Female Role Models in Literature: Lillian Moller Gilbreth
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
There’s a long tradition in literature of having a tomboy juxtaposed with a feminine girl. In the late 1800’s there was a series for little girls about Ruby and Ruth, where Ruby was the one getting into trouble all the time and Ruth was the good girl doing her needlepoint. By then, Louisa May Alcott had written Little Women, with Jo the tomboy and Beth the good girl. Trixie Belden was a tomboy but her best friend was the girly-girl.
There are also books with a strong female protagonist without much of a feminine girl as a foil, but usually those strong females are surrounded by males or thrust into a formerly male role. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is all tomboy and her father’s fine with that. Calpurnia tries to civilize her a bit, but with little luck. In The Hunger Games, Katniss has been thrust into her father’s role as provider and protector.
One of my favorite non-fiction books is Cheaper by the Dozen, published in 1949. It is based on the real Gilbreth family – written by two of the twelve. Per the Foreword: “Mother and Dad, Lillian Moller Gilbreth and Frank Bunker Gilbreth, were industrial engineers. They were among the first in the scientific management field and the very first in motion study. From 1910 to 1924, their firm of Gilbreth, Inc. was employed as ‘efficiency expert’ by many of the major industrial plants in the United States, Britain, and Germany. Dad died in 1924. After that, Mother carried the load by herself and became perhaps the foremost woman industrial engineer.”
Their efficiency methods carried over into their parenting by necessity – with twelve children to manage and two parents working. Surrounded by adults as a child, I was always enamored by the idea of being part of a large family, but the concept of conserving time and energy through efficient habits is what really stayed with me from the book… and subliminally, the understanding there were no restrictions on what I might become.
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