Episode 59: Lillian Gilbreth

Posted 28 November 2015 by
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Lillian Gilbreth should be remembered for any of her life accomplishments: psychologist, industrial engineer, author, inventor, and pioneer in the field of industrial psychology. From her collection of degrees to her equal partnership marriage to her work with Presidents and to the trailblazing example she set for us modern mothers…she should be remembered for a lot more than simply, “the mother on Cheaper by the Dozen”.

Let’s do something about that.

Lillian Gilbreth, circa 1920s, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, MSP 7, Box 126, Folder 4, Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Lillian Gilbreth, circa 1920s,   Courtesy Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, (MSP 7, Box 126, Folder 4)  Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Lillie Evelyn Moller was born on May 24, 1878 into a wealthy Victorian family in Oakland, California. Papa Willie and Mama Annie had lost their first child and were a bit, let’s just say “nervous and overprotective” of little Lillie. Two anxious parents led to a very anxious child. Lillie was smart and solitary, although very shy. So shy that she was educated at home because she refused to attend school.

Not that her parents didn’t try. They were caring, let her read whatever she wanted, made sure she kept up with her studies and tried to get her to go to school…which was a fail until they finally got her into a class of younger children. Although she was a  tad awkward she stayed at school one day and went back the next, and the next–success!

Oakland High (this building was in use until the year before she graduated with Jack London...how about that?)  Courtesy OHS History

Oakland High (this building was in use until the year before she graduated…with Jack London…how about that?)
Courtesy OHS History-Gertrude Stein went there, too!

Lillie found her tribe in high school, she also found a mentor in one of her teachers who showed her that her future could be more than a copy of her mother’s; that she could pursue a career and marriage and home was only part of the future she could have.

Since Lillie was pretty certain she wasn’t going to be following an MRS track anytime soon, she got her parents to agree to send her to college. (They may have believed that it was a path to motherhood for her, but let them, right? They didn’t have to know that avoiding that very thing was more the goal.) The University of California, Berkeley, was within commuting distance and Lillie set off to learn to become a teacher.

UC Berkeley circa 1900....lovely! Library of Congress

UC Berkeley circa 1900….lovely!
Library of Congress

Lillie ROCKED college. Simple as that. She was making friends and even the men she knew said that they didn’t consider her brains a handicap. Er, what? *sigh* We’re sure they meant well. At her graduation in 1900 she was the first woman to give a commencement address in the school’s history.

Lillie was a woman, transformed. She was so transformed that she dropped the childish, “Lillie” for a more sophisticated, “Lillian”. She was killing it in the land of Academia! More! First her masters and before she started work on her doctorate she took a little vacay. The destination was Europe; the souvenir was love.

Between California and her Grand Tour, in one of those romantic opposites attract situations, she met Frank Gilbreth. Their marriage wasn’t just a traditional love match, it was also a business pairing. He had an established construction business that was built (oh, sure, pun intended) on his ability to streamline production through studies of how workers moved– motion studies. She was able to help with business organization while she continued her education. They lived with Frank’s mother and aunt who were very gifted in the home arts, which was great because Lillian wasn’t.

Frank Gilbreth, Sr.

Frank Gilbreth, Sr.

Lillian and Frank began to have children fairly quickly and between 1905 and 1922 she gave birth to their planned full dozen, although one girl died in early childhood. Lillian also began to steer her education toward combining engineering and psychology and became a pioneer in the field of Organizational Psychology. (This really is the fast-forward version, you should listen to the podcast for all the juicy bits.)

Together Lillian and Frank were an amazing business team: She brought a human element to Frank’s very scientific motion studies. How did workers work? What motivated them? While he was streamlining workers tasks, she was advising on the best psychological ways to make them more productive and together they were looking to find the one best way to do anything. She wrote the books and the papers (all while being home with the children) and he worked directly with heads of industry and conducted motion studies specific to each company.


   Every mom who works from home can relate.  Lillian Gilbreth with eight of her children, undated. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, MSP 7, Box 115, Folder 1, Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

And all those kids? They helped, too. Both parents were very busy with the business, so each child had responsibilities at home and the kids were often testers for efficiency theories. Not only did Frank and Lillian work as a team, the whole family did.

The whole family (11, this was after little Mary passed away)

Team Gilbreth! The whole family (11 kids, this was after little Mary passed away)  circa 1910-1920 Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, MSP 7, Box 114, Folder 6, Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

When the US entered WWI the Gilbreths helped returning and injured veterans relearn their jobs with new physical limitations, and they helped women enter the workforce in the absence of men.

We do go into a lot more detail in the podcast, a lot more about the family, how they functioned; a lot more about Lillian and Frank’s work but their unique relationship ended when, in 1924 right before his 56th birthday when he would have received the biography Lillian wrote about him-  Frank died of a heart attack.

From Beckett's gift book to her husband...

From Beckett’s gift book to her husband. (See? If you listened to the episode this would make sense.)

A single mother of 11 who was an expert in her business field was quite a curiosity and she rode a little wave of publicity to keep things afloat. But afloat wasn’t enough and sexism entered the picture in a big way. She lost some of their long term bigger clients simply because she was a woman; she was denied entry into professional organizations simply because she was a woman.

But because she was a woman she was able to offer a unique perspective about the primary purchasing decision makers: women. From retail to manufacturing to home economics she was able to target her skills, experience and hard-earned knowledge toward anything women touched. She traveled to speak,wrote books, consulted with some of the biggest companies of the time and helped homemakers work more efficiently and treat their work like paid work. But that wasn’t all she did: She was appointed to committees by President Hoover, helped organize women during the depression, launched public service campaigns, helped form the WAVES and the WACS, helped industry bring women employees on board during WWII and she was a college professor teaching others what she knew.

Lillian's market research at work! Women were embarrassed to ask so this request was passed over the counter.

Lillian’s market research at work! Women were embarrassed to ask so this request was simply passed over the counter.

We can thank her for-among other things- the efficient kitchen design we now use, the doors in our refrigerators, the height of our kitchen counters, the organizer on the back of our utility room doors, a number of handicapped accessible features in architecture, and the step trash can. trash-can-24936_1280Lillian  worked until the children all went to college, she worked as they had families of their own and she worked while two of them wrote a book that would propel the family into the American pop culture: Cheaper by the Dozen.

It was BASED on fact, and her role was largely glossed over.

It was BASED on fact, and her role was largely glossed over in favor of shining the spotlight on Dad.

Even with the resulting (moderately inaccurate) fame Lillian didn’t slow down her schedule. She continued to consult, speak and teach well into her 80s. She stopped at 90 only because her health was declining and her doctors insisted on it.

Lillian Gilbreth teaching, 1966   Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, MSP 7, Box 118, Folder 3, Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

The last few years of her life Lillian’s health grew rapidly worse. The once bold and innovative powerhouse of productivity was confined to bed a shadow of her former self and on January 2, 1972, she died of a massive stroke at 94.




Time Travel with The History Chicks


The EngineerGirl website is (a service of the National Academy of Engineering) designed to help spark interest in girls to pursue careers in Engineering. Meet women engineers, discover fields of engineering, learn and get linked up to even more sites to dive deep into a career a lot like Lillian’s.

Lillian is in the MUM…always a great day when we can send you to the Museum of Menstruation. 

The Gilbreth Network bills itself as “The most efficient destination for all your Gilbreth research.” (See what they did there?) Go there to read about the family and see more photos. It doesn’t appear to have been updated recently, but there is a lot of really cool stuff in there.

Purdue University, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth e-archives. RABBIT HOLE WARNING!

The lovely people at Purdue would like you to know that Lillian Gilbreth and Amelia Earhart, “… were both hired by the University president in order to inspire women students to go beyond the roles traditional ascribed to them. The Gilbreth papers contain photographs, manuscripts, research notes, correspondence, and clippings, and anyone is welcome to visit the Archives to do research with these materials. “

Cheaper by the Dozen house IS the Meet Me In St. Louis house! This blog post (at derekmdesign.blogspot) gives you a side-by-side comparison of both movie sets.


Books! Movies!

Of course you want to read the two books written by  Gilbreth “kids” and see the movies they inspired, but by now you think of Lillian as more than the mom in Cheaper by the Dozen and know that they don’t give a very accurate portrayal of her ( you do, right?).

frank g and ernestine carey

The two books by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Biography by Julie Des Jardins

Biography by Julie Des Jardins

Autobiography (Interestingly written in third person)

Autobiography (Interestingly written in third person)


You want to watch some of Frank and Lillian’s motion study films? This one shows how Frank got started in the construction business:


And here is the beginning of a series that will show you more. (Click through to YouTube to find the rest.)

TOYS! Classic Legos, of course, but how about a newish line of construction toys that, “…aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers?”  We both thought these were a pretty exciting addition to the toy aisle and admired the mission of the company (plusthey have really fun commercials).GoldieBlox logo


This episode is brought to you by The Message, an original science fiction podcast by Panoply and GE Podcast Theater.

Episode 58: Mary, Queen of Scots

Posted 13 November 2015 by
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Mary, Queen of Scots had a good start: she was wearing the crown early and upgraded it at a young age under the watchful eye of many an interested party but once she started making decisions for herself? Ah, that’s when her life took dramatic twists and turns that ultimately took the crown off her head. Actually, those decisions got her whole head taken off, but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Mary Stuart about age 16  wedding the Francis and before her life turned quite contrary. "MaryStuartbyClouet" by François Clouet - Royal CollectionNative nameRoyal Collection of the United KingdomLocationUnited KingdomEstablishedafter 1491Websitewww.royalcollection.org.uk. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MaryStuartbyClouet.jpg#/media/File:MaryStuartbyClouet.jpg

Mary Stuart about age 16 before her life turned quite contrary.
(François Clouet – Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons)

Once upon a time in a rugged Renaissance land lived a king and a queen… (more…)

Episode 57: Q & A and Random Bits Show

Posted 5 October 2015 by
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Heeeeere’s your seven word summary: We asked, you responded and we answer.

For the first time in the five years that we have been doing this show we sat down with a couple of glasses of wine to deviate from our normal format and answer some of your questions. We had asked for them and you delivered! From questions about specific episodes to hypothetical situations and research methods to some semi-personal questions…we answered them all. We even revealed some of the names on our extraordinarily long list of future subjects and did a really bad job of keeping our next subject secret. (In vino veritas and all)

We thought that this cocktail party chatter was a perfect way to give our new audio recording system the proper welcome that it deserves. Isn’t it pretty?




Ahhhhh! (Cool lamp in both of these shots)


Episode 56: Dorothy Parker, Part Two

Posted 30 August 2015 by
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dorothyparker framed


When we left Dorothy Parker in Part One she was hanging on tenuously at best. Her marriage to Eddie Parker was over, her relationship with George MacArthur was over and the fall-out somewhat stabilized and her suicide attempt was unsuccessful. Professionally she was cobbling together a career as a freelance writer but powered by a steady diet of alcohol she was dancing on the edge.

It was the wild 20s, afterall. (No, this isn't Dorothy)

It was the wild 20s, afterall. (No, this isn’t Dorothy, but you knew that)

Her first book of verses, Enough Rope (cheery title, right?) was fairly successful and she began to work on a novel…well, she traveled to Europe with Ernest Hemingway, socialized with the F. Scott Fitzgeralds (among others), and partied quite a bit under the guise of writing a novel.  After all, when you are teetering in a downward spiral, a grand tour with literary greats and heavy partiers is just what you need to help you focus on work.

enough rope framed

When she returned to New York she didn’t have a novel but had managed to put together another collection of verses. Her body of writing is very large, including an O’Henry award for her short story, Big Blond, short story collections, screenplays and other books of verses (don’t call them ‘poetry’) but Dorothy would never publish a novel:”I’m a short distance writer.”

Ernest Hemingway, who wouldn't want to travel with him! "See the bullfights in Spain" he said...

Ernest Hemingway, who wouldn’t want to travel with him? “Come! See the bullfights in Spain,” he said…

Dorothy’s life wasn’t all angst at a keyboard and clinking cocktail glasses, it was also dotted with strong political convictions and acts of social justice. Her first high profile, public demonstration of support occurred when several of the Algonquins were moved by the case of Sacco and Vanzetti (we give you a tutorial in the podcast) who, in 1927, were convicted and executed for murder. Dorothy thought that they were innocent, spoke loudly for their cause, marched in protest and was arrested.

As always, the juicy bits are in the podcast.

During the Depression, the lure of big salaries was drawing the New York Literati to Hollywood. When Dorothy was about 40 she answered the call, married writer Alan Campbell and headed off to California as the (better paid) half of a husband and wife script writing team. The pairing lead Dorothy to a (brief) folly into domesticity with a second home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and several years of unsuccessful attempts to have a child.

w alan campbell

Dorothy and Alan hard at work (or pretending to, this is Hollywood)

Hollywood wasn’t Dorothy’s favorite place and the work not her favorite writing genre, but she did find her people as she became more politically active in Left Wing causes. But involvement in these organizations would later catch the eye of the FBI during the McCarthy era and lead to her being blacklisted from Hollywood.

Dorothy and Alan, Courtesy Life Magazine

Dorothy and Alan, Courtesy Life Magazine

When the US entered World War II, Dorothy waved farewell to her second husband entering military service. When the war ended, Alan didn’t rush back to the turbulent marriage he had left and the pair divorced in 1947.

Then remarried in 1950.

Then separated in 1952. They would reconcile (more like “work out an arrangement”) in 1956 and remain married until Campbell’s unintentional suicide in 1963. (Yes, we talk about the details of that, too.)

After Alan’s death Dorothy returned to hotel life in New York, but her 70 years of hard living did her no physical favors. She was frail, ill and under the care of a full-time nurse. The four years after Alan’s death were painful, lonely and nothing like the fast pace of the rest of her life.

On June 7th, 1967 Dorothy Parker, author, poet, playwright, civil rights activist and critic died of a heart attack at the age of 73.

But that wasn’t the end of her tale, oh no! She left her entire estate (which wasn’t huge but did included the rights to her work) to Martin Luther King, Jr because she admired what he was doing to further civil rights. Upon his death a couple of years later, as she had stipulated in her will, the money was turned over to the NAACP much to the dismay of Dorothy’s friend Lillian Hellman. Either to in anger or forgetfulness, Lillian (the executor of of the will) let Dorothy’s ashes sit in a file cabinet at her lawyer’s office for 17 years. Eventually they were discovered and turned over to the NAACP who interred them in a memorial garden where her epitaph includes a classic Parkerism: “Excuse my dust.”

dorothy about age 50





Covering our bases with both whiskey AND a dirty martini.

Covering our bases with both whiskey AND a dirty martini.

Right now (go ahead and click, it will open in a new window) get yourself over to The Dorothy Parker Society. This is the mother-lode of all things Mrs. Parker. Photos, audio of her reading, tours, stories, gear and ways to meet other fans…just go check it out for yourself- it’s an exhaustive and wonderful collection.

YouTube has several audio bits of Dorothy (or others including Tallulah Bankhead and Anne Hathaway) reading her poetry, sorry–verses– including this one of Resume. (And you might like the hour long, Ten Year Lunch documentary about the Algonquin Round Table.)

What?! You haven’t been to the New York Public Library’s What’s on the Menu? Go. We’ll make  it easy. BIG OL’ RABBIT HOLE OF MENUS

While you are clicking around online, if you are wanting to be crushed (or delighted) by verification of quotes credited to people who may not have said them, fall into the rabbit hole that is The Quote Investigator.

Obviously you are going to want to start reading some of the works of Dorothy Parker. Because we KNOW you like audio content, Libivox has two verse and one short story collection to get you started. Amazon has a collection of her works HERE but we recommend that you start with The Portable Dorothy Parker. Classic.51QrL0O4M1L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_


Dorothy Parker never wrote her autobiography but we liked these biographies:

You Might as Well Live by John Keats

You Might as Well Live by John Keats

What Fresh Hell is This, and Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin both by Marion Meade (The latter a look at several Jazz Age writers written very much like a novel intermingling their stories.)

What Fresh Hell is This, and Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin both by Marion Meade (The latter a look at several Jazz Age writers written very much like a novel intermingling their stories.)

And the two fiction books Susan recommended (the second of which she has since read and enjoyed as well as the first):

Farewell, Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister

Farewell, Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister

You’ll need this when you throw your own Algonquin Round Table party.

Under the Table by Kevin Fitzpatrick

Under the Table by Kevin Fitzpatrick

Movies…ah, well…not a whole lot to talk about here other than the 1994 Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle with Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy. We gave this one mixed reviews and neither thought it was outstanding, but if you can find the damn thing, you might give it a whirl. It does have a good cast.MPATVCIf you would like to know more about the Sacco and Vanzetti case, here is a quite thorough yet readable coverage of it all. The Atlantic

Episode 55: Dorothy Parker, Part One

Posted 8 August 2015 by
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She gave us fabulous quotes like, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” and “Brevity is the soul of lingerie,” but Dorothy Parker’s life wasn’t all wit and snark. Behind those flip one liners there was a very complex woman who lead a full life far beyond the banter of the Algonquin Round Table.

Dorothy ParkerHow complex was she and how full was her life? It’s going to take two episodes, that’s how much. (It’s okay, we were a little surprised, too.)

It was a dark and stormy night (what? It was!) when Dorothy Rothschild was born in West End, New Jersey at her family’s summer house on August 22, 1893. Her father Henry had fallen in love and married the girl next door, Eliza, and the pair had three children before Dorothy came along. They lived fairly affluently in New York; life as a Rothschild (not those Rothschilds) was very comfortable. (more…)

Episode 54: Marie Antoinette Reboot, Part Two

Posted 8 July 2015 by
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In Part One we talked about Marie Antoinette’s childhood, the speedy preparations for marriage and her early years in France. In this episode, the conclusion of our revisit, we get to the rest of her story as she travels from well-liked to queen to the (dramatic pause) guillotine.

Near the end circa 1791Alexander_Kucharski,_La_Reine_Marie-Antoinette_(années_1790)


Husband, Louis XVI, while fumbly in the Create an Heir department and lacking a lot of things in common with her, was kind to Marie. During her, let’s call them “party years” he indulged her and gave her a little playhouse all her own so that she could escape the demands, traditions and all the backstabby, gossipy people of Versailles: Le Petite Trianon. It was a place Marie could let her hair down, grant admission to only those who she invited and frolic and dress like a fair country maiden (Disney World style– no need to actually take care of the animals, that’s what the servants are for).

Louis XVI. He gave her this...

Louis XVI. He gave her this…

Le Petite Trianon...Marie's playhouse

Le Petite Trianon, Marie’s playhouse…


…where she hung out with her friends including him. Axel Von Fersen (Dreamy, right?)


Episode 53: Marie Antoinette Reboot, Part One

Posted 11 June 2015 by
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**Giveaway details at bottom of post!**

Once upon a time there were two podcasters who began their women’s history show with an episode about Marie Antoinette. Four and a half years later they revisited her life simply because they felt there was more to say about this woman who has been long misquoted and misunderstood. They were able to add a great deal of content and context and have a much longer conversation -two parts!- about the life of the last Queen of France.

(The first episode was never heard again and we all lived happily ever after.)

Marie in her softened years, by Louise Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun

Marie in her softened years, by Louise Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun


Episode 52: Lydia Pinkham

Posted 10 April 2015 by
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Women who need to be remembered often have Lemon to Lemonade lives and Lydia Pinkham is no exception. The going got tough and she turned some herbs (and a wee bit of alcohol)  into not only an empire but a leaping advance in women’s health and education.

Lydia Pinkham NWHM


Lydia Estes was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1819 into a family led by gentleman farmer, William, his wife, Rebecca and many brothers and sisters. Papa was a wise real estate speculator and they were fairly well-off. But this wasn’t some quiet, subdued Quaker family, oh no! They split with the local Quaker Meeting over the subject of slavery, the Estes family siding with good friend, former slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass. They opened their home for many abolitionist gatherings where the children and women were not only seen but heard.

Lydia grew to be a politically active and educated teacher who attracted the eye of widow Isaac Pinkham. On paper Isaac looked an awful lot like her father as far as business sense goes, but it was all paper. 30 years, four children, several upward then downward home moves when the Panic of 1873 hit family finances hard.  Isaac was emotionally down for the count and the family was fiscally ruined. (more…)

A quick status update!

Posted 20 February 2015 by
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Hello everyone!
I’m sure you’ve been wondering where we’ve been…
The library, yes, and assorted bookstores, but not, unfortunately, at the big table that seats 14 at The House of Wood, recording anything.

For you see, Susan has lost her voice. She has a paralyzed vocal cord, in fact, so she DOES have a voice, but the nature of it would scare small children. (Sorry, Susan, you know it’s true. )

This hasn’t been a short term thing, she’s been suffering from this since before Christmas, and it looks to be late March before we can hope to hear the dulcet tones of her voice again.

She has become adept at both sign language and interpretive dance, neither of which translate well to an audio podcast!

SO we have a couple of friends who have volunteered to step in, and there might be a month or so of format changes, since I can hardly expect my new crew to nerd out as hard as Susan and I do, so watch this space, and I’ll have some moviecasts to you soon.

Thanks for the outpouring of support on the Facebook page, and on Twitter – for those of you who don’t know, Susan is the voice of our Twitter feed, so if you’d like to pass on some Get Wells, head over to At the historychix, with an x, and begin the banter. Her typing fingers are as fast as ever.

Thanks for your patience, and all of the messages that have headed our way, and we’ll be back with you, just as soon as we can.

Minicast: Mrs. Claus

Posted 23 December 2014 by
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Once upon a time there was a busy, yet highly compassionate and generous bachelor. He became known the world over, but lacked something in his life: a wife. Mrs. Claus often takes a back seat to her more famous husband, Santa, but it’s time her history was told.

Mrs Claus- subject of literature, film and art...but who was she? (Photo Courtesy Enesco)

Mrs Claus: subject of literature, film and art…but who was she? (Figurine Photo Courtesy Enesco)