-- John Wayne
Finding Springtime in Kansas
I am revisiting the subject of The Harvey Girls and Fred Harvey as there is much to say about both.
Fred Harvey and the the Santa Fe Railroad were visionaries and both intiated and served a new age in American transportation and public exploration. Their stories are closely intertwined because the success of one was directly supported by the success of the other. Towns grew up along side of the the railroad lines and Fred Harvey built Harvey Houses (restaurants) in these towns every hundred miles to serve the public who rode the trains. "Meals by Fred Harvey" became the slogan of the Santa Fe railroads. The Santa Fe made enough profit through increased ticket sales on its line to subsidize Harvey's restaurants and hotels which usually operated at a loss. But Harvey preferred in fact and demanded that his establishments lose money. It assured him that his high standards were being maintained. Harvey was a strict boss but his uncompromising values, good pay and fair promotions for employees who kept the standard won him loyalty and a respectful family of managers, chefs and Harvey Girls.
His empire began in 1883 along the Santa Fe trail in Raton, New Mexico. After his death from cancer in 1901 his two sons and their children maintained the Harvey name and standards. His system was in a class by its self. The service was better. quicker, cleaner and a more intelligent approach than others at this time and there was very little competition.
The Harvey empire was instrumental in promoting travel to the Grand Canyon with several hotels/lodges. Mary Coulter was the architect and designer for the Harvey House empire. She designed the Hopi House on the south rim (near the historical El Tovar Hotel) and the hotel at the bottom of the canyon (where the mules end their trek on Bright Angel Trail)--Phantom Ranch. She also designed the Bright Angel Lodge and the Tower further east on the south rim, besides other buildings. And a little known fact she is from Minneapolis, MN
The Depression and World War II had a huge impact on the Harvey industries. There were food shortages, employee standards changed and many houses were forced to close. After World War II automobile and plane travel became more popular and passenger travel on the railroad dwindled. The emerging labor unions also had an affect on the Harvey industries. By the late 60's the Harvey Houses had virtually disappeared.
Harvey Girls Winslow AZ 1918
Many of Harvey Girls came from rural areas on farms looking for economic security and adventure. The Harvey Houses offered its employees a tightly knit family atmosphere. The benefits included room and board, railroad benefits, job security and honoring requests for a particular location. The girls often worked 6-7 days a week, 12 hours a day, serving 2-3 meals to trains that stopped at Harvey Houses. Their contracts were 6, 9 or 12 months. They agreed to follow a system of instructions to the letter, obey employee rules and abstain from marriage while under contract. They had a set uniform and were expected to maintain an immaculate appearance at all times. But as times changed so did expectations and from 1920's on so the system expanded to accommodate women who wanted to pursue other careers and work part time. Hiring also included married women and minorities. There were no shortages of applicants as women applied every year from 1883 well into the 1950's. Life for a Harvey Girl varied from house to house, town to town and region to region. Often the character of an area was reflected in the acceptance of these single women working away from their families. There was much socializing and dating of the girls among local farmers and railroaders though permission needed to be secured from the house manger first. Often Harvey Girls married and stayed in the region to raise their families.
In 1944 Judy Garland starred in the movie The Harvey Girls.
The author of the book "The Harvey Girls" felt the movie romanticized and made too glamorous the Harvey Girls era. It did not depict how industrious and hard working these women were fullfilling their jobs. I have not seen the movie to comment but it is on 'my bucket list'.
Harvey Girls actively contributed to the American West. They demonstrated dedication to their jobs, a spirit of independence and blazed a trail for women settling in the West.
A free April Poetry month poster can be purchased online following this link