Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Harvey Girls

Bar Barmaid Barman Bartender Buffet Cafe C  Back in the wild west in the late eighteenth century, there were not that many jobs available for women other than marriage.  Most of the jobs available were saloon girl, teacher until she married, seamstress, laundress, or other similar job.  None had much future because it was assumed she was either fallen or would marry shortly.

This was true until a man, Fred Harvey came round with his idea that helped improve the image of meals available when traveling cross country by train. He could be said to be the father of the chain restaurant since he created the first string of restaurants.

Before he began his chain of restaurants in 1878, people were expected to bring their own food onto the train with them or stop at a boarding house restaurant for a quick meal during a "water stop".  Unfortunately, many of the more isolated water stops tended to be robbed quite often so it wasn't that safe.

Fred Harvey got the idea to open restaurants at various train depots beginning in Florence Kansas in 1878.  The idea was so popular that pretty soon he had a string of Harvey House restaurants running east to west.  What made his restaurants stand out is the elegance of each eatery and the high quality food.

Bread was baked fresh daily and sliced to 3/8th of an inch thick.  The cooks only squeezed fresh orange juice when it was ordered.  Any perishable fruits or vegetables were shipped on ice to the destinations.  He gave patrons a choice of food each day so they could order what they wanted instead of taking what was given.  Service made his restaurants so successful because all patrons were served a four course meal within 30 minutes.

He started using male waiters until a bunch in Raton, New Mexico got involved in a major fight. So he fired them and hired females to do the same job.  Unfortunately, at this time female waitresses were considered on the same level as prostitutes so Mr Harvey had to establish standards for those he hired.  All female employees underwent a 30 day training session before being allowed out on the floor.

All women wore a black dress with white apron, no jewelry, no makeup.  In addition, they were expected to sleep in the dormitories provided by the company after working a 12 hour shift six to seven days a week.  When customers were in the dining room, the women waited on them, making sure they had a great meal.  When the dining room was empty, women spent time cleaning it so it remained spotless.

These women made a flat rate a month plus tips with laundry, travel expenses, room and board included so they had few expenses and could either save or send money home to their families.  In a west where men outnumbered women, many of these respectable women were snatched up by farmers, ranchers, etc.

  Although women could not rise higher than supervisors over the dining hall, Harvey house changed the way society looked at waitresses and changed it into a respectable profession.  Fred Harvey made it possible for women ages 18 to 30 to have a career before marriage.  

Harvey houses profited during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century but as other forms of transportation such as cars and airplanes became more popular, these restaurants slowly closed until they were all gone in the 1960's.

There are still a couple left as museums so people can check it out.  I visited one at a national or state park years ago and found it impressive.  let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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