|The meals provided by the Harvey hotels were a major improvement from food previously available to train passengers. Because trains did not offer meal service, travelers had to fend for themselves, often enduring poor food for high prices along railroad lines. Fred Harvey established a series of restaurants to allow passengers to dine for a reasonable price in clean surroundings.
The Harvey Girls were recruited from towns across the nation. They were required to sign a six month contract, agreeing to remain unmarried and to abide by all company rules while employed. Once hired, they were given a rail pass to travel to their new place of work. Harvey stipulated that the women be articulate and neat in appearance, educated at least up to the eighth grade and well-mannered. The young women typically lived in dormitories nearby or on the upper floors of hotels where they worked, so they would be available on short notice, when trains arrived. Matrons supervised their comings and goings. Most of the waitresses were in their twenties and had never been married, although there was a small percentage of divorced, widowed and married women.
The Harvey Girls wore uniforms consisting of black dresses with white aprons, black stockings and shoes. The modest dresses had skirts that hung no more than eight inches off the floor. They commonly pulled their hair back, tied with a bow and restrained in a net. Makeup was not allowed.
While the work was strenuous and the rules and supervision were strict, Harvey Girls experienced the freedom of living in new surroundings. Most were working class women who found a sense of camaraderie in their jobs not available in another common position for women such as domestic service. The waitresses often moved around to different Harvey House restaurants, thus securing mobility and adventure even while working in demanding jobs.
Visit La Posada Hotel in Winslow, a former Harvey House hotel where the Harvey Girls worked from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Harvey Girls at work in Winslow and Kingman - Courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Archives Division, 01-4548 and 98-7210
La Posada Hotel - Courtesy of La Posada Hotel