Frank & Ernestine Gilbreth

Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey are the co-authors of Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes, two classic memoirs that no one from a large family should miss.

Frank Jr. and Ernestine were two of the twelve children born in the early 20th century to industrial engineers Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth. The Gilbreths were pioneers in the field of time-motion study, and they had a truly unique approach to child-rearing. Frank in particular believed that if it worked in a factory, there was no reason why it wouldn't work at home, and his children served as handy guinea pigs for many of his theories. Thanks to their father's ideas, the Gilbreth offspring endured having their tonsils out en masse (and on film) because their father wanted to see if the surgery could be made more efficient. He insisted that language lesson records be played in the bathroom--he called time in the bathroom "unavoidable delay" and worked tirelessly to make it more productive. He covered the walls of the family's summer cottage with bad puns (my livelong favorite: "Two maggots were fighting in dead Ernest") written in Morse code, giving his children the choice of either learning Morse code or enduring everyone around them laughing at jokes they didn't understand. (They learned.)

But while Cheaper by the Dozen is riotously funny, the siblings' second book, Belles on Their Toes, is even better. Frank died in 1924, leaving Lillian with eleven children (one had died of diphtheria), ages two to eighteen, and a business that most people believed a woman was incapable of running. Belles on Their Toes is the story of how the family survived, with the kids pitching in--looking after each other, taking charge of the budget, and carefully concealing things from their mother that might upset her (like when all eleven children get the chicken pox the day after she left for a six-week-long speaking engagement in Europe)--and the esprit de corps that kept them going.

Well, there were the movie versions. I hear those *blew*.

Also, don't ignore the tiny footnote about Mary, the child that died. It's pretty much the only mention she gets, and it's easy to get confused about why there's all those references to twelve children, but you only count eleven.


Other Recommendations:
Buffalo Brenda, by Jill Pinkwater
Posted by: Julia


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