Musings, rants, rambling, general nonsense

Curiosity Breeds Success

Posted on | January 18, 2014 | No Comments

“When kind Dean Barris led the procession back and said, ‘I am pleased to announce,’ she never heard the end of the sentence, for she was convinced that he would only have been pleased had she passed! She ran home happily through the rain to cable Frank, and tried to explain to the children why she was excited, and what a ‘Ph.D.’ meant”
~ Lillian Moller Gilbreth (the “Cheaper By The Dozen” mom), in “As I Remember

Lillian’s story is yet another example in support of my “curiosity leads to success” theory. One common element in all the biographies I’ve read of people I have admired is “an inquiring mind”. A curiosity that was encouraged and rewarded by family, friends, and/or teachers along the way. Her excitement in discovery and “the work” comes through on every page.

Lillian M Gilbreth In Lillian’s case, though her family thoroughly supported her learning in childhood, her father tried to stop her from attending college. He reasoned that “College is only for teachers and other women who have to make a living. No daughter of mine will have to do that. I can support them – I want to!” (Harumph) He later gave in because she adored learning, and he adored her. She graduated from Berkeley in 1900.

Though I am barely half-way through, I am loving this (slightly oddly written) autobiography. I knew she must have been an amazing woman, but having even more detail only makes her life that much more intriguing. For instance, I knew she was a single mother after Frank died, I never realized how much time she was without him even when he was alive – not that she ever complained. She did have help from family and “the college girls” they hired, but… wow.

To be sure, I am fairly amazed at life in general at the turn of the 20th century. Throw in a woman accomplishing so much, while also giving birth to 12 children, in a time when a well-kept house would be all that was expected…wow.

She had a wonderful collaboration with Frank Gilbreth, in fact referring to the both of them as “the partners” throughout this book. He was, indeed, her biggest fan. When publishers had no interest in a scientific tome written by a woman, her husband pushed it until he found a taker – “…provided the author’s name should have only initials and the publicity should not include the fact that it was written by a woman. This disturbed feminist Frank more than it did Lillian.” When Berkeley would not give her a Ph.D. without her doing her work in residence, Frank helped her find a school that would (Brown, 1915)

I’ve read “Cheaper By The Dozen” a few times now, and I’ve seen the movie version of that and the sequel, “Belles On Their Toes“, many more. How rewarding to learn more of the story.

(BTW: The movie is such a part of my consciousness that I hear Lillian’s words in Myrna Loy‘s voice. It fits very well, actually)


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