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Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth was an American psychologist. Additionally she was one of the first working female engineers. She is also considered the first industrial/organizational psychologist. As an efficiency expert, she contributed to the study of industrial engineering in the areas of motion study and human factors. She was a university professor and author. Amazingly she also had twelve children.
Lillian definitely was a pioneer in her field. She contributed a great deal to the acceptance and advancement of women in the workplace. However, unless you are studying industrial/organizational psychology, you would probably never hear about this remarkable woman. Except that two of her children, Ernestine and Frank Jr., wrote a couple of books. They focused on their family life with twelve children. They included how their mother Lillian applied her organizational expertise to their home and daily activities. The books are Cheaper by the Dozen and Bells on Their Toes.
Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth came from a large family herself. She was the second of eleven children. She did well in school and was the first female commencement speaker at the University of California. Lillian married Frank Gilbreth Sr. in 1904. She continued her education and became the first of the industrial management pioneers to receive a doctorate.
She partnered with her husband for time and motion as well as fatigue studies. Additionally they preformed studies at home. Their home experiments included finding faster and more efficient ways to wash dishes, brush teeth, etc. The findings of their workplace studies were forerunners to ergonomics. The results of which were improved lighting and regular breaks in the workplace. They had other innovations like the suggestion box. The couple collaborated in all aspects of life until Frank’s death in 1924.
Lillian applied the principles of scientific management to household tasks. Her goal was to give women easier ways of doing housework. This could allow them to be employed outside the home. She is credited with inventing the foot pedal trash can, shelves on the inside of refrigerator doors, and wall light switches. All of those are now standard and it’s difficult to imagine life before those were invented!
Lillian went on to become the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She was also the first woman engineering professor at Purdue. Later, in 1940, she was granted full professorship. Additionally she served as an adviser to multiple U.S. presidents on, among other things, women’s issues. She received more than 20 honorary degrees and numerous prestigious awards throughout her lifetime.
Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth has been called “the mother of modern management.” We use her inventions and ideas daily without even thinking about them or her. However this “genius in the art of living” has made women’s lives easier both in the home and the workplace.