These girls were ground-breakers for being among the first to work outside the home during the 1800’s. Fred Harvey provided them with an independent career at a time when women were usually only offered teaching and nursing jobs. A new tradition began once the original Harvey Girls started families-their daughters would become Harvey Girls just like their mothers.
Fred Harvey was the mastermind of the game-changing hospitality restaurant and hotel chain called Harvey House. I learned about Fred and the Harvey Girls on a recent ski trip with friends to the snowy slopes of Colorado. We stopped to spend the first evening in Winslow, Arizona at the La Posada Hotel, the last of the Harvey House hotels to be built. Here’s what I discovered about Harvey House and the amazing man who changed railroad travel and the hospitality industry forever.
The Harvey Girl legacy started with Fred Harvey, who emigrated from Liverpool, England at 18 and got his first job as a dishwasher in New York. From there, he moved on to New Orleans and St. Louis, learning the restaurant business from the ground up. Eventually, he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he worked sorting mail for the first railroad post office. He noticed how the lunchrooms serving train passengers were terrible and most of the trains did not have dining cars. It was common practice for trains to make stops every 100 miles or so, but that didn’t guarantee that there would be food available at these stops for the hungry travelers, who often had an hour or less in which to find sustenance.
Utilizing his previous restaurant experience, Harvey came up with a plan to build a network of restaurants that would serve passengers aboard the trains. He presented his idea to Charles Morse, the Superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway,( A.T.&S.F). Charles endorsed the idea and the first Harvey House restaurant opened in Topeka, Kansas at the Santa Fe Depot.