Gilbreth, Lillian Moller, 1878-1972

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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

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Gilbreth, Frank Bunker, 1868-1924. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth library of management, 1845-1941 (bulk 1906-1924). Purdue University Library
referencedIn Papers, 1902-1974 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Petersen, Peter B. Papers, 1984-1987. Hagley Museum & Library
creatorOf Lillian Moller Gilbreth Papers 374., 1860 - 1999 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Elliott, Edward C. (Edward Charles), 1874-1960. Edward C. Elliott papers, 1890-1975, bulk 1940-1960. Purdue University Library
referencedIn Gilbreth, Frank Bunker, 1868-1924. Papers of Frank Bunker Gilbreth, circa 1910-1924. Library of Congress
referencedIn Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. 1921 - 2008. Audio Recordings. 1945 - 1965. Hall of fame. No. 42, The founding of the Mayo Clinic ; U.N. Story. No. 1, The basketball, the song and the teacher ; Land of the free. No. 16, Lillian Moller Gilbreth
referencedIn Freeland, M. Eunice Hilton. Office of Student Affairs and Services, Dean of Women, M. Eunice Hilton Freeland records, 1928(ca.)-1971. Syracuse University
referencedIn Winslow, Mary N. (Mary Nelson). Papers, 1923-1951 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Inventory to the Records of the Women's Project of New Jersey, 1984-2004 Rutgers University Libraries. Special Collections and University Archives.
creatorOf Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Gilbreth Collection, 1962-1972 Special Collections
referencedIn Jarrett, Mary C. (Mary Cromwell). Papers 1900-1961. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Johnson, Grace A., 1871-1952. Papers, 1924-1951 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Society of Women Engineers. Society of Women Engineers records, 1918-1993. Wayne State University, Archives of Labor & Urban Affairs
referencedIn Papers, 1935-1958 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Littledale, Clara Savage, 1891-1956. Papers, 1903-1982 (inclusive), 1903-1956 (bulk). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Mary C. Jarrett Papers MS 83., 1900 - 1961, 1900-1961 Sophia Smith Collection
referencedIn Sage Colleges Archives. Honorary degree recipient for 1931, Lilian Moller Gilbreth. The Sage Colleges Libraries
referencedIn Perkins, James Secor. James Secor Perkins. Additional papers, 1916-1970. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Gilbreth, Frank Bunker, 1868-1924. Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Lillian Gilbreth collection, 1962-1972. Arizona State University Libraries
referencedIn Papers, 1923-1951 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
creatorOf Schwartz, Milton Harry. Milton Harry Schwartz scrapbooks, [1896-1952]. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Woman's National Farm and Garden Association (U.S.). Records, 1913-1980 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Records of the Woman's National Farm and Garden Association, 1913-1980 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Harwood, Margaret, 1885-1979. Papers, 1902-1974 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Gilbreth, Lillian Moller, 1878-1972. Papers, 1860-1999. Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Potter, A. A. (Andrey Abraham), b. 1882. The Andrey A. Potter papers, 1893-1986 (inclusive), 1930-1970 (bulk). Purdue University Library
referencedIn Earhart, Amelia, 1897-1937. The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, 1785-1948 (inclusive), 1928-1937 (bulk). Purdue University Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Carey, Ernestine Gilbreth, 1908- person
associatedWith Earhart, Amelia, 1897-1937. person
associatedWith Elliott, Edward C. (Edward Charles), 1874-1960. person
associatedWith Freeland, M. Eunice Hilton. person
associatedWith Gilbreth family family
associatedWith Gilbreth family. family
associatedWith Gilbreth, Frank B. (Frank Bunker), 1911- person
associatedWith Gilbreth, Frank Bunker, 1868-1924 person
associatedWith Harwood, Margaret, 1885-1979. person
associatedWith Jarrett, Mary C. (Mary Cromwell) person
associatedWith Johnson, Grace A., 1871-1952. person
associatedWith Littledale, Clara Savage, 1891-1956. person
associatedWith Margaret Harwood, 1885-1979 person
associatedWith Mary (Ritter) Beard, 1876-1958 person
associatedWith Perkins, James Secor. person
associatedWith Petersen, Peter B. person
associatedWith Potter, A. A. (Andrey Abraham), b. 1882. person
associatedWith Schwartz, Milton Harry. person
correspondedWith Society of Women Engineers. corporateBody
associatedWith Winslow, Mary N. (Mary Nelson) person
associatedWith WOMAN'S NATIONAL FARM AND GARDEN ASSOCIATION corporateBody
associatedWith Woman's National Farm and Garden Association (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Women's Project of New Jersey corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Subject
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
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1878-05-24

Death 1972-01-02

Americans

English

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