Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Two Eminent Victorians: Emily Carr and Lillian Gilbreth

March 12 - Today's post contributed by Monica Kulling

Two Eminent Victorians: Emily Carr and Lillian Gilbreth

Thank you Lisa and Margo for organizing Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History Month, and inviting me to participate once again. I’ve been writing biographies for many years now, and in the last three years I’ve had the pleasure of researching and writing about two admirable women: Canadian painter, Emily Carr, and American psychologist and industrial engineer, Lillian Gilbreth. Their stories are depicted in: When Emily Carr Met Woo and Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen, publishing in April and August of this year.

Temperamentally these two eminent women were as different as chalk and cheese. Emily Carr lived a messy, painterly life with a house full of animals, no intimate with whom to share her life, little money, and no encouragement from the straight-laced society in which she lived. Emily was, in short, not the possessor of a whole lot of “happiness minutes,” a phrase which Lillian Gilbreth, the scientist, coined from her work in time management. Lillian proffered that if you tackled the work you had to do, in an organized and efficient manner, and in fact, tackled your entire life in this way, you would reap many “happiness minutes,” which would be the time left over to do those things you love. Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it? And, Lillian was someone who needed a plan, for she had her plate full with twelve children, a business, and the many innovative ideas she wanted to bring into reality.

Externally, the pair shared a few interesting elements. They were both born in the same century and the same decade: Emily Carr in 1871 and Lillian in 1878. Both were born on the west side of North America: Emily Carr in Victoria, British Columbia and Lillian in Oakland, California. Both came from respectable backgrounds and were able to secure an education.

Naturally, their differences are more intriguing. Lillian Gilbreth wore many hats. She was as an industrial engineer, a pioneer in ergonomics, an expert in time management, an author, and an inventor. She became the first working female engineer to hold a Ph.D. Emily wore one hat, her passion for painting, and she worked hard to keep that one firmly planted on her head, by doing all she could to support herself. She bred and sold sheepdogs, sold clay bowls and plates (Bryan Adams, the popular singer/songwriter, owns an extensive collection of this pottery), and rented rooms in her house, even while she slept in a tent in her backyard!

Who Is Lillian Gilbreth?
When Lillian married Frank Gilbreth in 1904, he was already a pioneer in the field of scientific management and motion study. Together the couple would become a force in that field, aside from becoming the parents of six girls and six boys! Factories hired them to increase productivity. They filmed workers doing their job, and tabulated the motions that were repetitive and wasteful. Lillian brought sensitivity to this work, raising it above scientific fact. For example, Lillian was one of the first scientists to recognize the effects of stress and lack of sleep on workers.

Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen, is the sixth book in the Great Idea series, and focuses on Lillian Gilbreth’s inventive side. Her kitchen inventions helped the homemaker work more effectively, thereby gaining more of those “happiness minutes.” These inventions include the step-on trashcan, the improved electric can opener, the electric mixer, the egg keeper and butter tray in refrigerators, and the wastewater hose in washing machines. She accomplished all this, while bringing up eleven children on her own, ranging in age from toddler to teen, after Frank died at age 55. (Mary, Lillian’s sixth child, died when Mary was five).

Who Is Emily Carr?
Emily Carr was born in Victoria in the same year, 1871, that British Columbia became a part of Canada. She was always proud of this fact. As history describes it, at age eight Emily picked up a piece of charred wood out of the fireplace and rendered a lovely drawing of the family dog. Later, she studied painting in San Francisco (another Lillian link), England, and France. But Emily Carr was a westerner, through and through. She became desperately homesick whenever she left the wild beauty of her beloved West Coast.

Although Emily could not find comfort or a meeting-of-minds in the cheerless Victorian society in which she was born and raised, she felt at home with the First Nations people living in the coastal villages. The First Nations people of Ucluelet even gave her a new name, “Klee Wyck,” which means “Laughing One.” Perhaps in their generous and caring community Emily finally found a wealth of “happiness minutes.”

Emily Carr’s paintings of the decaying totems on western Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and the Skeen and Nass Rivers are her lasting legacy. In 1927, she was invited (with help from Lawren Harris of the Group of Seven) to exhibit her work in the National Gallery in Ottawa. This was the beginning of her most creative time. She bought herself a camper trailer and planted herself beneath the towering redwood cedars. When Emily could no longer paint, because of several strokes, she began to write. She won Canada’s top literary prize, the Governor General’s Award, for her first book, Klee Wyck.

I could go on and on about these two strong and influential women. But there is a length limit, after all! It was a joy to write about each one, and to see how the illustrators, David Parkins (Spic-and-Span!) and Dean Griffiths (When Emily Carr Met Woo) brought them to life for a young audience.

Monica Kulling is the author of over forty books for children, including the popular Great Idea series featuring stories of inventors. The third book in the series, In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up, was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for illustration and chosen as a Once Upon a World Children’s Book Award Honor Book by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In addition, Monica’s work has been nominated for numerous Silver Birch Express and Golden Oak awards. Her recent picture books include Lumpito and the Painter from Spain and Mister Dash and the Cupcake Calamity. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto, Ontario. Visit her at

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