Posted by: Chris | October 7, 2011

Ada Lovelace Day: Lillian Moller Gilbreth

I would like to start out this entry for Ada Lovelace Day by introducing a cool Internet tool I found that incorporates all the themes in this post: computer science, engineering efficiency and parenting. It is the World Catalog. You can search for materials on this site, and it will tell you what library it is in located near a zip code. For example I put in a search for a movie using my dad’s zip code in far southeast Arizona, and it found the DVD in libraries that were almost four hundred miles away.

So if your local library does not have an item, you can find it in a nearby library system. I have a library card for both my city and county library systems, since I often find that something I want is only in one system. If it is not in either system there are interlibrary loans, though that may require a fee. We’ve used this for a school research project that allowed child to get books from the local university library.

Now about Lillian Moller Gilbreth:

When I was a kid back in the days where there was no cable TV, some of local channels usually up the dial would show old movies in the early afternoon. These were the things to watch while I was sorta kinda doing my homework before my parents came home. I remember one old movie that involved a family of lots of children, but with a working mother. Which fascinated me since I was one of the few kids I knew who had a working mother. The movie was Cheaper by the Dozen (do not confuse it with more recent versions).

Sadly, the movie ends with the death of the father. It took me a few years to find out that there was a sequel, which I saw as an adult. Belles on Their Toes. While the first movie concentrated on the father, the second one is really about Mrs. Gilbreth. It shows her monetary struggles and the trials of working in a non-traditional field. One scene has her showing up to give a paper but being refused entry because she is a woman.

The movies are obvious family comedies, and may show their age. But they are both based on books geared towards young readers, where some of the fathers efficiency studies were tested on the large family:
Cheaper by the Dozen
Belles on Their Toes

Since the authors, two of Mrs. Gilbreth’s children, geared the books to a young audience much of the reality was left out. That was remedied with Making time : Lillian Moller Gilbreth–a life beyond “Cheaper by the dozen”. It is in this book that you really meet her and her family. It shows how her husband supported her education, how their work was incorporated in their home and the struggles they faced. This includes the death of one child due to diphtheria, a couple of miscarriages and a train trip across the country dealing with hungry tired kids, messy diapers and all the other things many of us are too familiar with, only more so. It is interesting to note that when she finally moved out of their house it was beyond repair, all those kids were rather destructive.

She was a remarkable woman with a remarkable family. She was a pioneer in engineering, a university professor and a very busy single mother. Definitely someone to introduce to kids through the books and movies.

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