Lillian Gilbreth’s Story
“The workers must understand that they add to the perfectness of the entire establishment. Scientific management is built on the recognition of the individual, with all the idiosyncrasies that distinguish a person.”Lillian Moller Gilbreth
Lillian Moller Gilbreth, was born in Oakland, California in 1878 to a wealthy German American family. One of nine children, she was raised in a “Victorian” household, where her parents believed that a woman’s role was one of domesticity. Gilbreth however wanted a “strenuous life,” to pursue a higher education and a career. Despite her parents’ opposition, she graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Literature. Lillian married engineer Frank Gilbreth in 1904 and they worked together as consultants in scientific management. In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, they invented ‘time and motion study,’ analyzing ways to make industrial processes, office tasks, and housework more efficient, reduce human error, and enhance the safety and satisfaction of workers. The Gilbreths used a motion-picture camera to analyze human actions, which they divided into 17 motions called ‘therbligs’. What distinguished the Gilbreths from other professionals in scientific management was Lillian’s integration of human psychology into industrial engineering. In 1915, Lillian Gilbreth earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Brown University, and finally started getting the credit of co-author with Frank on their professional papers. After Frank died, Gilbreth reinvented her career as a solo consultant, focusing on clients in the consumer industry such as Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, Sears, and General Electric, among others. Gilbreth also focused on making domestic work more efficient, and transformed the design of kitchens and numerous appliances, such as the foot pedal trash can. In 1935, Gilbreth became the first female engineering professor at Purdue University. In 1965, she was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Gilbreth also worked as a government advisor for several presidents including Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman. In addition to the Gilbreth’s major contributions in the field of scientific management, it is important to note that they were also proponents of eugenics, an ideology supporting the racial dominance of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the U.S. population. Believing that white educated families should reproduce to keep America ‘pure,’ the Gilbreths applied the theory to themselves and raised 12 children — immortalized in the 1948 fictionalized memoir “Cheaper By The Dozen.”
Featured in the Film:
Professor Evelynn M. Hammonds is the Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She joined the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2002 after teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Technology and Medicine. Her scholarly interests include the history of scientific, medical, and sociopolitical concepts of race, the history of disease and public health, gender in science and medicine, and African American history.
Julie Des Jardins
Julie Des Jardins is an author, editor, scholar, and cultural analyst focusing on women and gender in American culture. She has written five books, including American Queenmaker (Basic, 2020), Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man (Oxford, 2015), Lillian Gilbreth: Redefining Domesticity (Westview, 2012), The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science (Feminist Press, 2010), and Women and the Historical Enterprise in America: Gender, Race, and the Politics of Memory (UNC, 2003). Des Jardins has a Ph.D. in American History from Brown University and has taught at Harvard, Macalester, and Baruch College, City University of New York.
Lisa Seacat DeLuca
Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a Director & Distinguished Engineer at IBM. She holds a Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization from the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, and a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University. She is a TED speaker, the author of two children’s books titled “A Robot Story” and “The Internet of Mysterious Things,” and the most prolific female inventor in IBM history. Her innovation portfolio includes over 750 patent applications filed within the United States and abroad, of which 500 have been granted to date. The subject of her patent ideas range from technologies such as cloud computing, mobile, IoT, social, security, AI, and commerce