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 was born in Oakland, California, on May 24, 1878, to William and Ann Moller. Her father was a retail storeowner and her mother was a homemaker. Lillian was the oldest of nine children. The large family enjoyed a privileged lifestyle.

Lillian was a very shy, timid, and introverted child. Because of this, she was schooled at home by her parents and private tutors until she entered public school at the age of nine. At home, besides studying usual academic subjects, she also learned French and German and took piano lessons.

Throughout Lillian's youth, her mother was often ill and, as a result, Lillian regularly carried the responsibility for caring for her three younger brothers and five younger sisters.

In elementary and high school, Lillian did very well academically but had problems making friends (Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, 2000). She was interested mainly in music and poetry, and spent a lot of her time writing her own songs and verses.

Despite her excellent grades in high school, Lillian's parents did not expect her to go on to college. They thought it would be more appropriate for a girl of her social standing to marry a rich man and assume responsibility for managing the household. Lillian went against their wishes, however, and decided to pursue a career because she "regarded herself as quite plain . . . [and] assumed that no one would marry her" (Kelly & Kelly, 1990, p. 118). She thought that a teaching career would be more practical for her.

Lillian's parents agreed to let her attend the University of California at Berkeley, since one of her cousins was a student there, on the condition that Lillian continue to live at home, take care of her younger sisters, and commute to school. At Berkeley, Lillian majored in English literature and also studied foreign languages and philosophy. In addition, she took some classes in psychology in order to prepare for her teaching career. When she graduated from Berkeley with honors in 1900, Lillian was asked to give the commencement speech at the graduation ceremony. She was the first woman in Berkeley's history to receive that honor.

Lillian began her graduate education at Columbia University in New York. She planned to study English literature with the famous critic Brander Matthews, but he refused to admit women to his lectures. She did, however, have the chance to study psychology with A. H. Thorndike.

Lillian became ill during her first year at Columbia and was forced to return home to Oakland to recuperate. Once there, she enrolled again at Berkeley and received her master's degree in English literature in 1902.

Lillian then entered the doctoral program at Berkeley in English with a minor in psychology.

The next summer, Lillian decided to go on a tour of Europe with a group of young women chaperoned by a high school teacher named Minnie Bunker (Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, 2000). On the way to Europe, the group stopped in Boston, where Bunker introduced them to her cousin, Frank Gilbreth. Gilbreth, a young, handsome, wealthy owner of a construction company, offered to take the women sightseeing in his new car (Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, 2000). Lillian (then age twenty-five) and Frank (age thirty-five) were immediately smitten with one another (Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, 2000), and he was waiting for her with flowers when she returned from her trip. Once Lillian returned home to Oakland, Frank visited her and met her family. The two soon became engaged and later married on October 19, 1904.

The couple moved to Boston and Lillian continued her studies, but, at Frank's suggestion, she changed her major from English to psychology. Frank thought that a psychology degree would enable her to help him manage his construction business.

Lillian and Frank were true partners from the start. They both became passionate about finding the "one best way" to perform any task in order to increase efficiency and productivity in industry, a quest on which Frank had embarked earlier. Both Gilbreths used this passion in order to apply their methods of scientific management to Frank's company.

They not only applied their methods to their business, but also employed them in their own household. Over a span of seventeen years, the Gilbreths would eventually have twelve children, two of which coauthored Cheaper By the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes, books containing (sometimes humorous) accounts of family life in the Gilbreth household. Both were later made into movies.

Frank was almost a fanatic about efficiency, and developed (sometimes extremely unorthodox) methods of making his household run as smoothly as possible. His applications of scientific management techniques to his own family made the Gilbreth home seem almost like a mini-industry in itself. One amusing account of daily life in the Gilbreth house makes this clear: "[Frank] took moving pictures of his sons and daughters at work to analyze their motions and thus find ways to help them perform a task (washing dishes, for example) more quickly and efficiently. He set up process and work charts in the bathroom so that even the youngest children could record each morning when they had brushed their teeth, taken a bath, combed their hair, and made their beds. In the evening, each child noted his weight and plotted it on a graph before filling out the process charts to indicate whether he had brushed his teeth, washed his face, and done his homework. A family council met once a week to create a budget (a separate purchasing committee handled shopping duties) and assign regular chores; to earn extra money, the children submitted sealed bids for special jobs such as painting a fence or removing a tree stump. (The lowest bidder won the contract.) A utility committee monitored water and electricity usage and fined those who left a light on or a faucet running. A designated gift-buyer kept track of birthdays and other special occasions and bought presents" (Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, 2000).

Frank and Lillian wrote several books together about their management style, including Concrete System (1908), Bricklaying System (1909), Motion Study (1911), and A Primer of Scientific Management (1912). None of these books, however, named Lillian Gilbreth as coauthor, because the publishers felt that the book's credibility would be threatened if people knew that a woman had had a part in writing them.

Eventually Lillian convinced Frank to sell his construction company so that they could spend their time developing their methods of scientific management. They moved their family and settled in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1915, Lillian received her Ph.D. from Brown University (Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, 2000). Her dissertation, entitled Psychology of Management had already been published in 1914. In it, Gilbreth "provided a logical, systematic explanation and defense of the new practices and principles of management. She stressed the importance of human relations and the need to recognize the individual differences among workers and their needs--psychological as well as physiological The notions of justice and happiness were [also] included in her unique analysis and interpretation of scientific management" (Kelly & Kelly, 1990, p. 120). What made Gilbreth's ideas so "unique" was that she was really the first person to integrate psychology into concepts of industrial management. Indeed, she is considered a pioneer in what is now called industrial-organizational psychology. The publisher, nonetheless, was still reluctant to have a woman named as author, so Lillian was identified ambiguously as L. M. Gilbreth. Even so, Lillian Gilbreth began to develop a reputation as a key player in the field of industrial management in her own right, independent of her husband.

Lillian and her husband shared the goal of applying what they knew of scientific management to many areas outside of industry. For example, the two employed their knowledge to aid in developing more efficient surgical techniques and methods of rehabilitation people with physical handicaps.

The Gilbreths also started workshops out of their home in which they trained managers to use their techniques. In addition, they worked as consultants, traveling to businesses in order to observe and improve the businesses' operations.

Frank Gilbreth died suddenly of a heart attack in 1924, when he was 56 years old (Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, 2000). This left Lillian to bear the sole responsibility for providing for her twelve children.

She tried to continue the consulting business that she and Frank had started, but she soon found that many companies were unwilling to do business with a woman. They either cancelled or refused to renew their contracts with Lillian.

Lillian decided to start having workshops at her house again to train managers. In this way, she could be at home for her children and have a career at the same time. This, too, proved difficult due to people's reluctance to believe in a woman's credibility as an engineer. Eventually, though, the workshops became successful and Lillian's reputation grew and led to Lillian being invited to act as a consultant for many prominent businesses.

As a consultant for Macy's department store in New York City, Lillian actually worked as a salesperson in order to get a subjective sense of the working conditions. She was so successful at improving productivity there that the company asked her to train one of their executives to implement her management techniques.

Following her experience at Macy's, Gilbreth received so many requests from other companies to train managers that she began teaching regular courses at colleges and universities. She instructed students at Bryn Mawr, Rutgers, and Purdue University. In 1935, Gilbreth became a full professor at Purdue, and she continued to teach there until 1948, when she retired at age seventy. Although she retired from her professorship, she did not stop working to apply her management techniques to a wide range of human needs.

During the Great Depression, Lillian was asked by President Hoover to join the Emergency Committee for Unemployment. She did so and created her own nationwide program called "Share the Work", which she designed in order to create new jobs. This was a successful program.

During World War II, Gilbreth worked as a consultant to the government, helping both on military bases and in war plants, especially in overseeing their conversion from other factories.

Gilbreth continued the work that she had started years earlier concerning the application of efficiency techniques to the lives of American homemakers. She wanted to create ways to save them time in energy. She was very successful, and even created some important inventions such as the foot-pedal trash can and shelves inside refrigerator doors. She had written two books on this subject: The Homemaker and Her Job (1927) and Living with Our Children (1928). These books show Lillian's acknowledgement that individual needs, fulfillment, and happiness be taken into account and integrated with management principles. In them, she "stressed her belief that homes should be happy places in which individuals can achieve fulfillment and a degree of freedom" and stated that "wives and mothers are entitled to share in this freedom and fulfillment, but this happy situation can be attained only if the responsibilities of the home are shared and efficiently handled. In other words, every housewife and mother needs to be an effective, efficient manager" (Kelly & Kelly, 1990, p. 122-123). Gilbreth's desire to apply efficiency techniques to homemakers' duties did not come solely from an interest in efficiency, but also from a desire that they gain some freedom and fulfillment.

Lillian remained active in the field of psychology and management until she was ninety years old. She died in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 2, 1972, when she was ninety-three (Notable Women Scientists, 2000).

Throughout her career, Lillian Gilbreth received many awards, including twenty honorary degrees. She became the first female member of the Society of Industrial Engineers in 1921. She was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers starting in 1924, and she was chair of their Management Division's meeting on the psychology of management. She was a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She received the first Gilbreth Medal for distinguished contributions to management from the Society of Industrial Engineers. In 1944, she and Frank Gilbreth (posthumously) were awarded the Gantt Gold Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Management Association. In 1966 she was the first woman to receive the Hoover Medal for distinguished public service by an engineer.

In 1952, J. W. McKenney declared Lillian Gilbreth "The World's Greatest Woman Engineer" because of "her impact on management, her innovations in industrial design, her methodological contributions to time and motion studies, her humanization of management principles, and her role in integrating the principles of science and management" (Kelly & Kelly, 1990, p. 123).


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