You might remember Lillian Gilbreth as the mother of twelve children in the book “Cheaper by the Dozen” (if you’ve never read the book, and its sequel, “Belles on Their Toes” I would highly recommend you do so). Just be aware that the book was written a bit “tongue-in-cheek” by two of her children, Frank, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth. In the book, Lillian was seen more as a doting mother of twelve children and an equally doting and acquiescing wife to Frank Gilbreth, her eccentric, ambitious and gregarious husband.
In reality, Lillian Moller Gilbreth was a pioneer in the field of industrial psychology and management, a field in which she struggled for years to gain recognition and acceptance. Readers of her children’s memoirs might not pick up on that fact about her, except perhaps near the end of the first book when she was forced to be the sole breadwinner for her family when her husband Frank died suddenly.
Author Julie Des Jardins chronicles Lillian’s life (she was by birth named “Lillie”, but changed it later) from the Victorian era she was born into through her amazing life as a student, wife, mother, breadwinner, industrial psychologist, inventor and more. Lillian and Frank were pioneers in the field of motion study, which played a significant role in American industry during the transition to a more mechanized and urban society.
During her married life, Frank Gilbreth would be away for long periods of time (although he managed to father twelve children!), so the story of how she “kept it all together” is even more amazing and inspiring. Immediately after the birth of a child, she would spend the time recuperating and editing manuscripts – she wasn’t known as a person who ever wasted a minute’s time. For years doctors had theorized and cautioned that women who worked outside the home or were somehow intellectually engaged, might harm their reproductive health. Lillian Gilbreth solidly disproved that notion – she cared for and nurtured her children, all of whom grew up to be successful adults, and all while pursuing her career.
Des Jardins has researched her subject thoroughly and meticulously and presents a work that I found compelling to read, especially after reading Cheaper by the Dozen. I found myself thinking that Lillian Gilbreth was a person I would have liked to have met – what a dynamo! If you’re interested in stories of amazing women whose accomplishments for years went unheralded and unnoticed, then you’d enjoy reading this book.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.