You may wonder,
“What do the working girl and the Railroad diner have in common?”
The answer is an Englishman, Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railroad. Fred Harvey’s dream and partnership with the Santa Fe Railroad helped to civilize the West.
The late 1800’s to early 1900’s was a time of change for women. Women won the right to wear pants in 1868. Women’s liberation came into the picture in the late 1800’s. Women’s suffrage movement was in full swing in 1904. On August 26, 1920, women won the right to vote. During this time, women were hitting the work force looking for respectable jobs. The Harvey Girls were a big part of that movement.
Between 1890 and 1945 a girl wanting to work outside the home had only a few choices of work; store clerk, maid, secretary, or saloon girl. The higher paying jobs being a teacher or waitress. Read what the qualifications were to be met to hold these jobs.
For a teaching position:
“WANTED: Young women of good moral character, well-educated, ages 18 to 30. You will not marry during the term of your contract, you are not to keep company with men, and you must be home between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM unless at a school function. You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores, and you may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairman of the school board. You may not smoke cigarettes, dress in bright colors, and under no circumstances dye your hair, you must wear at least 2 petticoats, and you may not wear a dress shorter than 2 inches above the ankles.”
And to be a waitress for Fred Harvey:
WANTED: Young women, 18 to 30 years of age, well- educated, have good manners, neat, of good moral character, attractive, and intelligent. We pay $17.50 per month with room and board. Liberal tips customary. Curfews are 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Friday and Midnight on Saturday nights. There can be special excursions with a chaperone. Experience is not necessary. No chewing gum. Uniform provided and laundered. Rail passes provided. You must sign a twelve, nine or six month agreement. If you chose to marry during this time, you will forfeit half your pay, as well as your railroad pass.
Fred Harvey had a dream to make fine dining available to the masses. Teaming up with the Santa Fe railroad his dream became a reality with “the Harvey way” of doing things. The railroad would provide the building for the restaurants; furnish free freighting of food, ice, coal, water and transportation of employees. Mr. Harvey provided the equipment, workers and of course, the food. Train crews could eat at Harvey Houses by using the coupons that Mr. Harvey provided for them. Santa Fe railroad benefited from this arrangement with Mr. Harvey because people soon discovered they could get great food when they traveled the Santa Fe rails.
The peak of Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe’s quest to civilize the West was from approx. 1877 to end of WWII (May 8, 1945). 1877 to the Great Depression (Aug. 1929 to 1933-34) business was great, but during the Great Depression they had to close several restaurants. Mr. Harvey approached the railroad about having dining cars on the trains. Many chefs and waitresses needing work began working on the dining cars.
The restaurants were beginning to recover when WWII hit and there was a boom for Fred Harvey, the Harvey girls, the restaurants, and the Santa Fe railroad. The railroads were used to transport our soldiers. “The Harvey way” and the high standards that went along with it were lost during the war because of the great demands on the girls and restaurants. The close of the war and the arrival of automobiles ended the Fred Harvey Restaurants, but the "Harvey Way" lived on in the dining car.
Grandma’s Attic recently came across a copy of the menu and a milk bottle from the Fred Harvey era.
If you’d like to read more about the Harvey Girls, check out The Harvey Girls, by Juddi Morris, copyright 1994. We have had the opportunity to read this book recently, and it’s definitely a very interesting time in our history and it is fun to go back in time to see what it would have been like to be a Harvey House employee! So, what are you waiting for? Do some research of your own and then get out there and see if you can find some “Fred Harvey” memorabilia! :)