Transcript:

Speaker I'm Evelynn Hammonds, I am the Barbara Guttmann Rosenkrantz, professor of the History of Science and professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University.

Speaker Amazing, we might on occasion get interrupted by noise, ChAFTA, repeat something. OK, sorry about that in advance and this will be heavily edited so you can feel free also to stop and start. OK, don't like it. It's OK. So why did you pursue this career as a historian and of these subjects in particular?

Speaker I became a historian of science because I was as an undergraduate. I studied physics and electrical engineering at Spelman College in Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and I went on to study physics at MIT. And one of the first things I noticed when I started studying physics electrical engineering was that I was usually the only woman in my classes. I was often the only African-American woman in my classes when I moved from Spelman to Georgia Tech. And certainly when I got to admit, I was one of only two African-American women in the physics department in my class. And I began to ask a lot of questions about why there were so few African-Americans studying physics. I knew lots of people who were interested in science when I was growing up, and I knew that it wasn't an issue of lack of interest or lack of capacity. At least that's what I believed strongly. But it was still quite evident that there was something going on in the whole world of physics. And certainly when I got to meet the world of science that suggested that that people thought there was a problem with African-Americans studying something like physics. And so that's not a question that physicists like to think about. So I realized that the only way I could get an answer to that question was to study the history of science. And I went into the history of science at a time when studies of women's participation in science was just becoming a major subfield in the discipline of history of science.

Speaker And what did you think was the reason? Well, the reasons have to do a lot with bias, with institutional discrimination, with lack of access to education and things like that. And so that began to make sense to me. But many of my colleagues were mostly writing about white women in science.

Speaker And so I saw what I wanted to do by studying the history of science was really get some sense of the role of African-Americans participation in science, and that included African-American men and women. But it was something in the broader discussion of the representation of women and minorities in science. So that's why I chose to study the history of science, and Harvard was a good place to do it.

Speaker Help us as a woman of color experience. Discrimination or challenges?

Speaker I don't think it's possible to be a woman in science, certainly in the era that I came of age, late 70s, early 80s, it was still a period of time where there were still so few that, of course, the thing that most women would experience and most women of color, including African-American women, is this sense of isolation. And you were still one of a couple of women in your classes, one of a couple of African-Americans in your classes. That sense of isolation or standing out high visibility or isolation was always something that was very present. There were often people said, you know, your people will never be successful in physics, so why are you here? And you had to put up with those kinds of comments all the time. And then you also had to listen to senior faculty say things about senior women, faculty. And of course, there were very few senior women faculty in physics when I started studying it. And so, again, you know, it was something that was very much in the atmosphere that women didn't belong and African-Americans and other people of color did not belong in these fields. And so that's something you had to live with every single day. It's one of my roommates used to say I got up in the morning and put on my armor before I went to school. And I think that was probably right, that, you know, sort of had to arm myself. I have a sense of protecting myself from various kind of comments that were inevitably going to come my way at some point during the day because I was a woman or because I was African-American. I never could tell which. And it didn't matter anymore because it just did not feel good. I think it has improved in many ways for for young women in science. Now, first, there are more women in science, particularly in the biological field, and that makes a big difference because you're not the only one anymore. But I think for many women of color, especially in the harder sciences like physics and chemistry, where there's still very few African-Americans and and women, that they still experience some of the same things that I did, unfortunately.

Speaker Practice is what I did as I completed I completed my master's degree in physics at MIT, meaning I stepped out of my doctoral program and took my master's degree. And then I worked as a software engineer for five years before I went on to Harvard to do a Ph.D. in the history of science, but was a software engineer. So the software software engineering, I did software engineering at a project at MIT called Project Athena, and it was a project that was partially funded by IBM and partially funded by Digital Equipment Corporation. And the work we did was building new applications on different computer platforms. So I literally had three computers on my desk and we were trying to make windows work on three different kinds of computers.

Speaker That should not take the.

Speaker Why did you, uh, focus your research on the early nineteen hundreds? What is it about that time period?

Speaker Well, I actually started in the 18th century pretty much, and because I'm really trying to understand in my work right now, my major work right now is how the concept of race changed over time in the United States.

Speaker I'm interested in race and gender, in science, technology, medicine, and starting an 18th century is an important moment in the United States is the beginning of a building of higher educational institutions in the US. It's a time when people in the United States begin to have a more prominent place in the scientific enterprise internationally. So different kinds of institutions were being built to address issues of science and technology. And certainly there were a lot of people beginning to go into medicine. So it was a it's an interesting time to start looking at these questions. And then certainly through the long nineteenth century is where Americans began to have a kind of deeper and more widespread interest in development of scientific and medical and engineering institutions.

Speaker As you know, this is what he said to me, well, when I think about unladylike, it just means, you know, not it means for female to not conform to stereotypical expectations of what women should and should not do. So certainly when I was a young woman studying engineering and people would say, how can you how could you be a girl and study engineering? And I would always sort of think that was the oddest question I'd ever heard, because being an engineer just meant you wanted to learn how to solve problems. You wanted to learn how things worked. You wanted to put forward your own ideas about building new things. And that seemed to me to have nothing to do with with gender or sex. And that is simply had to do with your passion and your interest and your creativity. So I certainly I went to a women's college as an undergraduate at Spelman College and at Spelman College.

Speaker There was a lot of emphasis on being a proper young lady. And I made it my business from the very first day I arrived to break every rule I could possibly break with respect to those kinds of ideas and and conventions.

Speaker Just like the. Yes.

Speaker Do you feel that? Ladylike, like unladylike, is a term that an African-American might have claimed up the time period that we're looking at.

Speaker In the time period we're looking at an early 20th century, certainly African-American women would have been familiar with the term like unladylike because so Spelman College is one of two African-American institutions for black women. Right.

Speaker And so at those institutions, there was a keen sense that African-American women had to prove that they could be respectable and ladylike because of all the negative stereotypes that were used to describe African-American people as a whole in very negative terms. And so there's a lot of emphasis on those who had the opportunity to get an education at that time. So Spelman College was founded in 1881. So there are lots of pictures that show young women at Spelman dressed in very sort of proper clothing, being, you know, doing things in a very sort of appropriate way and various pictures. And so that commitment to a sense of kind of respectable womanhood was something that was widely shared both at two African-American women's colleges and certainly colleges like Smith and Wellesley and Mount Holyoke. The seven sister colleges shared that sense of convention toward a kind of respectable behavior for women.

Speaker Just just to make sure I'm being a little bit and I want to.

Speaker OK.

Speaker I just focused on the turn of the century. Mm hmm. Some historians call the progressive. Yes. Many things about progress.

Speaker We'll get into that. Could you paint a picture for me of what is happening in scientific circles in America?

Speaker So in the progressive era, what's happening in scientific circles at that time is that Americans, as I said earlier, have are building new scientific institutions and applying certain aspects of a kind of scientific approach to understanding all kinds of things, including plant and animal breeding, new ways to address a massive epidemic, diseases. So new laboratories that were focused on bacteriology immunology. So laboratories are being built in various cities, new institutions where students could study science and engineering as a response to the industrial revolution happening.

Speaker And so a new demand for Americans to be involved in large technological projects. And so on every level, it's a moment where there's a lot of interest in science and technology and medicine. But at the same time, there's a sense that you can also apply the methods of science, the methods of engineering, a kind of analytical sensibility, analytical approaches to also solve social problems.

Speaker And so there's a great fervor at that time to try to apply a kind of rational approach to civic life, to social life, to domestic life, as well as to build great infrastructures in cities and towns and apply new methods of managing the growth of of crops and plants as well.

Speaker So.

Speaker The sound is great, um, was it unusual for women to be working in the fields of.

Speaker It was very unusual for women to be working in scientific and engineering fields in the early 1980s because still most of those fields were male dominated with cultures that supported a certain ideals about masculinity and therefore certain ideas about femininity, which meant that they expected women to be in the home raising children, not participating out in the broader world. And so just for example, women would be women, doctors, women who were beginning to get medical degrees and get be able to practice medicine would often have a very difficult time establishing a practice because people didn't accept them easily as someone who had the kind of knowledge that they could trust or had the authority that male physicians had. And the same is true in engineering. So engineering was seen as a very, very male dominated feel that women had no place in. And so there were great many barriers to women's, to women getting educations and engineering, to practicing engineering, to even being able to sign their papers if they managed to get into an engineering school, managed to do some work, managed to do some work that was actually publishable, they had to sign with their initials and not with their full names because there was that much bias against women participating in science that you actually had to find ways to hide your very identity.

Speaker Were there certain parts of science that were more acceptable?

Speaker Well, something like bacteriology, for example, was a field where women who had fine, great, fine motor skills are able to do particularly kind of routinized laboratory work, evaluating sort of samples of of of germs and cultures.

Speaker So that that was a field where women were able to do that. Work was very tedious work, routine work in astronomy. There were lots of women working there because you had to examine a lot of photographs of the sky and be able to see patterns in the stars. So that kind of meticulous work that took a lot of time, some people thought was tedious, but it was really quite, quite intricate abilities to be able to figure out those kind of powders were places where young women could get opportunities to actually do some scientific work.

Speaker But those were those are a bit few and far between because many schools simply did not allow women to get an education.

Speaker So when we talk about these fields where women were being excluded, sometimes a single woman could make her way through, perhaps by the help of her brother or perhaps by the help of a father who saw some potential in his daughter to be able to do this work well, who would support her entering these fields? And then sometimes women found themselves married to men who supported their efforts in studying engineering and science at the time.

Speaker But you needed a man to open the door for it in in these early days, you very much needed a man to open the door for you. That's quite, quite evident.

Speaker A couple other women we're featuring.

Speaker OK, what about Bartley's a field where Bonnie was a field that was slowly professionalising in the United States. So in the 19th century, there are lots of people of middle class who were, you know, educated to some extent, sometimes through college. But a lot of people who had at least some high school education were interested and just interested.

Speaker They're just interested in plants.

Speaker So they're kind of social clubs where people do things like go out in various parts of the country and try to identify different kinds of plants, bring samples back, catalog them, produce them in beautiful ways. And so these kinds of clubs of people sort of were naturalists, right. Who were interested in those kinds of collecting activities or were and there are a lot of women participating in those activities and those kinds of clubs across the country. But as the field began to professionalize and wanted to the members of the field, especially men wanted to see botany treat it as a serious science, then they only wanted people who had degrees, who understood nomenclature systems of classification of plants in a very specific kind of way. And they wanted people who were credentialed because they felt that was a way to have botany taken seriously as a scientific discipline. And when that happened, then many of the women who were just amateurs, who were just interested in collecting and cataloging, were not seen as serious members of what was what botany was becoming. And so they couldn't get higher degrees in botany. And so they were sort of moved slowly out and marginalized in the field as the field was professionalising.

Speaker I'm right here. There's a spotlight there, but it doesn't bother you on the video. It's a bit like a white look, a little white shine on.

Speaker It's just my Stemmons little spots on the side now.

Speaker Sorry, I didn't know because I was crossing the.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, OK, that everything will be OK.

Speaker OK. Are you sure? Um. And what about Arctic exploration and.

Speaker Oh, that would be very it would be very unusual for a woman to be allowed to go on an Arctic expedition. The National Geographic Society was one of the organizations that sponsored those kinds of expeditions, and they were largely, you know, sponsoring elite white men who had access to to wealth because those expeditions were very, very expensive. And so for a woman to get an opportunity to be a part of one of those teams was something that was very highly unusual.

Speaker Can you briefly touch on the history of engineering specifically as a field at the time, and in particular the birth of what Lillian Gilbreth was an.

Speaker So in the history of engineering, remember engineering as a as a broad set of activities, right. Including civil engineering, ocean engineering, industrial engineering, chemical engineering, are these fields are very seriously tied to industrial production, industrial innovation, the entire sort of manufacturing sectors. And so these sectors at the time were absolutely, clearly tied to new technological developments in the broader world. And so lots of engineers start companies, and so they fund educational institutions to teach young men the kinds of skills that they felt would be useful for various industrial processes. And I really mean it when I say they find young men to study these kinds of activities. And they were very close cultures of men who are building bridges, learning new techniques for building roads in civil engineering. Ocean engineering is a very old engineering discipline because that's the building of ships. And so all of the things involved in industrial and industrial work is what engineering schools very seriously align themselves with. So they're very tied to engineering. Students are used to, for example, working in a factory for a long time and moving. They're moving up in a factory, going back to school, learning different kinds of skills, bringing new technologies back into the shop floor, for example. That's a kind of process that engineering education was about, was very tied to industrial production. And just for people who don't know what was happening in terms of industrialization in the early 20th century is a moment of very, very intense industrial production in the United States. Is the time when people like Edison has a big lab and he's developing all kinds of new products, including the light bulb. You have a moment where people are building new kinds of developing new kinds of tools to power trains, building of cars begins to happen around this time. This is so it's a very intense moment of industrial production in the United States. And it's a time when the big conglomerates, like the oil companies, mining companies are are engaged in developing new ways to accomplish whatever, to make whatever kind of products they wanted to make and to do whatever kinds of things they need to build the tools to do the kinds of things that they needed to do to move their industries forward. So it's a very intense time of industrial production.

Speaker OK, I'm sorry, I didn't you know, I'd rather just have you comfortably and OK, just lower this, OK? Sure. And stick up. It's up to see if I could just shoot.

Speaker OK. So you mentioned a few individuals or a few individual women who are able to break out with the help of mentors and allies.

Speaker Has it worked? OK, what are some names that that come to mind?

Speaker Oh, that's a hard one. I should remember some, but I didn't. But yeah, OK. It was just it was OK.

Speaker OK, so let's shift into science and.

Speaker Yeah, sure, please define eugenics, eugenics emerged in the late 1980s as a as a way of understanding.

Speaker That's not the way I wanted to start that sentence. OK?

Speaker Eugenics is a word that's coined by Francis Galton, who's Charles Darwin's cousin, and just as Darwin was putting forth his theory of natural selection in biology. His cousin was interested in applying those ideas to humans to see what would it take to breed better humans. And so eugenics is a comes from the Greek. It means well born. And he one of the things that him did was do a study of hereditary genius. And so he looked at counted up all these men in England who were considered to be geniuses to see if he could see patterns that would help produce more geniuses in the population. And it comes to America around nineteen hundred or so where white elites at the time were concerned about increased immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. The more African-Americans were moving from the south into the cities and what they what white only saw around them, it seemed to be they were being surrounded by groups of people that weren't like them, that they weren't sure could assimilate into a world that they were the leaders of. They had a great deal of anxiety about the increasing birth rate of the immigrants who were coming in and settling in places like New York and Chicago and Boston as particular sites of large numbers of immigrants. And they were also concerned about birth rates, high birth rates among African-Americans. And their anxiety was that they were going to be lost in this in this new world with so many different people were mixing together in cities.

Speaker So the emphasis for them was for how can we produce more people like us, more white people with all kinds of values and all kinds of bodies. They wanted people who would be fit. They wanted they supported a certain kind of body type, tall, blond, blue eyed, Nordic looking types. They carved up the world into different kinds of types. And, of course, the type of body that they valued, the type of people they valued, the kind of morals and as well as physiology of people were like them. And everybody else was ranked on a hierarchy with African-Americans on the bottom, southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans up until Northern Europeans were the ideal type. OK, so how do you do how do you how do the people of this type reproduce themselves? So what do they have to do?

Speaker They have to not mix and reproduce with any of the lower orders. They have to make sure that they educate themselves. Well, they have to make sure that they develop their bodies and the emphasis on fitness, on athleticism, all of that. And for the women, they had to produce lots of babies and they wanted those babies to be, well, born, well-fed. They wanted to introduce notions of what's the best way to train a baby, train little kids. And so that so they could see the reproduction of both their their bodies and their culture and their values going forward in time so that they would not lose their dominant place in the society that they felt they had created.

Speaker Marion Jones isn't specifically what we now call white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, this group at the top of the hierarchy that they that eugenicists created at the top of that hierarchy were white elite who were of northern European descent. Right. Who were called who they considered to be of the Anglo Saxon heritage. Think of Germany, think of England, think of northern nor northern countries. I'm sorry. Think of northern countries.

Speaker And so they felt that white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were the ideal type and those were the type of people they felt needed to be leaders of American society.

Speaker Sure, my move may no longer are able to push up your glasses quietly while keeping the angle that I can try.

Speaker OK, sure.

Speaker Selective Service.

Speaker So the kind of efforts and practices that Eugenicist Foster, they come in two different strands, there's positive eugenics efforts, that is people they've sponsored better baby contests.

Speaker They encouraged women to take care of themselves in particular ways when they were pregnant. They encouraged young people to get more exercise. They encouraged people to understand the need to marry someone like themselves in order to continue to propagate themselves into the future, that they would have good communities and strong communities.

Speaker And then on the other side. So they supported the notion of building the fit, the fitter, the fittest people among whom they considered themselves. On the other side of eugenics is what we might call the dark side negative eugenics, which is then you have to remove those people deemed unfit out of the population. So people who are considered feebleminded of lesser intelligence, who have some kind of mental defect, who have physical disabilities, who are of the lower races like African-Americans, these are the people who should not be in the American population and they should be taken out in various kinds of ways. And so for people who are feebleminded, families were encouraged to put a child who did not display a reasonable amount of intellectual ability and reasonable they defined in various ways, should then be put in a kind of special school away from other people so they couldn't reproduce. In fact, that would be one of the reasons you would want to send them away. So you have the positive eugenics, which is like building better Anglo-Saxon art.

Speaker And then on the other side, the negative eugenics is getting rid of those who are considered unfit out of the population.

Speaker Eugenics would be considered a positive, eugenics can be considered positive, in part because of its focus on health, on fitness, on on educational development, physical development that could be considered positive as long as it's not juxtaposed against that. Some people can never be fit and some people need to be removed from the population. So some would argue even today, our own highly emphasized culture where we talk about people needing to get exercise all the time, for example, the number of health clubs on any city block in in various cities and places right now, that's a positive eugenics kind of approach that you should be you should be involved in self-improvement and physical improvement. The eugenicists would have understood that kind of the kind of modern focus we have on exercise, they would understand that because they believed that that was something you should do, that human improvement was the goal of eugenicists. Right now, what they what we don't do, unfortunately, anymore is think about how we remove people who are considered unfit from the population.

Speaker I can't remember, did you mention stereo for stereo?

Speaker No, I didn't. OK, so and if we think about the negative aspects of eugenics, then one of the most prominent activities that they engaged in was to get states to pass sterilization laws to make sure that those who were considered unfit, those who were feebleminded with mental deficiencies or physical deficiencies, should be sterilized and not be able to physically reproduce. So they separated them so they wouldn't be in contact with other people, but also encourage the sterilization of them so they could not produce another generation of people who were not fit.

Speaker Briefly discuss how the birth of the. Birth control goes hand in hand.

Speaker So the origins of the birth control movement at that time really fit neatly in some respects with eugenics attitudes, because the leaders of that of that movement wanted people to have control over birth, which is something that the eugenicists believed in. You should have control over it. But they also in that movement, the negative aspect, again, was whose reproductive activities should be controlled. And they, again, thought of those people who were producing too many babies who were not of the kind of people they wanted in the population. And so while in one respect, when we look back on it, we could say birth control is something giving women control over their own bodies. But actually it was about a societal promotion of control of reproduction. That's where the eugenicists were coming in with this. So they wanted the birth. They wanted the reproductive activities again of the unfit to be more control. What they wanted from elite women and white women was to have as many babies as you could. And so the eugenics dogma also included the sense that educated women were having less babies. And therefore they argued that women shouldn't seek higher education because it was impairing and preventing them from having as many babies as they possibly could. So, again, the birth control movement had these complicated resonance on the birth control movement, had these complicated resonances that on the one hand was about control of reproduction, but it was mostly centered on the control of reproduction of people who were breeding too much in the eyes of white elites.

Speaker How were scientists such as the culprits recruited into the.

Speaker The scientists like the Gilbreth would be enlisted in the eugenics movement because they were interested in the issue of building better people, improving the human condition, improving their own stock. Right, their own racial stock, their own providing into the future, you know, a place for people with the right pedigrees, with the right character, with the right approach and values to life. Right. So you don't have to recruit white elites into the eugenics movement. At that time, it was something that was widely discussed. Eugenics was taught in many, many high schools. And so for the people that were interested in encouraging especially white elites to have many more children, to raise them in better ways to think about nutrition and fitness and all of these things as part and parcel of what the modern woman is supposed to do, you don't need to have a particular campaign necessarily to recruit those. The campaigns that eugenicist really spent a lot of time on with encouraging rural families to think about how they develop their families in this way, or people who hadn't really had much access to this kind of information about the need to consider how reproduction shaped a society. And so the Gilbreth were a part of the upper classes. The ideas of better breeding were very much talked about in those classes. And so they basically made decisions about their reproductive activities that reflected the values of those who were positive eugenicist.

Speaker Was was eugenics ever delegitimized and so.

Speaker The eugenics movement really reached its peak right before World War Two, but with the excesses of Nazism and when the world found out what the sort of Aryan philosophy that Hitler promoted, that the Koreans were the leaders of the German people, it should be the leaders of the world. Right. And that they they actually took eugenics to its absolute end to remove those people who were considered unfit out of their population, which led to the genocide of of Jewish people, which led to the murders of homosexuals. Any kind of people with defects in the German population, they actually carried out on the orders of the state to do that to this entire population, OK, because they wanted an Aryan Nation. When the results of their activities were found out what had happened under Nazism, many, many people in the world were completely horrified that anybody that any group of people would take these ideas to that extreme end.

Speaker And so it brought about a kind of people pulled back from it saying this is not support the kind of values that.

Speaker People who believe in the value of human life should support at the same time the scientific support of eugenics practices of how you create better humans began to lose support among many scientists, particularly biologists and geneticists who had learned more about human inheritance because genetics was moving as and developing more as a field of study. And a lot of the eugenics ideas were based on a kind of mixed mush of older kinds of ideas about the biology of humans, the biology of inheritance that were rapidly changing. And it develops new developments in genetics and the new developments in genetics did not support the way that the eugenics thought about inheritance.

Speaker And so it lost scientific support and it also lost public support in the face of the excesses of Naziism.

Speaker Can you push up your glass, if you can? OK. Thank you.

Speaker Do you personally equate eugenics?

Speaker Scientific racism, I think the notion that pseudoscientific and scientific.

Speaker Eugenics can be considered a part of a kind of early scientific racism that we see in America, which scientific racism was built around scientific theories that argued that about a hierarchy of races, a belief that people were fundamentally different and that white Europeans were the smartest, the most beautiful, the most capable, the leaders of the greatest civilizations, and then moving down that hierarchy all the way down to what we considered the lower racist who were considered to be inherently defective, a different incapable of creating art or music or doing any kind of intellectual work. And we're doomed to just be laborers in the world. And so scientific racism was the scientific theories that argue that this is the natural order of things. It's given by nature. They would suggest it's not our society in the U.S. that has put black people at the bottom. It's their natural place in the world. And so biological theories that supported that some racist were fundamentally inherently different than others and that there's a scale, a hierarchy involved in how we understand those differences is something that was very much a part of scientific racism by the night. But the beginning of the 20th century race was thought of as this integrated social, cultural, linguistic and physical thing. It was all mush together. Race could explain everything and it could explain a social order that was unequal and unjust.

Speaker Eugenicists could build upon that that rhetoric, the practices that discriminated against African-Americans and say, yes, this is the way the world is. And we can capitalize on this by promoting our group, the white race, as better people and try to increase our role physically, mentally.

Speaker To lead this lead this country, so they're connected, they're not completely the same thing, but eugenics in Genesis could build on the already existing theories of scientific racism that have begun in a previous century.

Speaker Before you say anything else about you.

Speaker No, not think are very clear, I think so. Well, I don't know, it might something might come to me. Right. OK. All right.

Speaker So I want to talk briefly about scientific management. Yes, sure.

Speaker Industrial engineering fields. Yes. But we're working conditions like during.

Speaker What conditions in the industrial revolution vary, but you have to think about the fact that factory work was very dangerous kind of work. It was highly routinized. Factory work conditions were terrible in the sense that people did this work in buildings with no windows where there's lots of loud machines, where they were subject to the authority of of managers, where they had no say in how they did their work, that they were just sort of cogs in a wheel. And with the introduction of more and more factory work, the need for more manufacturing companies, the more factories for and all of these places work was was speeding up. There are lots more people having to do work. There are no regular hours. There are no limitations on the ability of the children working in factories, doing all kinds of dangerous work. There are no workplace restrictions on certain kinds of work that you could do in a factory. And so people who worked in the factory were trying to, you know, they did it because they needed to live. Right. But these were not these were jobs that were were extremely difficult when people worked lots of long hours under terrible conditions. And slowly but surely there were people begin to think maybe this could be done differently, maybe it could be done slightly better.

Speaker Unions have begun to form because workers needed to find a way to bargain collectively with managers to get better conditions and they have better control over their work. So in the industrial revolution, these ideas are slowly coming to a head in the early 20th century that the workplace needed to be rethought. Their place for it was a place for more innovation and certainly for the people working.

Speaker There were more and more making more and more demands for their own rights to control their labor.

Speaker Um, can you describe Richard Taylor's theory of.

Speaker Scientific Frederick Taylor's theory of scientific management was to go into a factory and look at what people were doing and try to sketch out every task that had to be completed to get to some building, some kind of product. And once he could sort of make an outline of that, then he thought of different ways that the work that the set of tasks could be made more efficient. He wanted he measured how much time it took to do a task he measured. He thought about the kinds of tools that people use to to complete a task and thought about production of new tools. He looked at, you know, how much time it took to do every single task and chunked it out. Right. And he produced information that said, if you change how this worker produces this product in these ways, they'll be more efficient and they'll make better products. And so his goal was to introduce the notion of the scientific management of work, to provide better information to the managers, to control the workers activities and produce better products and for the whole factory to be more efficient. What were the downsides? The downside of Taylor's work is that because he was looking at time and motion studies and thinking about how much time it could do a task, he was giving managers tools to really control how workers completed their task. And it allowed for workers, particularly working in factories where their assembly lines, for example, where each worker is working on a separate part. He made it possible for managers to see ways to speed up production, to slow down production, but it slowly giving over the control that workers may have had who come from a different kind of craft tradition in some factories, that that ability to put their own stamp on building a project and building a product and doing it at their own pace was rapidly going away.

Speaker Because the managers now could say, we know that if you can do this task in this amount of time, you should do it.

Speaker And this is what we want you to do every day. So workers were losing control over their own labor and managers were learning more ways from people like Taylor to take every job in a factory and apply that same kind of logic to it, to control how much time to make the workplace more efficient.

Speaker Would you say it was exploitive and just efficient?

Speaker Taylorism was not just efficient, so efficiency is a word we should put quotes around, it could be very exploitative of people's labor because they didn't have it. The factory workers were having less and less say in that in how the work was getting done and how much time it took to get it done. Efficiency was being defined by the managers, not by the workers.

Speaker How did the Gilbreth and specifically.

Speaker What Frank and Lillian Gilbreth bought to Taylor's ideas of scientific management was actually, I think, keenly associated with Lilian's background in psychology. She studied psychology. They brought an idea that you had to pay attention to the human element, which Taylor was more focused on the task and the overall production.

Speaker And they felt that implementing it actually put more stress on the worker not taking the worker's ideas into account. And therefore, with what's creating a works, a system that seemed to have lost complete track of the worker's contribution, the worker's contribution was not being considered.

Speaker So they go into these places in these factories and do similar kinds of time motion studies. They film people doing a particular task. They think about how much time it takes to do a task. They check out aspects of the task. Some of those things are similar to what Taylor was proposing, but they also thought the workers ought to have some say in this.

Speaker They thought about the workplace environment. Maybe there needs to be more light. Maybe there needed to be bigger windows. Maybe the workers needed to take a break. They were concerned about fatigue over time in the workplace. Maybe we should have suggestion boxes and workers should be able to say, you know, when you forced us to do this, I have an idea how we might be able to do this better, take more of the human element into the equation to make for a better workforce of that and a better workplace at the same time, focusing still on issues of efficiency.

Speaker OK, thank you.

Speaker So for somebody who's never heard of a million.

Speaker Thank you briefly describe who she is and what intentions she's best known for, Lillian Gilbreth was born in Oakland, California.

Speaker Now, know what that before you go into. Yeah, sure. Oh, OK.

Speaker I just of someone, you know, who is she was like, what if she. Yeah.

Speaker OK, I think Lillian Gilbreth is definitely going to be remembered for her work as an industrial engineer, for her ability to go into workplaces and think hard about the consumers, the workers role. I'm sorry that again, Lillian Gilbreth will be remembered for her work in various companies and various factories and various industries because of her interest in the human element, and that her interest was in making a better workplace, a more efficient workplace, without forgetting about the fact that the workers have needs that need to be addressed. So she's the first industrial engineer who really brings to bear her observations and her understandings of psychology two studies of work. And she does that in a way in many, many of the projects that she takes on. She goes into a place like Macy's department store and looks at what's happening on the floor where people wear their sales clerks, where they're managers. How much do the sales clerks understand about the flow of work that needs to happen? Maybe the workers should be taught to think about the flow of work as they are salesclerks. They thought about training workers and training managers to work together a bit more and thinking about the work, production and of all, of course, emphasis on efficiency. But it was that emphasis on sort of the human part and the notions about what she understood about human psychology, that I think she is really one of the hallmarks of all the different kinds of work that she did.

Speaker So to to summarize, it would be fair to say that.

Speaker The way Americans thought it would be fair to say that Lillian Gilbreth changed the way Americans work, but she also changed for with a particular focus on women domestic work as well as factory work. So she thought hard and made really important interventions in how a kitchen should be set up that would allow the mother in the home who spends a lot of time in the kitchen to do work there more efficiently to think about whether or not you can have appliances that could do certain aspects of the work in the home so that people would be free from work to do other things, spend more time with their children, enjoy the leisure that they had given that they didn't have to do relentless, routinized work all the time.

Speaker So the modern kitchen, we certainly can attribute to the ideas that she promulgated and implement it and thinking about domestic work and at work outside the home.

Speaker You mentioned appliances. What what appliances did she and I actually don't know the answer to that.

Speaker I don't know which was. I know the push to help. OK, let me say something about the refrigerator. Yes, that's right. I haven't actually written down. OK.

Speaker So when Galbreath thought a lot about what would make it easy to move around the kitchen and do the work you needed to do right, so she was the first person to put shelves in the refrigerator. Right. So you could segment the different kind of products and reach them easily. Right. She thought about the push pedal trash can, so you didn't always have to be bending down to do the trash. She thought of other ways of putting cabinets at a particular height to keep people from keep women from having to bend over too much in the kitchen, making something like eggs. She thought about the eggbeater. She thought about having light switches on the wall for easy reach to turn on, turn on and off lights. She thought about products in the kitchen that would be electric powered by electricity.

Speaker So again, you're doing less manual labor in making meals for your family. So those are the kinds of things that she thought about.

Speaker Sorry I cut you off. No, it's OK if you want to quickly. Have to get to you in five minutes or less. Tell me her life story.

Speaker So Lillian Galbreath was born in Oakland, California, 1878, and her death in 1972, she went to she grew up interested in getting higher education at a moment when it was very difficult for a woman if her parents did not support that. But her parents let her finally attend college. And she, I think, went to the University of California at Berkeley and she studied arts and humanities, maybe had some interest in some other things. But it's not clear to early point in her life where she wanted to put her talent at an early age in the early 1980s. She met Frank Gilbreth, who was beginning to think about these ideas of scientific management, and she moved to New York. She studied psychology at Columbia University again, something that will be very important in her life.

Speaker She and Frank Gilbreth married, and they decided that they needed to have 13 children and they believe that having six girls and six boys was a good idea.

Speaker Again, they ran a household where things were very organized.

Speaker The children's lives were quite oriented toward them, taking care of themselves in a very orderly way. Tasca chunked out. They had chores all the time. They had set times to do their homework, these kinds of things.

Speaker And that was they employed scientific management ideas in their own home.

Speaker One of the ironies of of Lillian Galbraith, though, is that she thought about all these ideas about how to organize the kitchen, except she wasn't very interested in doing work in the kitchen herself. So she was so she had a very productive relationship with her husband and he supported her getting an education to getting her getting a Ph.D. But then he tragically died at an early age and she was left to support at that point, I think, 12 children. And she had to make a living for herself. She wanted to keep the consulting firm that they had built together going because she had to support her family some way. But many of the contracts they had when Frank was alive, people did not want her to to do those contracts because of bias against women. And so she had to figure out ways to make her way in a world that would allow her to do and express the kind of ideas and innovations that she was thinking about in terms of scientific management in the workplace. Slowly but surely, she was able to make a place for herself in that world.

Speaker And then she had a very long and productive career carrying out various kinds of projects, both as an industrial engineer, but also in service to the federal government, those kinds of things.

Speaker Tell me briefly about her becoming.

Speaker So one of the things about Lillian Gilbreth is that she supported her family. She was committed to doing that. She was committed to her work. But at the same time, she was also committed to being a mother. So she faced a very modern kind of problem of women who were leaving the domestic sphere in that period of time, but needing to take care of her family, taking on professional work and making an impact in that world of work by having people pay attention to her ideas. It took a long time before she got a position at Purdue University where she could actually actually fully develop many of the ideas that she had been engaged in as a consultant. But she still had to travel back and forth to take care of her family. And I think that it's it's very important to see the ways in which, in some respects, her approach to the work was missing, some of the points that actually were really relevant and important in her own life. She needed to take care of her family, so she needed her professional work.

Speaker At the same time, she was thinking about ways to help women do more work in the domestic sphere, work that she really could not do, in part because she was spending a lot of time in the professional world.

Speaker So those new appliances, those ideas about how to be more women could be more efficient in the home was in some respects a accepting the notion that woman's place was in the home, which was really contradictory to her own life, which is spent largely in the professional world.

Speaker So according to the biographer of Gilbreth that we interviewed earlier, the Gilberts were considered positive eugenicist, as you describe.

Speaker What evidence do we have of how?

Speaker Well, I think the most I think the most important point to think about the Gilbreth in terms of the influence of positive eugenics on their lives is first and foremost is the fact that she started having children very early in her marriage and had, you know, 13 children, one who died but raised a household of 12 children and was able, because of their wealth and social station, to have a household that they could control with with outside help domestic health.

Speaker And so they became the sort of poster child, the poster family, if you will, of the very eugenics, very much the positive eugenics belief, because they were they looked like the kind of family, certainly before Frank Albert died, that eugenicists were hoping would be the model for all white elites at the time. Right. So that to me is part of it. A very important part. But I but I would not argue, based on what I understand of her life, that it was a promotion of a particular kind of eugenics ideology. But is the practice of those very values and a practice of that ideology, which is very much a part of why they made the decision to have the children, how the children raised were raised in a particular way that were just manifestations of that ideology.

Speaker Uh, was there a race or class component to the work that she did then?

Speaker I don't know. I tried to try to figure that out, but I could not. I suspect there was, but.

Speaker I don't have a good example to tell you. Uh. And and do you have.

Speaker Any evidence that she ever spoke about social Darwinism or eugenics?

Speaker Express, I don't I don't, I don't.

Speaker So we found one quote that we're going to use. OK. She says, we want intellectual mothers for the race.

Speaker Yeah, well, sort of. Right. The closest thing we can left for.

Speaker So I think that Lillian Gilbreth approach to a kind of the kind of scientific management of the home that she supported included the notion that, you know, the best families should have mothers be well educated to be able to follow particular sets of practices, to to have a kind of intellectual approach to motherhood that would help support the very notion of having as many babies as you could and being able to manage a household in very specific ways. These are not practices that that elites like Gilbreth would see or expect from the lower classes. This is something that they expected well-educated white people of particular classes to practice.

Speaker Can you summarize? Her blindspots. Well, let's do both.

Speaker So I think her greatest achievements, as I said, are her contributions to industrial engineering and helping rethink the workers place in the workplace to think about the workplace itself as supporting the work, which is not something that early industrialists thought very much about. They thought about production. They thought about efficiency. They didn't think as much about the workplace itself and the workers role in the workplace, which I think the work of the Gilberton and particularly Lillian was very concerned about. So I think that's a particular strength. I think her blindspots had to do with not seeing the ways in which she was supporting by her activities and focus on the home activities that made more work for women. She was not a feminist by many accounts, but yet she lived a life that many feminists were arguing for, professional women being able to have it all respected professional work and and a home life with children and a family.

Speaker And yet she didn't quite see that connection in a way that would have led her actually, I think, to support some of the more radical feminist approaches, feminist ideas that were being expressed at the time. She was not a supporter of those ideas. She was a supporter of a kind of a traditional role for women when she was living a traditional life of many women. So I think that's one of her major blind spots.

Speaker So when we first met over the phone, you you asked me not to. Gilbreath to.

Speaker He doesn't deserve it, so it's not that I don't think Lillian Gilbreth should be supported or that we should be thinking of celebrating her achievements because she there were many at the time, it was very difficult for women to make their way into any engineering field. Certainly industrial engineering was one of those fields. She may signal an important and significant contributions to understanding work. Right. And the workplace, her ideas that are developed that she implemented in helping a place like Macy's or or other kinds of companies think about the woman as a consumer of various products and watching these changes happening for women in the workplace. And she had a big impact on the workplace, changing to allow women to be more engaged in work in certain kinds of ways. I think those are important contributions. She was a strong believer in sort of the scientific principles of really thinking through tasks and how to deal with issues of work and a very sort of rational kind of way and making that front and center.

Speaker Those are important things. At the same time, she is a woman of her times and of white upper class woman of those times does not really come to terms with the changing attitudes about other peoples in the society. She was she was not thinking about working class women, particularly. She was thinking about middle class women. She was thinking about upper class women. She's not thinking about lower class women in particular. She's not thinking about women of different races and ethnicities. And so she carried those attitudes forward in her life. And so for me, it's not so much not that we shouldn't celebrate her, but we should celebrate. We should understand the complex woman that she was and her attitudes about that. There are some people who are more fit, right.

Speaker As eugenicists believed is something that we need to name and own and not sort of push it to the side, but take that with the fact that she's made important, significant contributions.

Speaker I think we're almost out of time, right? So just really quickly, what what is the state of women in?

Speaker Today, the state of women in STEM fields today is changing rapidly, but at the same time, a lot of the barriers to women's success in scientific fields are still there. So the first barrier that came down is access to education that's now. Right. Is possible for women to enroll in every every scientific engineering field right now. At the same time, to be successful in those fields requires the institutions and engineering in particular, the culture has to change. So the National Academy of Sciences is now the president of the National Academy of Sciences is a woman engineer. That's an important position that a woman holds that position in one of the highest bodies, academic bodies of our country, not just academic, but what it reflects as the National Academies is the institution that was established by Abraham Lincoln to get the best minds in the academy and industry to come together to help solve problems for the nation and independent and scientific way. So that's important. But the many studies that the National Academies have done, looking at what's going on for women in the scientific and engineering fields, we still see that is very hard for young women to progress in these fields, either industry or the academy, if they have young children at home, because in this country, it's very hard to get support for child care while you're doing very demanding work. If you have a lab, it's very hard to stop working at five o'clock to pick up your child from childcare and continue to keep the whatever's happening in your laboratory going at a very high level. So childcare issues are still important. The ability to have to balance work and family is still very important and have a real effect on women's lives. So institutions have now found this is not just important to open the door to let women have access to engineering jobs and engineering education. Those institutions also have to provide benefits that support women's lives. Most women still do most of the childrearing. Most women, still women have the babies pregnancy and how to figure out what's a good time in the course of your career to have your children, who's going to help you raise your children, care for your children? All of these are things that young women in engineering fields still face.

Speaker So institutions are slowly but surely changing and providing more kind of benefits that will support women's real lives of family and of work.

Speaker And those interventions and those new benefits, we will see the impact of those probably in another decade. We see some benefits now, but it's going to take another decade before we can see if it's really possible for women to really come to a place where they're not suffering from trying so hard to balance work and family and that more men in engineering fields are take up some of that burden of balancing work and family as well. So I'm hopeful at this moment because we have enough women who come through these fields who are now senior in their fields, who support the institutional changes that we need to make sure that younger women in engineering fields don't have to make it in the same way we did that they have much more support and then we can tap very much more easily on the creative energy and ideas and commitments that they have to make it a better world. Engineers solve problems.

Speaker I don't know the answer to that.

Speaker Yeah, I mean, some of the reading that I did, it suggests that Frank may have been more into it at first, but I believe one of the professors she studied.

Speaker And yeah, right. Yes, yes, yes, yes, that might be true, but it was also just in the air.

Speaker It was, you know, it was really in the air.

Speaker This is something that it's very.

Speaker Very much that people don't know about eugenics, which is that it's really a very broad and widespread social movement of the times. It's international. There are huge international conferences on eugenics. And these better baby contests that I'm talking about, these were hundreds of people would show up for these contests. And so we're talking about something that was widely discussed. People participated in all kinds of eugenics activities sponsored by eugenics organizations. People were interested in producing genealogies and really trying to, you know, make better families in many, many different ways. It was something that lots of people thought that thought about.

Speaker So I even though she may have been specifically introduced to some aspects of it at Columbia, it was in the er in the in the strata of society that she was a part of it. And in New York.

Evelynn Hammonds
Interview Date:
2019-12-17
Runtime:
1:14:59
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Evelynn Hammonds, Unladylike2020: The Changemakers." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 17 Dec. 2019, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1031
APA CITATIONS:
(2019, December 17). Evelynn Hammonds, Unladylike2020: The Changemakers. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1031
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Evelynn Hammonds, Unladylike2020: The Changemakers." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). December 17, 2019. Accessed January 23, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1031

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