The Romantic Years of The Harvey Girls

Harvey girls 2

There’s a town in west Texas, called Slaton, Texas, about 100 miles north of Sweetwater and 9 miles south of Ransom Canyon. Sweetwater and Ransom Canyon, a movie just waiting to happen. However romantic those west Texas towns seem, Slaton, Texas has its own kind of romance, its own unique history. It’s a railroad town.

Frederick Henry Harvey, born in London, England in 1835, was a visionary entrepreneur. Most people might not have heard of this innovative restaurateur and marketer, but you just might have heard of his wildly successful idea of The Harvey Girls. The ‘Wild West’ meets the ‘Civilizer’. That’s what they called him.

Slaton Railroad Depot
Slaton Railroad Depot

His food was of the highest quality and it’s said they even served lobster in the restaurants in 1912. Quite a feat in those days. They boasted fine linen tablecloths, sterling silverware, and crystal glasses. Imagine getting off of the train at the train station and being able to dine in that atmosphere after hours and hours on a dusty train. Fred Harvey had class and vision.

With the creation of the first ‘chain’ restaurants, Fred Harvey brought high standards in civility and dining, but the most interesting facet of this story is about the girls he brought to these railroad towns to serve the meals.

Reliable help was scarce, especially out west, and he realized immediately his vision wouldn’t go very far if he didn’t address that problem. So—he advertised. The ads were placed in the East and the Midwest. ‘Young women, 18-30, good character, attractive and intelligent’.

This was no Hollywood cattle call. Mrs. Harvey adhered to the strictest rules of etiquette and behavior, in addition to black-and-white uniforms even a nun would have approved. She also interviewed each girl, and the girls had to measure up or be dismissed. It was considered a dream job for women. They were paid $17.50 a month. Each girl had a room upstairs and standards were strict. It was said, The Harvey House was not only a good place to eat; but the ‘Cupid of the Rails’, since many left these jobs and became the wives of many of the customers. Will Rogers also stated, “The Harvey Girls, kept the West in food and wives.”

I first saw this story on a news program and was fascinated by the unbelievable accounts of these women brought from the east to ‘tame’ the west.

There must be tales of these women, stories of adventure and romance. Even though there were Harvey Houses in all the railroad states, Texas holds the most interest for me. I know of one movie on the subject. “The Harvey Girls” starring Judy Garland filmed in 1946. But I’d like to know some original stories. It’s a fascinating time for women and as a history buff, I can see so many possibilities for wonderful stories coming from this piece of our history.

The Harvey Girls are long gone, now, but in Slaton, Texas a ‘Harvey House’ still remains. Jolene Fondy’s Harvey House. She serves one meal a week now. Lunch on Wednesday’s and personally serves the cornbread and beans. The turnout is exceptional in this little town and Ms. Fondy keeps the legend and the history alive. It’s also a bed and breakfast. You can sleep in the actual rooms the girls occupied back in the day.

I’ve travelled overseas several times, been to Paris, Germany, Canada, Mexico, but I’m still more fascinated by United States history than almost anything else, especially Texas history. Call me a diehard romantic, but I think stories like ‘The Harvey Girls’ are some of the most romantic stories ever. There is so much to see, so many stories, so little time.

51om4OazF4L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Patty Wiseman is author of An Unlikely Beginning. Please click the book cover to read more about the novel on Amazon. Patty can be reached at patty_wiseman1966@yahoo.com, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and www.pattywiseman.net

 

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