Cheaper by the Dozen and the Girl Scouts

Disney studios released a new version of the movie Cheaper by the Dozen on March 18, 2022. Who knew that the story has an impressive Girl Scout connection?

The original movie, released in 1950, tells the story of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their 12 children. It was based on a book written by two of their children, Ernestine and Frank Jr.

Frank Gilbreth came from a blue-collar background and built a thriving construction business. Lillian was one of nine children herself and earned BA and MA degrees in literature from the University of California. She met Frank while pursuing her PhD and became fascinated with the time-saving techniques that he had developed to make his construction crews more efficient.

TheGilbrethsCom Family in Foolish Carriage
The Gilbreth Family in their “Foolish Carriage,” via thegilbreths.com
Cover of first edition of Cheaper by the Dozen
First edition, published in 1948

She also became fascinated with Frank. Despite a 10-year age difference, the couple married in 1904. Lillian became a partner in Frank’s engineering firm and switched her studies to psychology at Brown University.

Their partnership combined psychology and business management to develop the new field of time-and-motion studies. Along the way, they had 12 children and she earned a doctoral degree in psychology.

Group portrait of the Gilbreth family, the real-life family in Cheaper by the Dozen
The Gilbreth family in 1924, shortly before Frank Bunker Gilbreth Sr’s death, with all eleven children who survived to adulthood. Standing are Fred, Dan and Jack. Seated are Frank Jr, Martha, Dr. Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Frank Sr, Ernestine and Anne. On laps are Jane and Bob. Seated in front are Bill and Lillian Jr. (Original image from Purdue University archives via http://www.thegilbreths.com)

With busy careers and a large household to manage, the Gilbreths applied their time-saving techniques to their family. According to daughter Ernestine, “They believed that what would work In the home would work In the factory, and what would work in the factory would work in the home.”

Like most of Dad’s and Mother’s ideas, the Family Council was basically sound and, although it verged sometimes on the hysterical, brought results. Family purchasing committees, duly elected, bought the food, clothes, furniture, and athletic equipment. A utilities commit­tee levied one-cent fines on wastes of water and electricity. A projects com­mittee saw that work was completed as scheduled. Allowances were de­cided by the Council, which also meted out rewards and punishments. Despite Dad’s forebodings, there were no pon­ies or roadsters.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

Widowed at age 46, Lillian popularized her managerial psychology as a highly-sought-after lecturer.

First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, who twice served as GSUSA national president, asked Dr. Gilbreth in 1930 to be an unpaid consultant to the Girl Scouts. Lillian was reluctant, but few people could resist Mrs. Hoover.

I went over to national head­quarters and found that they felt perhaps the Personnel Department was just the one that would be of most in­terest to me and one that needed my help. That was where I began to work. I went into the Personnel Department as a member of the Personnel Committee and found the committee and Agnes Leahy, the director, so congenial to work with that I was very happy. I needn’t tell you that once a Girl Scout. you’re always a Girl Scout. I remember going to meetings even before I made my Promise.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

Lillian Gilbreth in her Girl Scout uniform
Lillian Gilbreth in her Girl Scout uniform

Dr. Gilbreth set high standards for various Girl Scout role, both professional and volunteer. Former GSUSA President Marjorie Culmer (1956-1963) recalled:

Dr. Gilbreth felt very strongly that the only difference between volunteers and staff was that the staff got paid for their work. She drew no distinc­tion between the calibre of per­formance expected from volunteers and staff; she believed that the volunteers should get the same satisfaction from their work.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

She also believed that professional staff and the national board should forge a strong partnership to achieve common goals.

Lillian soon dedicated herself to Girl Scouts, serving in a range of volunteer positions:

  • Per­sonnel Committee
  • Interna­tional Committee
  • Finance Committee
  • Con­stitution Revision Committee
  • Committee on National Personnel
  • National Board of Directors
  • Exec­utive Committee
  • Program Com­mittee
  • National Advisory Council

Gilbreth also deployed her well-earned respect and credibility when the Girl Scouts were (erroneously) accused of promoting communism in 1954.

According to daughter Ernestine,

She loved everything about this organization and all of its associates and opportunities for fur­ther new experience with young peo­ple. This tie-in became one of the key joys of her life. On her professional trips, she gave repeated lectures to Girl Scout groups and vice versa.

“The Amazing Lillian Gilbreth,” Leader (summer 1984): 20-22.

So grab a bucket of popcorn–even better, a box of Girl Scout cookies–and enjoy the latest version of Cheaper by the Dozen. Wouldn’t it be a great STEM tie-in for your troop?

For more on Lillian Gilbreth see:

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Dutton’s Dirty Diggers

Finding programs to keep teenagers in Girl Scouting has always been a challenge. The four Senior Roundups may be the best known of these programs, but they certainly were not the only ones.

Three years ago I was introduced to the Senior Girl Scout Archaeological Camps. Between 1947 and 1957, over 300 Seniors (high-school age) participated. The University of Utah Press has just published a history of this early STEM program. Dutton’s Dirty Diggers, by Catherine S. Fowler.

Dr. Fowler participated in several expeditions and, like many other veterans of the program, chose to pursue a career in anthropology. She uses her own diaries from the program and those of several other participants to take readers out to the dusty desert, bumping along in vehicles that blew tires several times each day.

The program offered two-week long camping caravans and archaeological excavations that introduced teenage girls to the rich cultural and scientific heritage of the American Southwest as well as new career possibilities. Unlike the Roundups, girls could participate several times, allowing them to follow the painstaking progress of the selected sites.

The star of the book is Dr. Bertha Dutton, a curator at the Museum of New Mexico who served as trip leader. The girls’ respect and affection for Dr. Dutton is evident throughout the book, and many of the girls stayed in touch with her for years.

The National Parks Service has developed classroom materials on “Bert” and the Girl Scout program.

https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/scouts-shovels-bertha-dutton.htm

GSUSA ended the program after 1957, judging the experimental program a success. Staff at GSUSA announced that it was time for local councils to sponsor similar programs. Without Dr. Dutton’s charisma and intense involvement in the curriculum, local archaeological programs failed to take hold.

The fully illustrated book is a fun read and available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

The volume is already getting positive reviews!

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Bear Creek Flashback

This week I was contacted by someone doing research on the former Bear Creek Girl Scout Council.

She had done an internet search for Bear Creek and found me. That is where I began Girl Scouts, as I mentioned in another post a few years ago.

We talked a bit about Bear Creek’s merger into the Kentuckiana Girl Scout Council. I also offered to search my home town newspaper for anything relevant.

A quick search of the Paducah Sun archives produced a detailed article, as I expected:

But wait….what’s that on the page next to the article?

It’s a photo! An old photo with very little contrast. Plus the three figures are in shadow since they are standing under a canoe.

But if the faces aren’t clear, those three names sure are. That’s my old troop! I know those girls!! Heck, Laura Terrell sang at my wedding!!!

The photo is accompanied by a detailed article about the troop’s 1978 canoe trip to the Boundary Waters area on the US-Canadian border.

No, I didn’t make the canoe trip. I joined the troop a few weeks after they returned home. Even if I had had the opportunity to go, I’m positive my parents would not have let me. (Don’t even get me started on that subject….)

I already knew some of the girls from Junior Girl Scouts, the others I met at day camp later in the summer. After two weeks at day camp I felt like I had gone on the trip. That’s all they talked about! And they sang…the canoe songs… the car songs…the tent songs…. So many songs!

We’ve lost a few troop members over the decades, but I’m still in touch with many via Facebook. (Ladies, please leave a comment!)

Finally, I have to share another photo gem that turned up in my search. Nothing to do with canoes, but I need to recognize two women who were very important parts of my early Girl Scout years: Aleta Worthen, my Junior leader, and Mary Henry, my Cadette and Senior leader.

Does anybody remember Mrs. Henry with that hair??

Happy Throwback Thursday!

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian