Life Models

When I look back on who the people were who influenced my attitudes about what kind of person I could be, and who I wanted to be, there numbered two special women. One was Eleanor Roosevelt, and the other was Lillian Gilbreth.

Put into a nutshell, when I got married at 19, my mother was neurotic and my mother-in-law was psychotic. I didn’t know it at that time. I simply assumed that when I got old I would be like them, and that was the way of life of older women.

Then one day at UCLA I heard that Eleanor Roosevelt was going to speak in the auditorium at noon. My morning class was over at eleven, and the afternoon one started at one. Fine. I would eat my lunch after eleven, and then go to the auditorium and hear Mrs. Roosevelt. Talk about naivety! I showed up at 11:30 at the overcrowded auditorium. Overcrowded with a screaming mass of students yelling to their friends, trying to find seats.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt

I walked in the back door, and down the left aisle. The seats were jammed full. I walked on down the aisle thinking there might be a single somewhere, overlooked. I got to the fourth row, to find the front four rows were empty, but cordoned off for the press. So I kept walking. There I realized the very front row was not cordoned off, and every seat there was also empty. I boldly walked to the middle of the left side of seats, and sat. After a few minutes a few other people found their way there, and that row filled. We were sitting about 15 feet from the apron of the stage.

Then the curtains opened a little bit, and someone brought out a podium, and positioned it in the center, close to the front. Then someone brought out four chairs and placed them in front of the closed curtain, directly in front of us. Then, without any to-do Mrs. Roosevelt and three men came out and occupied those four seats. They were less than 20 feet away from me. Mrs. Roosevelt pulled out her knitting, and started to work. The crowd cheered and clapped, and the University official got everyone’s attention, and introduced the other officials, who each said a few words, and then with a short comment introduced Mrs. Roosevelt. She put her knitting in its bag and stood at the podium to speak.

She was not beautiful by Hollywood standards. Her voice was high and squeaky. But she had presence! She exuded dignity. She commanded attention and respect. She talked for more than half an hour, and everything she said was significant, to the point, and riveting. At this time I have no recollection of her message. What came over me and changed my life was the realization that older women can mature, be significant, speak with clarity and sense, and wisdom. It was not written that I had to become neurotic or psychotic. I could continue with learning, developing, and changing with the times.

As I write this, I am years older than Mrs. Roosevelt was that day. But after that turning point I have consciously continued to develop those qualities. Today I can quiet an auditorium full of screaming adolescents. I can speak of things that are significant to them with clarity and wisdom and they listen to me. I feel self confident and effective. Bless you, Eleanor Roosevelt, I am forever grateful.


In my late teens I was modeling my behavior after women I read about. With my mother’s encouragement I had decided to become a chemist. She had wanted to study chemistry, but her faculty at Wooster Ohio Ministerial School denied her this path, telling her that women did not become chemists. She complied with their dicta and went into teaching. When it was announced that Marie Curie had won the Nobel Prize for discovering radium and polonium she was angry for years.

I had taken a year’s chemistry in high school, sixteen units at UC Berkeley and then was hired as an assistant chemist for the Manhattan Project, married a young physicist, had my first child and was pregnant with our second. I realized I couldn’t be a successful chemist and at the same time raise a family. What was I going to do? Well, I had taken a course in psychology and read Freud’s book on dreams and enjoyed it. Without time or effort I got top grades in psychology and decided if it was that easy for me it must be that was where my gift lay, and decided I would pursue psychology. The course of study that seemed easiest was industrial psychology so that became my choice.

Among the people I studied about was Lillian Gilbreth. She had her Ph.D. in engineering and psychology, and had married industrial psychologist Frank Gilbreth. Together they developed time and motion study techniques and became highly successful within the industrial world. They decided to have twelve children, and with the help of a woman in the kitchen to take care of meals they realized that ambition. In about twenty years they had their dozen children and a highly successful engineering company based on time and motion studies that increased efficiency within the companies who hired them.

Lillian Gilbreth
Lillian Gilbreth

They also developed the same ideas of time-and-motion studies with regards to raising their twelve children. One instance was when the school the children attended asked them to lecture one evening on how to run a large household successfully. They described how to bathe twelve children every morning before breakfast. The scheme started with the bar of soap on the child’s left shoulder and then scrubbing the complete body thoroughly, pour over the rinse water, and then starting with the next body while the previous one would get toweled and dressed. Needless to say all the Gilbreth children were teased mercilessly by their fellow students the next day, with gestures of daily ablutions starting with the bar of soap on the left shoulder.


In our family, husband Larry would say, “There always seems to be one child too many.” But after three boys we both wanted a little girl, and had the good luck to have a baby girl on our fourth round.

When our children were about eight to thirteen, the Gilbreth young adults came out with the book about their family, Cheaper by the Dozen, and a year or so later the movie followed the book. That year every night at bedtime Larry and I would read aloud to our children excerpts from that book.

About then longtime friends Bill and Betty Lewis and their three little ones moved into our neighborhood. As time wore on I learned that as a teenager Betty’s best friend was her next door neighbor, who happened to be the youngest daughter of the Gilbreth family. After Lillian’s husband had died and the rest of the children had left home, she had moved to New Jersey with her youngest daughter, then thirteen. The two girls spent all their time together, and Betty knew Lillian Gilbreth as her best friend’s mother, not as an engineer nor famous for being Mother of Modern Management.

To my surprise, a day came that Betty invited Larry and me to join Bill and her at a presentation by Lillian Gilbreth, sponsored by the American Institute of Mechanical Engineers. That night we seated ourselves in the auditorium and listened to her presentation of owning and managing a small engineering company. For more than an hour I had the opportunity to watch and listen to the woman who had been my guru. She was tall and sturdy, and dressed very masculine—a pant suit, short hair. She remained seated the entire time, but projected her message well. I personally was not interested in running an engineering company, but I was interested in her as a person. She was well prepared, relaxed, professional in every aspect.

When her presentation was over Betty invited us to join her on the stage and be introduced. I had no hesitation. I was up on that stage close to Betty. Betty extended appropriate greetings to the friend of her childhood, and Lillian acknowledged Betty. When Betty introduced me I shook her hand, looked her in the eye, and told her I had admired her since my early days of studying industrial psychology. I thanked her for being a model for me in my life. She acknowledged me graciously, and then turned to others on stage. For me it was a comfortable closure. I was completely busy managing my life as it had evolved, and did not want to work with my husband in his engineering career nor have eight more children.


Carolyn organized the children to prepare and clean up from meals using  this chart, posted on the refrigerator
Carolyn organized the children to prepare and clean up from meals using
this chart, posted on the refrigerator

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