Are you Mom enough? A Look From An Extraordinary Mother From The Past: Lillian Moller Gilbreth

The 2nd Sunday of May was set aside to honor mothers in 1914 when Anna Jarvis successfully petitioned for a national holiday. The holiday has been adopted by other countries and is celebrated worldwide.

Although we celebrate motherhood, post feminists continue to struggle defining motherhood. Time Magazine’s controversial cover asked the question, “Are you Mom enough?” Although a difficult question to answer, one woman who is an extraordinary example of  “Momhood” to me is Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972)

If you are familiar with the book or 1950’s movie, Cheaper by the Dozen, you may know her as the mother of 12 children with an eccentric husband who was a motion efficiency expert.  The couple applied their expertise with their unusually large family, often with humorous results. (It doesn’t count if you are thinking of the newer Steve Martin movie “Cheaper by the Dozen”—the only factor in common is the title and a lot of kids.)


Even though the book was written by two of her children, proper appreciation is not given to Lillian Gilbreth’s academic credentials, achievement and influence.  Lillian Moller Gilbreth was a pioneer psychologist and industrial engineer.  She is considered one of the first true industrial/organizational psychologists.

According to Wikipedia,  “Lillian Gilbreth combined the perspectives of an engineer, a psychologist, a wife, and a mother; she helped industrial engineers see the importance of the psychological dimensions of work. She became the first American engineer ever to create a synthesis of psychology and scientific management.”

In 1926, when Johnson & Johnson hired Lillian as a consultant to do marketing research on sanitary napkins, her training had broad implications. Gilbreth was a psychologist trained in the analysis of attitudes and opinions. Also, she had the experience of an engineer who specializes in the interaction between bodies and material objects. Last but certainly not least, she was a public image as a mother and a modern career woman to build consumer trust.

The Gilbreth children often took part in the experiments. Gilbreth’s ideas were instrumental in the development of the modern kitchen.  Her concept created the “work triangle” and linear kitchen layouts that are often used today. Additionally, her work succeeded in modifying industrial and home environments for the handicapped.

Due to the complex nature of the job, many mothers become efficiency experts, and on job psychologists but Lillian Gilbreth researched, documented and publish her work.  I salute her as a role model and visionary beyond her time.  She is  “mom enough” for me.  Read more about her with her autobiography, As I remember.

Camille Curtis Foster  LCSW

Contact Me: 801.472.7134/ 1fosterconnect

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