‘Cheaper by the dozen’ really worked

Last Friday evening, our family went to a movie, something we rarely do anymore. So we settled down in the theatre with two huge boxes of popcorn and pop for everyone.
I knew “Cheaper by the Dozen” would be a wonderful movie because I had read the hilarious true story more than 50 years ago and we had seen the 1950 movie starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy.
And I was right. The movie was lighthearted fun—a family movie with Steve Martin playing the lead. But still, I was keenly disappointed.
The only thing the 2003 movie has in common with the book and the 1950 movie is the title and 12 children.
In the new movie, Tom and Kate Baker are both successful professionals who run a chaotic home—full of noise, frenzied activity, confusion, and fun. Unlike the 1920 home of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, who raised 12 children in a fun-loving, well-ordered household.
Frank and Lillian were married in 1904. Frank, a motion study scientist, immediately told his wife he wanted 12 children—six boys and six girls.
In an interview with the New York Post in 1941, she asked, “How on earth could anyone have 12 children and continue a career.” He replied, “We teach management, so we have to practice it.”
And they did!
According to Lillian’s biographer, Jane Lancaster, both Lillian and her husband, Frank, are best known for introducing innovative motion studies and efficiency techniques in the work place and in the home.
Frank buttoned his vest from bottom-to-top because it took four seconds less, and used two shaving brushes because it cut 17 seconds off his shaving time. And he took movies of the children washing dishes so he could figure out how they could do it in less time.
In the meantime, Lillian earned a doctorate in psychology between the births of her seventh and eighth children.
The two wrote several books together about their management style, but Lillian’s name never appeared as the co-author. The publishers felt that—in the 1920s—society was not ready for an engineering book written by a woman.
The family worked and played together, and they had a wonderful life. Until one tragic day when Frank was on his way to deliver lectures in Europe.
Frank died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving Lillian at the young age of 46 with her brood—the oldest of which was only 19.
For the next 40 years, Lillian bravely went on with their consulting business to support her children. To increase her know-how, she went back to university at the age of 50 and got a doctorate in engineering.
She published books in her name, lectured at colleges, garnered awards, and was granted more than a dozen honorary degrees. She also served as an advisor on women’s issues to five United States presidents.
Lillian finally retired at the age of 90 and died three years later.
So if you want to know more about this remarkable family, why not read “Cheaper by the Dozen” or buy a copy of the 1950 movie, which is coming out on DVD this spring.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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