Scientific Management in the Home

My research has taken a turn to thinking about how scientific management in the home affects children. I think I am going to argue that Wharton depicts the application of Taylorism to the home as faulty and the attempt as damaging to children because it strives them into the products rather than members of the family. Here is some background information on scientific management and home economics:


In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. Though Taylor’s ideas were popular before this publication, his influence ballooned in the first decades of the twentieth century. Detailing his experiments that increased the output of each pig-handler at Bethlehem Steel Company from an average of twelve and a half tons per day to forty-seven and a half tons per day, Taylor persuaded industrial employers of the success of scientific management. Taylor encouraged employers to determine the most productive strategy for any task, to select the laborer best able to complete that task, and to train and supervise the worker’s completion of the task in a step-by-step process (39).  Taylor’s theory also depended upon a “subdivision” of labor, forcing each laborer to perform a basic task that would be built upon by subsequent laborers (38). Scientific management, therefore, called for a strict division of labor between the management and the worker, essentially severing mental and physical work.  Although Taylor promoted higher wages for workers, by disposing of laborers’ mental work he devalued the individual worker and regarded him as a tool rather than as a person.

While Taylor’s system undervalued individual workers, it was tremendously profitable. Taylor’s scientific methods allowed employers to measure the greatest possible output of workers and to compare this amount against the actual profit of workers. Taylor’s standards provided a tangible standard for productivity. Given the success of his steel mill experiment, it is unsurprising that his principles became popular with instrutrial managers and with the American public in general. Multiple societies and even an entire magazine promoted his theory of scientific management. “Efficiency” and “productivity” became buzzwords, used even outside of their direct application with business (Haber 32-3).

Taylor anticipated the application of his theory to areas outside of industry in his introduction to The Principles of Scientific Management; he even specifically suggests its relevance to home management practices (8). Indeed, many women did believe Taylorism would relieve them of the all-consuming chores of household maintenance and childcare. High schools and colleges began offering home economics courses, the American Home Economics Association was founded in 1909, and magazines such as The Ladies Home Journal began to offer articles about scientific management (Ehrenreich and English 180; Rutherford 44).  One of the most prominent advocates of the scientifically managed home was Christine Frederick, a writer and homemaker who made a career by teaching other women how to apply Taylorism to their housework. In her 1912 book New Housekeeping, Christine Frederick recalled telling her husband, “I’m going to find our how these experts conduct investigations, and all about it, and then apply it to my factory, my business, my home” (10). Referring to men like Taylor and his colleagues Frank Bunker Gilbreth, and Henry Ford as “the experts,” Frederick invited industrial theories into the home and compared the single-family home with the loci of production – the factory, the business. Frederick’s biographer summarizes the incorporation of science, technology, and expert advice into home management by observing, “The home, then, became a factory with ‘output’ as its goal,” (Rutherford 38).


Works  Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara and Deirdre English. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women. 2nd ed. New               York: Anchor Books, 2005.

Frederick, Christine. New Housekeeping: Effeciency Studies in Home Management. 1912. Garden City, New York: Doubleday,            Page and Company, 1913. Print.

Haber, Samuel. Effeciency and Uplift:Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920. Chicago: University of Chicago      Press, 1964. Print.

Rutherford, Janice Williams. Selling Mrs. Consumer: Christine Frederick and the Rise of Household Efficiency.

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. Principles of Scientific Management. 1911. New York: Norton Library, 1967. Print.