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Gilbreth, Lillian Moller, 1878-1972



  • Existence: May 24, 1878 - January 2, 1972

Biographical Information

Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth, commonly referred to as the “Mother of Modern Management,” was born May 24, 1878 to William Moller and Annie Delger in Oakland, California. Her parents were descendants of German immigrants and she had eight siblings, five sisters and three brothers, of which she was the eldest. Though initially opposed, Lillian convinced her father to let her attend college and received a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of California (1900) and was selected as the commencement speaker, becoming the first woman to speak at the university’s commencement. She pursued a master’s degree, first attending Columbia University and then the University of California, where she earned the degree, also in literature, in 1902. In 1915, she earned her PhD in Psychology from Brown University.

Lillian met Frank Gilbreth in 1902 and they married on October 19, 1904. In addition to being a couple, they became business partners in Frank’s engineering consulting company and had twelve children together, six boys and six girls, though one daughter died in childhood from diphtheria. Over the next twenty years, Frank and Lillian built their engineering consulting business and conducted pioneering research in the field of time and motion study. Using their combined expertise, they focused on both the human and technical elements to reduce worker fatigue and improve efficiency. They published numerous articles and books together, created new techniques for analyzing worker motions, such as chronocyclographs and therbligs, and consulted with numerous companies across the United States and overseas, applying their motion study theories and methodologies to business and industry, sports, the household, surgery, clerical work, and persons with disabilities. They also taught summer courses on scientific management.

After Frank died in 1924, Lillian Gilbreth continued their consulting business, though most of her contracts tended to focus on women’s spheres, and took over many of Frank’s roles in the engineering community. She lectured at universities across the United States, spoke at many engineering societies including American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Taylor Society, served as a delegate at international conferences, often as the only woman, designed and taught Motion Study Courses, and continued their research. Through her consulting work, she redesigned the kitchen using motion study principles, many of which are still used in modern-day kitchens, and worked for many well-known companies such as Macy’s, Johnson and Johnson, and the Girl Scouts. Her work and research focused on the household, the field of home economics, and people with disabilities.

In 1935, Purdue University hired Lillian Gilbreth as a Professor of Management, making her the first female engineering professor in the United States, and assigned her part-time duties in the School of Home Economics. In 1941, she was promoted to full professor. She lived on campus in the women's residence halls during her lecturing and consulting periods at Purdue and helped improve the motion study labs on campus, making them more accessible to the local agricultural industry. Upon her retirement in 1948, she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Industrial Psychology degree.

Throughout her life, she earned numerous honorary degrees and awards. She was the second person granted honorary membership in the Society of Industrial Engineers (1921), second woman member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1926), and the first woman to receive the Hoover Medal (1966). She also served on numerous committees, including presidential committees for civil defense, war production, rehabilitation of the disabled, and women’s employment.

Lillian Gilbreth died on January 2, 1972.


Gilbreth, Lillian M. (1998). "As I remember." Engineering and Management Press. Norcross, Georgia.


MSP 8, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Library of Management Research and Professional papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.


MSP 7, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Ernest McCormick papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 508
Scope and Contents The Ernest J. McCormick papers document the life and career of Professor Emeritus and President of PAQ Services Ernest J. McCormick. The majority of the papers date from 1945 to the late 1980s. The McCormick papers document McCormick’s private life and professional career, particularly his professional activities during his tenure at Purdue University. Some personal papers are included, which document McCormick’s academic background, books from his personal library as a child, and materials...
Dates: 1870 - 1994; Majority of material found within 1945 - 1988

Purdue Student Section of the Society of Women Engineers records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 182
Abstract This collection contains papers, photographs, programs, correspondence, and reports documenting the activities of Pi Omicron and its successor the Purdue Student Section of the Society of Women Engineers.  The records also document the difficulties that women in science have faced over the years.
Dates: 1945-2004; Other: Majority of material found in 1950-1990; Other: Date acquired: 11/06/2012