Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878 - 1972)

by Jenn Bumb

Lillian Moller Gilbreth was born on May 24, 1878 in Oakland, California. Much of her early life is not documented. It would appear that her life began, at least in terms of recorded history, with her marriage to Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. in 1904. Together this team developed strategies to help the "working man" and increase productivity for manufacturers in a technique that has been known as Time & Motion Studies. They proceeded to launch an industrial consulting firm in Providence, Rhode Island, which later moved to Montclair, New Jersey. In the midst of all of this invention they also managed to raise twelve children with the same skills they had invented. This can be seen by these books, and subsequent movies, Cheaper By The Dozen (1949) and Belles on Their Toes (1950). Both written by their children, Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

After Frank's untimely death on June 14, 1924 at the age of fifty-six, Lillian continued on with their vision for worker efficiency. She served as consultant to numerous firms in America and abroad, and collaborated on several books and many articles. She wrote four books on her own; she taught Industrial Engineering courses at various colleges including Purdue, Bryn Mawr, Rutgers and Newark College of Engineering; and she served on various governmental committees. She was a pioneer in making the environment easier for the physically handicapped. She also sought to apply business methods to home economics and the management of the home. Lillian Moller Gilbreth died on January 2, 1972 at the age of ninety-four. This ended a sixty-year endeavor she started with her husband and continued on her own fifty years after his death.

The Gilbreth's Invention: Work Simplification

Work simplification is based on respect for the dignity of people and of work. It is defined as "the organized application of common sense" (Graham, 1998). This idea was first pioneered by Frank Gilbreth on July 12, 1885 at the age of seventeen. He began work as a bricklayer but as he continued his work he began to document each workers individual way of bricklaying. Then he chose the "easiest" and less time-consuming way to accomplish the task at hand. These observations led to developing his patented bricklaying scaffold and enabled bricklayers to lay brick faster with less effort and fatigue. His 'new way' drastically reduced time and effort. Where the previous record for a certain job was 120 bricks per hour, his methods allowed 350 bricks per hour to be laid, an increase in productivity by over 190%. This early success launched his lifelong search for the one best way for doing any of the tasks of life; a search he shared with his wife, their twelve children, with employees in his company, and eventually with leaders of industry, academia, professional groups, government and mankind.

The Gilbreth's carried out numerous studies of industrial efficiency between 1910 and 1940. They mainly studied factors which affected worker productivity and how to improve them. They started with the human factor and found that the best way to increase productivity in factories was to create an employer-employee board, which made work assignments based on aptitude. From these studies they developed a number of tools including; the flow process charts, therblig analysis, micro-motion study using motion pictures, the chronocyclegraphy using special lighting techniques with cameras, factory layout modeling, measurement with predetermined times and more.


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