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Ernestine Gilbreth Carey papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00028

Scope and Contents

The Ernestine Gilbreth Carey Papers are related to both her professional and private life, as well as to the lives and work of her parents, particularly her mother. Types of materials include correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, photographs, journal and newspaper articles, and memorabilia. The papers are arranged in eight series:


The bulk of the materials relate to Carey's various research and writing projects and date from the late 1950s to 2004.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1915-2005


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to materials authored by Carey is owned by Carey's children, Charles E. Carey, Jr. and Lillian Carey Barley. They plan to leave literary rights to their children; please contact the Sophia Smith Collection for more information. 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. This collection has not been fully processed and therefore may be difficult to use.

Biographical / Historical

Ernestine Moller Gilbreth was born in New York City on April 5, 1908. She was the daughter of Frank B. and Lillian (Moller) Gilbreth, early scientific management experts. The third oldest of twelve children (eleven of whom lived to adulthood), Ernestine grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, in an unconventional household. In 1949 she and her younger brother Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. parlayed their childhood memories of efficiency experiments, in which the children were the guinea pigs, into the best-selling novel Cheaper by the Dozen. The sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1951), picks up where its predecessor ended-with Frank, Sr., suffering a fatal heart attack on the eve of Ernestine's high school graduation.

Frank Gilbreth's sudden death delayed Ernestine's college plans by a year, as the family's finances dictated that her mother return to work immediately, carrying on the work she and her husband did as industrial/management consultants. Ernestine would nonetheless graduate from Smith College as an English major in 1929. The following year she found work as a buyer for Macy's Department store in New York City and, on September 13, 1930, she married Charles ("Chick") Everett Carey, a salesman for the Sperry Rand Corporation. Unlike Ernestine's prolific parents, the Careys had only two children, spaced well apart. Lillian (known as Jill) was born October 28, 1938, and Charles, Jr. (Charlie) was born December 5, 1942. Both of her children were born in New York City and, very much like Ernestine's mother, Carey returned to work soon after each child was born. She remained a buyer at Macy's until 1944, when the family moved to Manhasset on Long Island. Carey immersed herself in the community and spent more time with her children, but soon realized she needed something more to do and began writing, drafting a "fact-based" draft of a novel about her childhood.

When her brother Frank, Jr. returned from service in World War II and was having a rough re-entry to civilian life, their mother suggested that Ernestine share the novel with her brother, who had returned to his pre-war profession of journalism. He tightened the prose and injected more humor. Cheaper by the Dozen was published in 1949 and made into a popular movie the next year. The sequel, Belles on Their Toes, would also be made into a movie, though it never enjoyed the popularity of Cheaper by the Dozen, which is still read by school children decades after its publication. Because they had shared their stories-and their lives-in the successful novels, Ernestine and Frank, Jr. decided to share evenly amongst their siblings and their mother all royalties from both books and the movies based on them.

Ernestine (Gilbreth) Carey would go on to publish three more novels during the 1950s, all semi-autobiographical: Jumping Jupiter (1952), Rings around Us (1956), and Giddy Moment (1958), though none of them would come close to the popularity of Cheaper by the Dozen. Thereafter Carey's career as a writer stalled and she was never able to find a publisher for her last two novels, As Silver is Tried (1960s) and Razzle Dazzle (1970s). After her mother died in 1972, Carey became the primary family historian, especially interested in securing the legacy of her two parents, particularly that of her mother whose impressive career as an engineer spanned more than four decades after the death of Carey's father. From the 1970s until shortly before her death in 2006, Carey researched and wrote multiple drafts of various versions of biographical treatments of both her parents and her mother. However, she was unable to find an interested publisher.

In addition to her career as an author, Carey was active in the anti-censorship group, Right to Read, Inc., and was a fervent supporter of public libraries, serving as a trustee for the Manhasset Public Library during the 1950s until the family moved to Arizona in 1959. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Carey enjoyed a moderately successful career as a speaker, especially for women's clubs and local libraries. She based most of her talks on her main interests: her family and the "right to read" anything one wanted. Ernestine Gilbreth Carey was also an active alumna, holding office in her local Smith College clubs both on Long Island and in Phoenix. She was a Smith College trustee from 1967 to 1972.

Ernestine Gilbreth Carey died in Fresno, California, on November 4, 2006.


51.918 linear feet (90 containers)


This collection is comprised of materials relating to the personal and professional life of Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, author of Cheaper by the Dozen, Belles on their Toes, and other novels. Carey was a fervent supporter of public libraries, active in the anti-censorship group, Right to Read, Inc., and a Smith College trustee from 1967 to 1972.


Carey's papers and their idiosyncratic arrangement reveal a deep interest in systems for information management, as well as experimentation with filing systems to facilitate her own access to the extensive documentation she acquired and generated.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Ernestine Gilbreth Carey donated her Papers to the Sophia Smith Collection beginning in 1965. The final accession arrived in 2007.

Processing Information

Funding from Carey's estate supported processing of Series I, II, and III, comprising approximately two thirds of the materials. Basic organizational work was done on the remaining series. Processed by Kathleen Banks Nutter in 2015.

Ernestine Gilbreth Carey papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Kathleen Banks Nutter.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processing of the Ernestine Gilbreth Carey Papers was made possible by the generous support of the estate of Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:23-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063