This Efficiency-Obsessed Psychologist (and Mother of 11) Revolutionized Kitchen Design

This is the story of how one woman changed the design of American kitchens. But it’s actually more than that: Lillian Gilbreth was a pioneering scientist and business woman who was forced to reinvent herself after her husband and business partner died in 1924. Lillian cleverly shifted her focus to what was considered the domain of women: the home.

Lillian enlisted her children – she had 11 –  in an experiment: bake a strawberry shortcake in record time to find a more efficient kitchen configuration Kitchens at the time tended to have haphazard configurations—pots and pans could be at one end of the kitchen, the stove in another, and the utensils in another room altogether. Lillian figured that with a well-designed kitchen, she could slash baking time dramatically and make cooks’ lives easier. And if anyone was going to hack the kitchen, Lillian Gilbreth was the woman for the job.

Lillian and her late husband, Frank, were absolute fiends for efficiency. They’d used the study of “time and motion” to dissect the activities of factory and office workers, and had made a business of optimizing efficiency in the workplace. When widowed, Lillian, pivoted to efficiency in the home. Her innovations live with us to this day.


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Johanna Mayer: Hello Katie.

Katie Hafner: Hey Johanna. Listeners, I’m here with producer Johanna Mayer, who brings us today’s story.

Johanna Mayer: Okay, Katie, so to start, I just want to play this a video for you. It is a movie trailer from 1950. 

[Clip from the 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen]

Speaker: Let’s you and I get aquainted

Katie Hafner: Oh my gosh, Cheaper by the Dozen!

Johanna Mayer: Yup! So we’re looking at a woman who’s just given birth, and that’s her husband, talking to their new baby.

Speaker Man: Young man, I ever tell you about the night your mother and I were married, when we decided to have an even dozen like you? 

Speaker Woman: You set the actual target, dear. Six boys and six girls. I believe you even made a memorandum of it.

Johanna Mayer: So you know this movie, Katie?

Katie Hafner: Not only do I know it well, but full disclosure, I read the book, saw the movie when I was a kid, and was in the musical when I was in ninth grade.

Johanna Mayer: Oh my gosh, who did you play?

Katie Hafner: I played Anne, the oldest daughter, and she has a solo. Would you like to hear it? 

Johanna Mayer: [LAUGHS] Absolutely, you still got it in there? 

Katie Hafner: Okay, I’ll spare you the solo.

Johanna Mayer: Alright, so in case not everyone has had the pleasure of starring in the musical, Cheaper by the Dozen was inspired by the true story of a mother, a father, and their 12 children: the Gilbreths. And in the movie, there’s this very quirky father, Frank Gilbreth and he is obsessed with efficiency. He’s got a system for everything—even just his kids’ nightly bath, he has it down to a science. 

Meanwhile, the mother in this movie sounds like a very kind of stereotypical 1950s housewife, the kind of woman that you basically expect to be, like, vacuuming with high heels on or something. But the real mother in this story was her total opposite. She was much more like the husband in the movie. The real Lillian Gilbreth was a working woman with a PhD in psychology. She ran a thriving business with her husband and was just as much a fiend for efficiency. And together, they were on a very serious quest to optimize work, home—really, all of life. And the irony in it all is that although this real mother never really cooked at all, she did completely transform the American kitchen.

Katie Hafner: This is Lost Women of Science. And I’m Katie Hafner.

Johanna Mayer: And I’m Johanna Mayer. 

Katie Hafner: And today we’re talking about Lillian Gilbreth, a psychologist with a genius for efficiency.

Johanna Mayer: ​​Lillian was born in 1878 to the Mollers, a very well-to-do family in California. 

Jane Lancaster: She was a clever little, clever young girl.

Johanna Mayer: Historian Jane Lancaster is the author of a biography of Lillian Gilbreth called Making Time.

Jane Lancaster: But her parents basically wanted her to stay home and keep an eye on all the younger brothers and sisters. 

Johanna Mayer: But Lillian managed to convince her parents to let her go to college. She went just up the road at UC Berkeley. And she decided to study English. And at the end of her four years she was invited to give the commencement speech. And in this speech, we get a glimpse of the kind of life that Lillian really aspired to.

Jane Lancaster: She talked about the strenuous life. Even at that age, 21, she wanted a strenuous life.

Johanna Mayer: That’s a reference to a Teddy Roosevelt speech about how hard work and striving should really be at the core of American ideals. So he really meant “strenuous” as a good thing.

Jane Lancaster first came across Lillian when she was working on a project about women who work in science and technology.

Jane Lancaster: I came across a reference to Lillian Gilbreth getting a gold medal for something or other. And the only reason I’d ever heard of her before that was Cheaper by the Dozen. In that book, she comes across as rather ditzy. And so why is she getting a gold medal, I wondered to myself. And so that started me on a quest to find out who she was.

Johanna Mayer: Jane went on to learn about a very accomplished woman. After finishing her undergrad at Berkeley, Lillian went on to get a master’s degree in literature, also at Berkeley.  And then her mother urged her to go on a grand trip to Europe, as you do when you’re a society person in the early 1900s. And the cousin of one of her chaperones on this trip turned out to be Frank Gilbreth. He was already out in the working world. And Lillian was impressed.

Jane Lancaster: He’d worked his way up from being a bricklayer’s helper to sort of running a small construction business. So this seemed a very strenuous life to her.

Johanna Mayer: So Lillian and Frank kept in touch, and they got married just over a year later. And then they moved from California to the East Coast. 

Around this time in the early 1900s, there’s this new field emerging. It’s called scientific management, and it was pioneered by this guy, you’ve probably heard of him. His name’s Frederick Winslow Taylor, if you’ve ever heard of Taylorism, that’s where it comes from. And the big goal of Taylorism is to make work more efficient and faster. So Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ethos was do whatever it takes to work faster without giving much thought to how this actually affects the workers.

Katie Hafner: C-can I just react here and say this sort of makes my skin crawl. It seems like it marries kind of a false consciousness with complete exploitation. But other than that, it sounds like a great thing to do.

Johanna Mayer: Yeah, I mean, there are pieces of it that certainly were necessary and that reverberate today, but Taylorism came under a lot of criticism for basically doing whatever you need to do to get more done. And that could mean like a worker working himself to death after two years and having to quit. Or being mind-numbingly bored at their job for their entire lives. 

But this is sort of like in vogue at the time that Lillian and Frank got together. And Frank was pretty keyed into this – remember, he was running his own construction business. 

Jane Lancaster: He’d watched bricklayers – which is what he’d started out, as a bricklayer – and he believed they were being very inefficient because the bricks were all tumbled into a heap. They had to find the right brick, bend down, pick it up.

Johanna Mayer: Frank devised this sort of platform for a bricklayer to stand on, and it would just grow higher as the wall of bricks got higher, so the bricklayer wouldn’t have to be, you know, climbing up, climbing down, bringing the bricks back up, going back down. He also came up with a packing system so the bricks would be in the right order.

Jane Lancaster: And from what I gather, this kind of doubled the productivity of a bricklayer without making them any more tired. Sometimes not making them tired at all because they’re not doing all that bending and stooping. 

Johanna Mayer: So Frank got really, really into this. And he began slowly to move away from running his construction company and to move more towards this new field, scientific management. 

Katie Hafner: And what about Lillian? What’s she up to during this time, aside from having children? 

Johanna Mayer: While Frank was wading deeper and deeper into this world of scientific management, Lillian was showing a lot of interest in his work, and she was becoming slowly more integrated into it—very much behind the scenes. She wasn’t actually going to the companies with him, but basically, she wrote all of his books for him, sometimes credited as Lillian Gilbreth, sometimes as L.M. Gilbreth.

But also during this time, she had gone back for yet another degree. This time it was a PhD in psychology at Brown University. And she would eventually write her dissertation on the psychology of teaching. 

Jane Lancaster: So this was to do with eliminating wastefulness in the classroom – by the teacher or the students, and getting things done more efficiently by engaging the students and the teacher, getting them there to cooperate rather than just saying you’ve got to do this. She’d find out what what did they think was a good way of doing that, which is a much more subtle approach, as you will agree. 

Johanna Mayer: So this very much dovetailed with what Frank was working on. And at this point, he was working on his first kind of major management consulting contract. It was for a company called The New England Butt Company.

Katie Hafner: Butt?

Johanna Mayer: Yes, it does have the double T’s.

Katie Hafner: Okay, this better be good. 

Johanna Mayer: I wish it were better. It’s really just, the New England Butt Company makes butt hinges, which is the kind of hinge that’s used in a door. But they also make wire coverings. There was this whole machine that made them. And the New England Butt Company hired Frank to come in and make the assembly of these machines more efficient. 

So up until this point, Lillian had been kind of mostly in the background, writing Frank’s books, like I mentioned. But at the New England Butt Company, she was present. Like, she stepped into the foreground. She was working side by side with Frank. She would come to the factory with him. They were partners in this.

Jane Lancaster: They talk to the employees. And get a suggestions box so that they can make ideas. They even set up a branch of the Providence Public Library. But the idea being that the people could read what they like. They were encouraging ambition in the production workers really. Which is all very good psychological stuff, really. 

Johanna Mayer: So you can really see Lillian’s expertise kind of coming into play here. 

Katie Hafner: So did he- do we have any idea whether it was his idea that she join him in the work or did she just want to .. butt in?

Johanna Mayer: [LAUGHS] I don’t think that she was butting in. By all accounts, Lillian and Frank seem to have had a true partnership. I think that they really valued each other’s intellect and each other’s expertise. They really were working side by side.

Katie Hafner: Hmm. I love that. 

Johanna Mayer: The exact trajectory is a little bit unclear, but eventually Lillian became fully 100% enveloped in Frank’s work in efficiency. They were working together on their own consulting firm. They advised factories. They went into offices. 

And the thing that Lillian really brought here was the psychology aspect. She was really looking at workers’ faces. She was much more interested in workers’ satisfaction and psychology. And this is the thing that really separated the Gilbreths’ work from other scientific management.

So while Frederick Taylor was only interested in time, like, what is the fastest way that we can do this at any cost, the Gilbreths were interested in time and motion. So, what is the fastest way that we can do this, while also making it easier for the worker? Basically, minimizing how much a worker had to move around, how much energy they had to expend. This might seem commonplace to us today, but it was really kind of revolutionary at the time. And together, Lillian and Frank co-pioneered time and motion studies. And they coined something called—I think this is hilarious—it’s called ‘Therbligs.’ Have you heard of this? 

Katie Hafner: Therbligs? I have never heard of Ther…bligs. What… tell me. 

Johanna Mayer: Well, Therbligs is Gilbreth, spelled backwards. Kind of. The ‘th’ sound is in a little different place.

Katie Hafner: Oh, it is, because otherwise it would be Gil… brht

Johanna Mayer: Yeah, Gil…brht. Yeah so we’ll give them that. 

Katie Hafner: Yeah, we’ll give them that.

Johanna Mayer: And so Therbligs is basically a system for analyzing motions. Lillian and Frank broke down essential motions used for work. So, for example, Find is one, Select is one, Inspect is another. And what they would do is they would observe somebody doing a task and then categorize each motion based on the therbligs, and they would plot those motions along a chart, along with the time that each motion took, and that allowed them to see which parts of the task were taking a really long time and where delays were happening. 

Katie Hafner: Okay, so I guess my question is, why were these two people so interested in efficiency? What was it that made them so passionate about that?   

Johanna Mayer: Well, there were a couple things going on in the world at the time. First, there were some changes in the workforce in the United States. There was a lot of immigration happening at the time and for employers it was really essential to convey how to do work quickly and simply to people who didn’t speak English. So that’s one layer. The second part is that the world in general at the time was just super inefficient. 

So one example is operating rooms. The Gilbreths studied operating rooms, and they found that surgeons spent more time searching for their instruments than they did actually performing surgery. So, I mean, they recommended using nurses to locate the tools and hand them to the surgeons and also having a standardized layout of all tools in operating rooms. So, like, basically anytime you see a surgery scene in a movie and the doctor says, “scalpel” and holds out their palm?

[Clips from the show Grey’s Anatomy]

Clip: Scalpel!

Clip: Scalpel!

Clip: Suction

Clip: Clamp

Clip: Okay I need a saw and a retractor.

Johanna Mayer: That is thanks to the Gilbreths.

Katie Hafner: So they’re clearly keeping very busy, working very hard, and in the meanwhile, they, or rather, Lillian, let’s be honest here about who’s actually bearing the children and going through labor twelve times. Did they actually have twelve kids or did they have any more who didn’t survive to adulthood? Do you know?

Johanna Mayer: So actually one of the dozen did not survive. They were living with 11 kids, but Lillian did bear 12 children. Um, they did have some help. They had, you know, a cook and some nannies. But they did apply some of their efficiency work to the kids at home. And as you know from your deep familiarity with Cheaper by the Dozen, it was a really big part of the book and of the movie. 

Speaker Kid: Dad’s even taught us how to take a whole bath in the time it takes to play just one record. 

Speaker Woman: Really? 

Speaker Frank: A simple matter of coordination, madam. First, you take the soap in your right hand, apply it to the left shoulder, run it down the top of the left arm, up the inside of the left arm to the armpit. Then the ears, both of them, of course…[fades]

Johanna Mayer: So, I mean, I- you know, as books and movies do, I think that they probably exaggerated a little bit.

Speaker Frank: After a couple of circular motions on the torso …

Johanna Mayer: Maybe wasn’t quite as intense as pictured in the movie, but still a very unique upbringing.

Frank and Lillian taught them how to type without looking at a keyboard from a very young age. Which, I don’t know, seems pretty par for the course today, but I guess was a really big deal back then. 

Katie Hafner: You know what I like about this story is that it wasn’t like a Skinner box. I mean, they weren’t throwing kids into a box. They were actually instilling in the kids a sense of something very useful, without sort of putting the kids to work in a way that was, you know, exploitive. 

Johanna Mayer: Right. 

Katie Hafner: So we’ve got these two really busy people with a career, they’ve got a ton of kids. Any idea why all those kids? Was it for religious reasons? What was it?

Johanna Mayer: Well, there’s really no way to know for certain, but a lot of people believe that it has to do with the line of thinking that was very popular at the turn of the century: eugenics. Or the fraught belief that you could perfect the genetics of human beings by controlling who reproduces and who doesn’t.

Jane Lancaster: Eugenics was everywhere. Eugenics was a big thing in the first three decades of the 20th century, and also in the first three decades of the 20th century, more women were going to university and becoming professional women. And they were either not having children at all, or they were having one or maybe two. And a lot of people, not just the Gilbreths, were very worried that the “best women” i. e. highly educated women were not reproducing. And so whether this was their motive consciously I don’t know, but I think unconsciously it might have been.

Johanna Mayer: So we don’t know if eugenics was the reason that Frank and Lillian had 12 kids, but the Gilbreths definitely were eugenicists. There are different kinds of eugenicists. Frank and Lillian believed in what’s called “positive eugenics,” which means they weren’t advocating for murdering or sterilizing people, but they did think that people with higher intelligence should reproduce more. That is still eugenics. On the other hand, Lillian didn’t think that genes were everything. She wrote that environment and education might just overcome almost any disadvantage, which is not really in line with eugenicist thinking.

So her exact views are a little unclear, but regardless, it is an uncomfortable thing to think about. You know, sometimes even when people are so progressive and so ahead of their time in many ways, they’re also very much a product of their time in other ways. 

Frank and Lillian made a career out of workplace efficiency. And they worked together for the next decade, experimenting with all kinds of different things. For example, they used films and new technology. They would put lights on people’s hands and fingers to really analyze the motion. They would film them against a grid to measure movements. A big part of their work during this period was designing accommodations for disabled people in the wake of World War I. For example, adapting a workstation for someone who only had one arm. And they were very much partners in this kind of work. 

Jane Lancaster: And remember she’d wanted a strenuous life for some time, and this seemed to be, you know, building a new set of paradigms, new ways of working. A good strenuous life that she was embarking in.

Johanna Mayer: So, things were chugging along really nicely for Lillian. And then, very abruptly, she had to change course. 


Johanna Mayer: So Lillian was well on her way to leading this, quote, strenuous life that she was after, a life of pursuit, an engaging life. And then, in 1924, Frank died suddenly. He was on his way to a conference to deliver a presentation, and he had a heart attack. Almost immediately, work dried up for her. Many people were really aware of her role in the consulting business. It wasn’t a secret or anything. But hiring and doing business with a solo woman in 1924 just really wasn’t a thing. It was totally uncommon. So now, in addition to grieving her business partner and husband, Lillian needed to reinvent herself.

Katie Hafner: That’s horrifying, and do you know how old he was when he died? 

Johanna Mayer: Yeah, he was 55, so they were sort of in- in their prime of their careers and their relationship. It was really tragic.

Katie Hafner: Okay, let’s recap here. So Frank dies suddenly, and Lillian’s left with her 11 children. She’s lost her husband, who’s her business partner, and on top of it, she’s a woman in 1924. So what does she do?

Johanna Mayer: Well, she actually capitalizes on being a woman and shifts her focus to what was considered the domain of women—the home. And she’d already built up quite a reputation in that arena as well.

Frank and Lillian were both really well known in their field, but they were also pretty well known in their personal lives, too. The family were in the newspapers a lot. Journalists would kind of hang around and take pictures of Lillian, you know, doing something while surrounded by a gaggle of their kids looking up lovingly at her.

Katie Hafner: Was this because of the curiosity of a family of 11 kids?

Johanna Mayer: I think so. And, you know, Frank and Lillian were both these, like, big career people who managed to kind of have it all, you know.

Katie Hafner: Mm hmm. What does our friend Jane have to say about this?

Jane Lancaster: She was praised in the 1920s and 30s as this kind of super mom, as it were, who managed to have a job as well as raise a fine family.

Johanna Mayer: Jane told me that another thing that was happening around this time is that in the wake of World War I, there was this shortage of domestic workers, because all the men had gone off to war, so a lot of the women filled their places in the factories and shops.

Jane Lancaster: It’s better paid, less hard work. So the women who might have gone out to be a domestic servant, not so many of them did. So it meant middle class women had to do things for themselves.

Johanna Mayer: So Lillian made a very shrewd decision. She took her expertise and efficiency on the one hand, and her reputation as this kind of super mom on the other hand, and she changed her focus to women’s work.

Katie Hafner: Oh wow, a total rebranding!

Johanna Mayer: Totally. I have to say, it’s like, yeah, a really good personal brand decision. It’s good personal marketing.

Katie Hafner: So shrewd, you called it shrewd. It was just super smart.

Johanna Mayer: Yeah, I mean, I think shrewd in a really good way. But it was also, you know, it was shrewd, but it was also very in line with her actual ethos. Lillian did consider housework unpaid labor and believed that it deserved the same attention to efficiency as, you know, a factory assembly line. Which, honestly, is a pretty progressive idea for the time, I think.

Katie Hafner: So what does this actually look like? 

Johanna Mayer: Well, she did a number of things for women’s work outside the house. Um, so for example, she made training plans for elite secretaries at Katie Gibbs Secretarial School, if you’ve ever heard of that.

Katie Hafner: Oh, you’re on a Katie-name basis with that. I’ve always thought of it as Katharine Gibbs, right?

Johanna Mayer: [LAUGHS] Pardon me. Yeah. 

Katie Hafner: But that’s pretty great. That was smart.

Johanna Mayer: But she also did things to make women’s work inside the house a lot more efficient. So she designed something that I really love called the Gilbreth Management Desk.

Jane Lancaster: Which is a very fine object, and it has everything that the woman who is managing her kitchen will need in one place. It’s a bureau, a two story desk. So it’s got a drawer with files to put your bills in. It’s got a clock. It’s got drawers with household goodies. It’s got bookshelves for your cookbooks. It’s got space for everything. 

Katie Hafner: Oh my gosh, I know that desk, I mean, that desk, well, the idea of that desk endures to this day because I don’t know, have you seen, you know, people’s kitchens. The woman of the house or the more domestic worker of the two partners, let’s put it that way – and it’s usually the woman – has a desk in the kitchen, and it looks often a lot like that, with little slots for the bills.  

Johanna Mayer: I think it’s cool that Lillian gave the same amount of respect and thought to making the home efficient as, you know, like an office.

Katie Hafner: Amazing. So that’s her. 

Johanna Mayer: But what I consider Lillian’s biggest contribution, or at least the one that probably directly affects all of us most immediately, is that she completely redesigned the American kitchen.

Katie Hafner: Wow, did she invent the salad spinner?

Johanna Mayer: Even more basic than that, she redesigned the entire actual layout of, like, where the refrigerator was-

Katie Hafner: Come on! 

Johanna Mayer: I know!

Katie Hafner: Ok so tell me, what did she do? 

Johanna Mayer: Well, so kitchen designs used to be sort of all over the place. Kitchens tended to just sort of be like a big room with a bunch of freestanding furniture just sort of plopped in it. Utensils might be just like all shoved in one corner, they might even be in a different room. Also, in general kitchens used to be kind of BIG too – so you’d mix up your brownie batter in one corner, then walk all the way across the entire room to put it in the oven in another.

So, to figure out a better design, Lillian, who was famously not a good cook, did put to use her limited kitchen experience and she baked a strawberry shortcake. But she did it with a very clear plan in mind because it would allow her to test how long this task would take in a typical kitchen of the day. Jane Lancaster says that this is one of the things that Lillian got the kids involved in also.

Jane Lancaster: So she tied a piece of wool to somebody’s leg and had them walking around in various configurations of a kitchen to see how many paces they had to do to make this.

Johanna Mayer: So, like, the wool would unravel as the kid went around baking this cake to measure how far they had to travel. (Come on!)

Katie Hafner: And were they supposed to knit a sweater while they’re at it? 

Johanna Mayer: I wouldn’t put it past them. (Gosh, really!) But I love that. 

And so once Lillian had that information, how long it took to bake this strawberry shortcake in a typical kitchen, she went about the redesign. So she put the stove and the counter side by side, which, wild to me to think about that that was not how it always was. It seemed so practical and obvious. She put food storage above the stove and pan storage below. Again, seems very practical. The refrigerator would be just a step away. And—this was a big, fancy addition of the day—she incorporated a rolling cart into the kitchen design. So it doubled as kind of extra counter space and an easier way to, you know, bring your dirty dishes to the sink or whatever.

And all of this allowed for what Lillian called circular routing, which is, you’re basically moving around in a circle instead of, you know, walking a bunch of paces in a row in a linear way. 

Katie Hafner: In fact, they call it kind of a- a triangle of – 

Johanna Mayer: The work triangle.

Katie Hafner: And that was her! I mean, I’m totally, my jaw…

Johanna Mayer: Yeah, yeah, this absolutely was the basis for what would later become the work triangle. The rolling cart has kind of dropped out of kitchen designs, but that same core principle of motion being really at the center of the redesign, you know, which is the same stuff that she was looking at when she and Frank were working together. It’s really cool to see that come into play in her work later on in her life.

So she called it the Kitchen Practical, which I love. And then I have to tell you this little story. To test the efficiency of the new kitchen, she designed a very similar kitchen for the Herald Tribune Magazine, which is based out of New York City.

So the magazine did this whole efficiency test. They first made the strawberry shortcake in a typically haphazard kitchen, and then they made an exactly similar shortcake in the Herald Tribune kitchen that Lillian had helped design. Same utensils, same equipment, but had them arranged in her design. And the number of kitchen operations after this test… had cut down from 97 to 64. And the number of actual steps that they had to take when making the shortcakes was cut down from 281 steps to 45. So that’s less than one sixth of the number of steps. 

Katie Hafner: And everyone had a piece of wool strapped to their ankle, we’re assuming. Oh my gosh that’s amazing. 

Johanna Mayer: I do love imagining that. 

Katie Hafner: That’s amazing.

Johanna Mayer: I have another one for you. And this is something that is repeated everywhere, it’s all over the internet. I asked Jane Lancaster about it and she says she personally has not been able to find evidence of this, but it could be true. But supposedly, Lillian invented the trash can pedal. And if that weren’t enough, people also say that she invented refrigerator door shelving, you know, the area in the fridge where you keep the eggs and milk usually. So two things that are in basically every single kitchen in America. We weren’t able to find any patents or solid evidence there, but Lillian is widely credited with those.

Katie Hafner: So Lillian, oh my goodness gracious. What an accomplished person. I mean, just forget the fact for a minute that she gave birth to 12 children. That just blows my mind-

Johanna Mayer: Minor detail. But Lillian just kept working. I mean her solo career spanned more than 30 years. And she did so much in that time, even beyond the kitchen redesign. She worked on designing kitchens for disabled women; she served on five US presidents’ committees…She just an incredibly productive and fruitful life until the day she died at age 93.

Katie Hafner: You know, one thing that we do, as you know, at Lost Women of Science is we say, okay, so how come we don’t know more about her? And I have this theory in hearing the story you’ve just told is that, you know, it’s, it’s more the cumulative effect of being a bit overshadowed in her earlier life by her husband. And then there’s the movie, where it really is Frank, Frank, Frank with the stopwatch. And so that’s part of my theory is that the way these scientists that we look at at Lost Women of Science get lost is, it’s not one thing. It’s an aggregation of things over the years. 

Johanna Mayer: Totally. I feel like her contributions were almost, so big and sort of paradigm shifting that it’s hard to, you know, focus on one specific thing. You know, the kitchen redesign, for example, just feels like such a normal, quotidian, part of our lives so paradigm shifting that it’s hard for us to imagine what life could have been like before that. 

And I asked Jane Lancaster what she thought Lillian’s legacy was today, and she put it a lot more eloquently than I just did.

Jane Lancaster: So I suspect much of her legacy is just enveloped in what people do now. 

Katie Hafner: Wait, here’s an idea, Johanna. Maybe we should just start a little movement. And instead of saying, oh, it’s in the fridge on the shelf, you could say, oh, it’s in the fridge on that Lillian Shelf.

Johanna Mayer: I mean personally, I’m gonna start calling it the Lilian Pedal. 

Katie Hafner: Okay. This is it. We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to.

Johanna Mayer: I have thought about her like every single time that I’ve gotten into my kitchen since reporting this episode. So that’s how she’s living on in my life.

Katie Hafner:  Lost Women of Science is hosted and produced by me, Katie Hafner.

Johanna Mayer: And this episode was produced by me, Johanna Mayer, with senior executive producer, Elah Feder. 

Katie Hafner: Lizzie Younan composes all of our music. Paula Mangin creates our art. Newt Schottelkotte sound designed and mastered this episode. 

Johanna Mayer: Special thanks to James Gifford, who gave us some very thorough and useful background information on Lillian. 

Katie Hafner: I also want to thank Jeff DelViscio, chief multimedia editor at our publishing partner, Scientific American and as always, my co-executive producer Amy Scharf.

Lost Women of Science is funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Schmidt Futures. We’re distributed by PRX. 

Katie Hafner: Johanna have I ever told you about our donate button? 

Johanna Mayer: You guys have a donate button? 

Katie Hafner: We have, can you believe it? 

Johanna Mayer: Oh my gosh, tell me all about it. 

Katie Hafner: It is on the website, and all you have to do is take your little finger… 

Johanna Mayer: Okay, I’m doing it right now…

Katie Hafner: …and find the donate button, and click it! Please. And you can find that button and other stuff at Lost Women of Science dot org. I’m Katie Hafner, see you next time.


Further Reading (and VIEWING):

Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth — A Life Beyond “Cheaper by the Dozen” by Jane Lancaster

See the trailer for the original Cheaper by the Dozen (1950). It’s been remade three times!

More on Lillian Gilbreth’s “kitchen practical” (from Slate)

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