“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’s Story 

Lillian Moller Gilbreth, was born in Oakland, California on May 24, 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/glossary_term]. 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. She married engineer Frank Gilbreth in 1904 and they worked together as consultants in [glossary_term]scientific management.

In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, they were pioneers of  ‘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, known as industrial psychology. In 1915, Lillian Gilbreth earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Brown University, and finally started being credited as co-author, with her husband, of their research reports.

The Gilbreths were proponents of eugenics, an ideology supporting the racial dominance of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants over non-white groups. 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.

After Frank died, Lillian Gilbreth reinvented her career as a solo consultant, focusing on consumer clients such as Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, Sears, and General Electric, among others. Gilbreth also focused on making domestic work more efficient, transformed the design of kitchens, and invented numerous appliances such as the foot pedal trash can. She published several books about domestic life including: The Home-maker and Her Job (1927) and Living With Our Children (1928).

In 1935, Gilbreth became the first female engineering professor at Purdue University, where she taught industrial psychology, industrial engineering, and home economics. In 1965, she was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the following year was the first woman to receive the Hoover Medal for distinguished public service by an engineer. Gilbreth also worked as a government advisor for U.S. Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman, and was active in volunteer organizations such as the Girl Scouts. Lillian Gilbreth died on January 2, 1972 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Featured in the Film

Evelynn M. Hammonds 

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, and scholar,  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, as well as City University of New York.

Lisa Seacat DeLuca

Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a Director and 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 holds the distinction of being 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. Her patent ideas range from  cloud computing, mobile, IoT, social, security, AI, and commerce.

Engage More

View Lesson Plan

Next Profile

Lois Weber

Her Life & Times

Related Stories

Trailblazing Astronomer and Discoverer of Stars

1857-1911

First Woman to Lead Arctic Expeditions

1887-1972

Accomplished Latina Botanist

1870-1938

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Online Sources

Want To Cite Us?

To cite UNLADYLIKE2020 using MLA, use the following template: "Name of woman." UNLADYLIKE2020, Unladylike Productions, LLC, 2020. Page referenced URL. Date accessed.