Innside Nantucket by Frank Gilbreth


After a long report on a Serious Scholarly Biography of Lillian Gilbreth, here’s something short for those who want more of the lighthearted ‘what came next’ sort of thing: a biographical snippet about the penultimate Gilbreth child, Bob. Written by Frank Gilbreth, as most of the books about the Gilbreth family and children were, this one is told from the perspective of his sister-in-law, the wife of Frank’s youngest brother, Bob. Poor Bob did rather get lost in the shuffle, along with his younger sister Jane; they were too young in the collective biographies to really stand out as individuals, so it’s nice to find out something about what became of them1.

The Gilbreths had, as a family, spent summers on Nantucket as the children grew up, so perhaps not surprisingly Bob, the second youngest, waxed nostalgic about the healthy wholesome financially stable life they might lead as innkeepers on the island he so loved. Fortunately, his bride, Barbara, was not only a good sport about marrying into such a large and cohesive family, but about nurturing her husband’s dreams. The two scraped up enough money for a down payment on a large house on Nantucket which had previously been used as what most travelers today would call a bed and breakfast, checking (in addition to the things one might expect for an old structure such as sound foundation) for the number of functioning bathrooms2.

Not surprisingly for anyone who’s purchased an older home and attempted to renovate it, not to mention start a small tourist-based business without any previous experience in such endeavours….the two had rather a hard go of it, not to mention an expensive baptism into the needs of small businesses in rural communities. Overall the tone of the book is quite lighthearted–this is no angst driven barrage of the horrors of such things–but it’s quite clear that the newlyweds struggled as they developed their business. They went through home repairs, replacing life-threateningly outdated laundry equipment3, competition from those who rightly regarded themselves as natives thankyouverymuch, guests that were interesting, and the financial strain of the low season. Not surprisingly for anyone who’s lived on an island with a seasonally limited tourism driven economic base, the two experienced not only the hectically overpopulated high season and the desolately sparse off season, but also after only one twelvemonth period (as many island residents in similar straits) the need to find reliable employment off island to shore up family finances–after their first summer of innkeeping, Bob worked towards his certification as a teacher and after their second season as innkeepers, he took a job in New Hampshire, though they did run the inn for several summers after that.

If you liked Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes, you’ll probably like this as well. Frank Gilbreth wrote several books on his own about his own life; fun to read, to be sure, but this might be worth reading for those who wondered about the other kids. Innside Nantucket is a featherlight read; enjoy it for a glimpse into a time not so very long ago, and a lifestyle many people still keep: living year round on an island with a year round population numbering in the hundreds. What else might you like? Well, other than the other books by Frank Gilbreth, try Betty MacDonald’s four biographies. They’re set on the opposite coast, to be sure, but both strike me as having the same light touch in describing what most would consider difficult situations.

For more on the family:
The Gilbreth Network

1still not sure what became of Jane, mind
2having searched for apartments to rent and homes to purchase in a neighborhood of elderly houses, I can sympathize with their difficulty finding ones which did not require traversing someone else’s bedroom or a rickety flight of stairs to access the most convenient bathroom
3still can’t envision the gas-powered monster iron with which Bob struggled so

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