The mother of modern management and the cost benefit of having many children

Lillian Gilbreth is known as the mother of modern management and the first lady of engineering, but most people are more familiar with her simply because she was a mother…of twelve children.  In fact, two of her children wrote a memoir of their childhood called “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

I am sorry to say I haven’t read the story, but I have read a bit about Gilbreth herself.  A few of us have been discussing how we never intended to get into engineer, sort of fell into it. I imagine that’s what happened with Gilbreth.  Her father never felt that women needed to have college degrees because they were only going to raise families, but he allowed her to attend UC Berkeley where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature.  When she graduated with her BA in 1900, she was the first woman to speak at a University of California commencement.

Gilbreth became interested in scientific management (what now falls under the purview of industrial engineering) after meeting her husband, Frank, who never attended college.  Together, they moved to Rhode Island where Gilbreth earned a doctorate in psychology from Brown.  When they started their consulting firm together, they focused on increasing the efficiency of motion to enhance the psychological aspects of work.  They wanted to reduce the effort required for the outcome, and to create a positive work environment.  In fact, she was one of the first people to recognize the effects of fatigue and drowsiness on worker efficiency.

Frank died in 1924, leaving Lillian to care for her family herself.  She continued to raise her children as well as maintaining a successful career.  She was the first woman member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the first female engineering professor at Purdue, where she became a management professor in 1935.  She received, in total, 22 honorary degrees.

And with all that, she managed to put 11 children through college.  Somehow I doubt she got a bulk discount on tuition.

One response to “The mother of modern management and the cost benefit of having many children”

  1. Miss Outlier

    Wow, that is an inspiration! Perhaps not to have 12 kids, exactly, but certainly to excel no matter what the circumstances.