The Women of General Motors, A Century of Art and Engineering
by Constance A. Smith
How you view or perceive this book is greatly dependent upon your awareness of books published in the past few years regarding women in the automotive industry and their specific roles. The author of this particular book and her publisher obviously think an exploration of this topic is relevant for this is the second book to be produced by them just as SAE has published two as well. All are reviewed on this site.
That said, if you purchased and read Constance Smith’s first book Damsels in Design, Women Pioneers in the Automotive Industry 1939–1959 you have already read the first one-third of this new book. In retrospect those are among the best profiles, likely in part because the author had known most of the Damsels as she too had been employed by GM for a few years during the 1970s. This Women of General Motors, her second and newest effort, expands upon the topic by adding, as the subtitle A Century of Art and Engineering indicates, women who are engineers and introducing additional ones who do design work, some 150 ladies in total.
Yet, if pressed to describe this book in a single word (Groucho’s duck!?) that word would be: uneven. There are a number of pages filled with well-told and engaging stories but there are also some that read as though there’d been a lack of knowledge of the person so page space was filled by simply “borrowing” from press or marketing information on the vehicles with which that person had been involved.
Examining and then following and consulting some of those sources that are listed in the chapter end notes (it should be noted that sources are not provided for each person profiled and with some the self-created profile on LinkedIn is listed as a or the research resource) is revealing and helps explain some of the unevenness. In one instance where no source was provided and also no photo was available, Smith showed her artistic abilities by creating a nice sketch of her subject from the video interview that your commentator found that had been utilized as the source as the entry in Women repeats verbatim words then spoken by Magdalena Kokoszynska in the video posted on GM.com
Then there are the pages—a dozen of them no less—that according to the Table of Contents are devoted to Pam Fletcher. Yet only two of those dozen pages actually have anything pertaining to her on them—one is a full-page headshot (the same image that is used in one of the two SAE-published books, each of which contain different multi-page chapters about her) and the facing page offers a few paragraphs about her before embarking on the ten-plus page balance that is a survey and history of electric power from 1900 onwards with emphasis on GM’s involvement 1912 to present day. There is no mention or reference to Fletcher on those pages until the very last sentence of the chapter.
Some of the responsibility for the book surely rests with Karla Rosenbusch who the masthead page lists as the book’s editor. Rosenbusch joined publisher Schiffer as an editor in June 2021 with prior experiences including nine years as senior editor on Automobile Quarterly’s staff. Her input should have ensured avoidance of goofs such as on p. 29 “lack of truck space” rather than “lack of trunk space” or the one where on the same page just sentences apart is written in one place Charles F. Kettering yet virtually directly across the page in the next column he’s Charles P. Kettering. Then there’s the “assignation of” a head of state instead of assassination. Spell check isn’t going to come to the rescue with such as these. Only the intelligent, thinking input and judgment of a human is going to find and fix errors of this nature.
Moreover, while the book has an Index it’s virtually useless for all it is is a re-jiggered TOC listing the ladies (and only some but not all at that) in alphabetical order instead of chronologically as in the TOC indicating the era during which each worked at GM. Thus the reader is unable to re-find any pages where Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl, Chuck Jordan, Bob Lutz or any specific make or model of vehicle might be written about. That redundancy seems even stranger as the omission of some photo credits and sources necessitated the book be accompanied by an errata sheet. Oops!
It is a worthwhile effort to compile and recognize these Women of General Motors into a single book. However, Damsels set such a high mark with its twenty profiles, it only serves to point up the difference between how Smith’s two books read. Where she has a personal connection with a subject she writes more fulsomely than she can or does with those who are merely names to her. As mentioned above, Smith had been employed by GM for several years during the 1970s until illness led to a return to her native New York to recover. She subsequently didn’t return to either GM or Detroit. Thus the majority of the 150 women presented, especially those in the chapters covering the 1980s, ’90s, and both decades of the 2000s are all, for the most part, people unknown to the author on a personal level.
Copyright 2023 Helen V Hutchings, SAH (speedreaders.info)