Julie Sabit, and Sabit’s nephew Doug Didia, a former GM Design studio artist from the Detroit area, had several examples of Sauer’s original automotive design artwork on display for the event.  Sabit is the custodian of Sauer’s estate and archive.

Crain Communications, Automotive News and Autoweek to the likes of us, generously provided the “Women in Design” banner for this event.  The Peacock Room, a Fisher Building retail space period renovation, was graciously made available for the event by shop owner Rachel Lutz.

Congratulations to the Leland Chapter, and to EyesOn Design of the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology,  in partnering to support this exceptional event.

To learn more about EyesOn Design, visit www.eyesondesign.org

Additional coverage of this event will be found on pages 4-5 of SAH Journal #293

(l-r) Elizabeth Wetzel, Brian Baker, Constance Smith and MaryEllen Green.