Lillian Gilbreth by Honey Van Assen


Lillian Gilbreth was born in 1878 into a big family of nine children.  She graduated from University of California, Berkeley, with master’s in literature. She met Frank Gilbreth in the middle of completing  her PhD at Brown University. She was intrigued by his obsession with workplace efficiency and switched from literature to psychology. Her dissertation, ‘ The Psychology of Management’, was the first study of how relationships affect us at work. Together, Lillian and Frank ran a consultancy. They would study a simple task, such as bricklaying or carrying tools, and break the motions down to the most essential steps to make the workers’ jobs quicker. They also wrote many books about motion and fatigue. Often, only Frank’s name would appear on their work because publishers thought a male author would appear more authorative – even though Lillian was the psychologist. When Frank died in 1924, Lillian took charge of the company. Many of her clients did not want a woman telling them how to run factories, so Lillian focused on homemakers instead. Back then, it was common for women to spend all day cooking and cleaning. Lillian applied ergonomics and motion studies to make housewives’ tasks easier. She created new tools and new layout for kitchens that cut work time down from a day to only a few hours. It gave women more time pursue exciting interests. Lillian Gilbreth’s designs are all around us. Whether it’s the ergonomic layout of your desk or the ‘ work triangle’ that determines the distance from the sink to the hob, her designs have been integrated into our daily lives.

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