Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Lillian Moller Gilbreth bigraphy, stories - Educators

Lillian Moller Gilbreth : biography

May 24, 1878 – January 2, 1972

Lillian Evelyn Moller Gilbreth (May 24, 1878 – January 2, 1972) was an American psychologist and industrial engineer. One of the first working female engineers holding a Ph.D., she is arguably the first true industrial/organizational psychologist. She and her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. were efficiency experts who contributed to the study of industrial engineering in fields such as motion study and human factors. The books Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes (written by their children Ernestine and Frank Jr.) are the story of their family life with their twelve children, and describe how they applied their interest in time and motion study to the organization and daily activities of such a large family.

Selected bibliography

  • The Psychology of Management: the Function of the Mind in Determining, Teaching and Installing Methods of Least Waste (1914)
  • Applied motion study; a collection of papers on the efficient method to industrial preparedness. (1917) with Frank B. Gilbreth
  • Fatigue Study: The Elimination of Humanity’s Greatest Unnecessary Waste; a First Step in Motion Study (1916) with Frank B. Gilbreth
  • Motion Study for the Handicapped (1920) with Frank B. Gilbreth
  • The Quest of the One Best Way: A Sketch of the Life of Frank Bunker Gilbreth (1925)
  • The Home-maker and Her Job (1927)
  • Living With Our Children (1928)
  • Normal Lives for the Disabled (1948), with Edna Yost
  • The Foreman in Manpower Management (1947), with Alice Rice Cook
  • Management in the Home: Happier Living Through Saving Time and Energy (1954), with Orpha Mae Thomas and Eleanor Clymer
  • As I Remember: An Autobiography (1998), published posthumously


Gilbreth was born in Oakland, California on May 24, 1878. She was the second of ten children of William Moller, a builder’s supply merchant; and Annie Delger. Both parents were of German descent. She was educated at home until she was nine years old, when her formal schooling began at a public elementary school, where she was required to start from the first grade (although she was rapidly promoted through the grades).Lancaster 2004, pp. 38-39. She attended Oakland High School, where she was elected vice president of her senior class; she graduated with exemplary grades in May 1896.Lancaster 2004, p. 41.

Gilbreth started college at the University of California, Berkeley shortly after, commuting by streetcar from her parents’ Oakland home.Lancaster 2004, p. 46. She graduated from the University of California in 1900 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and was the first female commencement speaker at the university.Lancaster 2004, p. 50. She originally pursued her master’s degree at Columbia University, where she was exposed to the subject of psychology through courses under Edward Thorndike.Lancaster 2004, p. 55. However, she became ill and returned home, finishing her master’s degree in literature at the University of California in 1902. Her thesis was on Ben Jonson’s play Bartholomew Fair.Lancaster 2004, p. 57.

Gilbreth completed a dissertation and attempted to obtain a doctorate from the University of California in 1911, but was not awarded the degree due to noncompliance with residency requirements for doctoral candidates; this dissertation was later published as The Psychology of Management.Wood 2003, p. 125. Instead, since her immediate family had relocated to New England by this time, she attended Brown University and earned a Ph.D in 1915, having written a second dissertation on efficient teaching methods called "Some Aspects of Eliminating Waste in Teaching".Lancaster 2004, p. 363. It was the first degree granted in industrial psychology.

She died on January 2, 1972 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Marriage and family

Lillian first met her future husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. in June 1903 in Boston, Massachusetts, en route to Europe with her chaperone, who was Frank’s cousin.Lancaster 2004, pp.63-64. The couple married on October 19, 1904, in Oakland, California. As planned, they became the parents of twelve children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood.Ferguson, David. "That Most Famous Dozen". The Quest, fall 2000 issue.