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Lillian Moller Gilbreth papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00374

Scope and Contents

The Lillian Moller Gilbreth Papers consist of 6.5 linear feet of material dating from the late 1860s through 1999. The collection contains both personal and professional papers. Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, her third daughter, has been instrumental in both the documentation and publicity of her mother's career. Carey is the author of two books that describe her unusual upbringing, Cheaper by the Dozen (1948), which she co-authored with her brother Frank Gilbreth, Jr., and Belles on Their Toes (1950). Carey gathered most of the material in this collection in preparation for a biography of her mother. Many of the documents contain notes that reflect Carey's process as a writer and researcher.

The Lillian Moller Gilbreth Papers at the Sophia Smith Collection are closely associated with the Ernestine Gilbreth Carey Papers also housed here. A more extensive archive of Lillian Gilbreth is located in the Department of Special Collections and Archives at Purdue University Library.


  • 1860 - 1999


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open to research according to the regulations of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Conditions Governing Access

Until we move into New Neilson in early 2021, collections are stored in multiple locations and may take up to 48 hours to retrieve. Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact Special Collections ( at least a week in advance of any planned visits so that boxes may be retrieved for them in a timely manner.

Conditions Governing Use

Ernestine Gilbreth Carey's estate owns copyright for unpublished works by Lillian Moller Gilbreth. Permission must be obtained to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use." Copyright to materials authored by others may be owned by those individuals or their heirs or assigns. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights. Permission to publish reproductions or quotations beyond "fair use" must also be obtained from the Sophia Smith Collection as owners of the physical property.

Biographical / Historical

Lillian Moller Gilbreth is perhaps most widely known as the mother of the Cheaper by the Dozen family but her talent and groundbreaking influence in the field of industrial engineering is her most remarkable achievement. Lillian Moller was born in 1878 to William Moller, a partner in a large retail hardware business, and Annie Delger. As a youth, she became interested in poetry and pursued her passion as an undergraduate. In 1900, Lillian Moller graduated from the University of California with a degree in British literature. She then attended Columbia University for graduate study in English literature. Two years later she was awarded a Master's degree. In 1903, she met Frank Bunker Gilbreth, a cousin of her chaperone. Frank Gilbreth had risen from an apprentice bricklayer to become a well-known contractor through his labor-saving techniques and ingenuity. The couple married in 1904 and soon thereafter embarked upon a joint career in industrial engineering. After publishing two books, Motion Study (1911) and Primer of Scientific Management (1912), the couple moved from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island where they founded Gilbreth, Incorporated, a consulting engineering firm. Lillian M. Gilbreth received her Ph.D. in industrial psychology from Brown University in 1915. Lillian and Frank Gilbreth were popular lecturers and spoke at many conventions and universities on the subject of motion saving techniques and worker efficiency with respect to both physical ability and psychological variables. Lillian Gilbreth stressed the "human element in management" and believed that the individual worker was more responsive to recognition of good performance than to threats of punishment. This type of positive discipline was integral to the Gilbreth method of management, which they practiced both professionally and also in their domestic life. Between 1905 and 1922, Lillian Gilbreth gave birth to twelve children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood. In 1924, Frank Gilbreth died suddenly of a heart attack. Lillian attempted to continue their consulting business. She experienced so much discrimination in her attempt to go solo in an overwhelmingly male profession, that she began concentrating on issues of homemaking. Gilbreth published two books on the subject, The Home-Maker and Her Job (1927) and Management in the Home (1954). Gilbreth and her husband were also concerned with the needs of disabled individuals. While he was still alive, they published several articles on disabled soldiers and Gilbreth continued this thread by designing equipment and motion saving methods to make household tasks easier for disabled people. She also published two books on this subject, Normal Lives for the Disabled (1933) which she co-authored with Edna Yost, her friend and later biographer, and Straight Talk for Disabled Veterans (1945). Despite the obstacles faced by a woman in the field of engineering, Gilbreth's career flourished. She was appointed professor of management at Purdue University in 1935 and also was a member of the faculty at Newark College of Engineering from 1941-43. She also volunteered for many groups and organizations, including the Girl Scouts of America. Throughout her career, Gilbreth won many awards and was a popular speaker. She died in 1972 at the age of 83.

For more information, see Jane Lancaster's dissertation, Wasn't She the Mother in Cheaper by Dozen: A Life of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, 1878-1972 (1998); Laurel Graham's book, Managing on Her Own (1998); and the American National Biography and Notable American Women.


17 boxes (8.5 linear feet)


Industrial engineer. In addition to industrial engineering, Gilbreth and her husband published and lectured extensively on the subject of motion saving techniques and worker efficiency with respect to both physical ability and psychological variables. Family material reflects the unique Gilbreth method of child-rearing. The bulk of the family correspondence is with Gilbreth's third daughter, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Other materials include awards, photographs, writings and speeches.


This collection is organized into six series:
  1. I. Biographical Materials
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Speeches and Writings
  4. IV. Organizations and Professional Activities
  5. V. Photographs
  6. VI. Oversize Materials

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (Smith 1929) donated the material in this collection over the course of several years.

Related Material

Related material can be found in the Ernestine Gilbreth Carey Papers, Sophia Smith Collection. Additional papers of Lillian Gilbreth are in the Department of Special Collections and Archives, Purdue University Library.

Processing Information

Processed by Jack Slowriver and Kathleen Banks Nutter, 2001.
Lillian Moller Gilbreth papers
Finding Aid
Jack Slowriver
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss25 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:14-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Young Library
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton MA 01063