Gilbreth, Lillian Moller, 1878-1972

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1878-05-24
Death 1972-01-02
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Frank Bunker Gilbreth had no formal education beyond high school but he rose from bricklayer, to building contractor, to management engineer in a few short years. He and his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth collaborated to develop ways to increase output of workers in manufacturing and clerical positions, as pioneers in the field of industrial engineering. They often used their large family as guinea pigs for their experiments, which are lovingly detailed in the 1948 book “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Purdue University holds most of the Gilbreth Papers.

From the guide to the Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Gilbreth Collection, 1962-1972, (Special Collections)

The Gilbreth family goes for a ride, circa 1920

Lillian Moller Gilbreth is perhaps most widely known as the mother of the Cheaper by the Dozen family but her talent and groundbreaking influence in the field of industrial engineering is her most remarkable achievement. Lillian Moller was born in 1878 to William Moller, a partner in a large retail hardware business, and Annie Delger. As a youth, she became interested in poetry and pursued her passion as an undergraduate. In 1900, Lillian Moller graduated from the University of California with a degree in British literature. She then attended Columbia University for graduate study in English literature. Two years later she was awarded a Master's degree. In 1903, she met Frank Bunker Gilbreth, a cousin of her chaperone. Frank Gilbreth had risen from an apprentice bricklayer to become a well-known contractor through his labor-saving techniques and ingenuity. The couple married in 1904 and soon thereafter embarked upon a joint career in industrial engineering. After publishing two books, Motion Study (1911) and Primer of Scientific Management (1912), the couple moved from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island where they founded Gilbreth, Incorporated, a consulting engineering firm. Lillian M. Gilbreth received her Ph.D. in industrial psychology from Brown University in 1915. Lillian and Frank Gilbreth were popular lecturers and spoke at many conventions and universities on the subject of motion saving techniques and worker efficiency with respect to both physical ability and psychological variables. Lillian Gilbreth stressed the "human element in management" and believed that the individual worker was more responsive to recognition of good performance than to threats of punishment. This type of positive discipline was integral to the Gilbreth method of management, which they practiced both professionally and also in their domestic life. Between 1905 and 1922, Lillian Gilbreth gave birth to twelve children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood. In 1924, Frank Gilbreth died suddenly of a heart attack. Lillian attempted to continue their consulting business. She experienced so much discrimination in her attempt to go solo in an overwhelmingly male profession, that she began concentrating on issues of homemaking. Gilbreth published two books on the subject, The Home-Maker and Her Job (1927) and Management in the Home (1954). Gilbreth and her husband were also concerned with the needs of disabled individuals. While he was still alive, they published several articles on disabled soldiers and Gilbreth continued this thread by designing equipment and motion saving methods to make household tasks easier for disabled people. She also published two books on this subject, Normal Lives for the Disabled (1933) which she co-authored with Edna Yost, her friend and later biographer, and Straight Talk for Disabled Veterans (1945). Despite the obstacles faced by a woman in the field of engineering, Gilbreth's career flourished. She was appointed professor of management at Purdue University in 1935 and also was a member of the faculty at Newark College of Engineering from 1941-43. She also volunteered for many groups and organizations, including the Girl Scouts of America. Throughout her career, Gilbreth won many awards and was a popular speaker. She died in 1972 at the age of 83.

For more information, see Jane Lancaster's dissertation, Wasn't She the Mother in Cheaper by Dozen: A Life of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, 1878-1972 (1998); Laurel Graham's book, Managing on Her Own (1998); and the American National Biography and Notable American Women.

From the guide to the Lillian Moller Gilbreth Papers 374., 1860 - 1999, (Sophia Smith Collection)

Industrial engineer.

Known as the mother of the "Cheaper by the Dozen" family, Gilbreth received degree in British literature, University of California, 1900; Master's degree in English literature, Columbia University; married Frank Bunker Gilbreth, 1904; twelve children. Lillian received Ph. D. in industrial psychology, Brown University, 1915; practiced industrial engineering with husband; published two books together: Motion Study (1911) and Primer of Scientific Management (1912); founded Gilbreth, Inc., a consulting engineering firm, in Providence, Rhode Island; lectured extensively on the subject of motion saving techniques and worker efficiency with respect to both physical ability and psychological variables. After death of Frank Gilbreth in 1924, she published two more books on home economics; designed equipment and motion saving methods to make household tasks easier for disabled people and published Normal Lives for the Disabled (1933) and Straight Talk for Disabled Veterans (1945), both co-authored with Edna Yost; was professor of management at Purdue University and member of the faculty at Newark College of Engineering.

From the description of Papers, 1860-1999. (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 48403492

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Subjects:

  • Authors, American--20th century--Sources
  • Women engineers
  • Women industrial engineers--History--Sources
  • Industrial management
  • Domestic engineering--History--Sources
  • Industrial engineers--History--Sources
  • Families--History--20th century--Sources
  • Censorship--United States--20th century
  • People with disabilities--Rehabilitation--History--Sources
  • Industrial efficiency--History--Sources
  • Family--United States--History--20th century--Sources

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)