Lillian Gilbreth: Redefining Domesticity (Lives of American Women)

Lillian Gilbreth: Redefining Domesticity (Lives of American Women)

Julie Des Jardins

Language: English

Pages: 192

ISBN: 0813347637

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Lillian Gilbreth is a stunning example of female ingenuity in the early twentieth century. At a time when women were standard fixtures in the home and barely accepted in many professions, Gilbreth excelled in both spheres, concurrently winning honors as “Engineer of the Year” and “Mother of the Year.” This accessible, engaging introduction to the life of Lillian Gilbreth examines her pivotal role in establishing the discipline of industrial psychology, her work as an engineer of domestic management and home economics, and her role as mother of twelve children—made famous by the book, and later movie, Cheaper by the Dozen. This book examines the life of an exceptional woman who was able to negotiate the divide between the public and domestic spheres and define it on her terms.

About the Lives of American Women series:
Selected and edited by renowned women’s historian Carol Berkin, these brief biographies are designed for use in undergraduate courses. Rather than a comprehensive approach, each biography focuses instead on a particular aspect of a women’s life that is emblematic of her time, or which made her a pivotal figure in the era. The emphasis is on a “good read,” featuring accessible writing and compelling narratives, without sacrificing sound scholarship and academic integrity. Primary sources at the end of each biography reveal the subject’s perspective in her own words. Study questions and an annotated bibliography support the student reader.

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enough to shorten the average workweek of industrial employees from 54.4 to 48.8 hours, but their gains in hourly wages were won for largely skilled workers, who most often were native white men. Women, immigrants, and unskilled workers continued to be as badly exploited as ever. Unionists believed that many capitalist forces contributed to the widening gap in wealth between industrial owners and workers, not the least of which was Taylorism. As the clock increasingly ruled the lives of workers,

to the braiding machines needed to make fishing lines, corsets, curtains, and military outfits. The varied nature of their product lines made it essential that each motion study process be specially tailored and custom designed. By the end of the contract, the Gilbreths could boast a reduction of movement by 75 percent in some of the processes and a definitive improvement in all of them. Along with micromotion study, they introduced one of their most innovative management devices: the “process”

Company an artful science, but a science nonetheless, and their successes made Frank adamant as ever that Lillian get back to work on her PhD. At this stage, she was far less receptive to the idea than before. Since they had come to Providence, the Butt Company contract and the daily activities of the children kept her busy enough, she assured him. Particularly in light of the arrival of their newest addition, little William, she felt the time had come for a hiatus from her busy schedule. This

was a path with no blueprints, and thus it is difficult to classify the kinds of science, professionalism, and feminism she espoused, and to discern whether she was a scientist, a professional, or a feminist at all. Rather than label her, it may be more productive to try to understand how she negotiated labels or defied them altogether. She proved that unspoken concepts like “woman engineer,” “working mother,” “professional wife,” or “domestic expert” weren’t cultural oxymorons, even when most

dance school to improve her general deportment. Meanwhile, she learned to sew and take care of her siblings, all in preparation for the inevitable day, Annie hoped, when Lillie would have a full house of her own. Indeed Lillie took great comfort in home life and showed proclivities for the domestic arts. She found little need for companionship at school, as her cousins, the Browns, came over regularly and her siblings took up so much of her time. Taking charge of the Moller family rituals was

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