The Harvey Girls

Cassidy Hanton

Hello, my dears 🙂

As I was reading about my favourite era, and coming up with ideas for my new novel, I came across an amazing piece of history which I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of before….

The Harvey girls!

At a young age, Fred Harvey left England to come to the United States and specifically, New York city. His passion was the restaurant business. 

The Civil War, however, meant bad news for restaurants but great news for railroads, so he decided that’s where he would work. 

As he kept travelling, he realized that big improvements were needed in the food department. The only option for a railroad passenger was to eat at a roadhouse.

Well, it doesn’t sound that bad, does it?

It actually was, though 😀 The food there was horrid. Weeks-old bread, coffee, and rancid meat are just a few of the disgusting foods you could find in these houses. 

Considering a trip from New York to New Mexico took days, people were very discouraged from travelling.  

How Did Fred Harvey Change History?

As a smart businessman and a forward thinking man, he saw the opportunity and took it!

His passion was always the food department and despite his work, he wanted to follow his dreams. 

Harvey truly discovered his calling in 1873, with plans to start three railroad restaurant establishments across the Kansas Railroad. It failed but he never gave up! 

He tried again in 1876 and he was finally successful! He struck a deal with Charles Morse (the deal was only sealed with a simple handshake!) and was not required to pay any rent. 

At its peak, there were 84 Harvey houses and he was even nicknamed as the “Civilizer of the West”. 

Truly inspiring if you ask me 🙂

Just Who Were the Harvey Girls Then?

Harvey had this insanely good idea of finding reliable staff by placing an ad that called for:

“Single young women, 18 to 30 years old, of good character, attractive and intelligent.”

Some of that sounds vague, but it worked! They counted up to 20,000 of these girls at some point, working for Harvey himself. That’s a crazy number!

The pay was splendid for its time, with 17.50$ per month and Harvey met each girl himself upon hiring them. However, everything comes with a price. The rules were strict and oppressive. 

They weren’t allowed to converse with the patrons, flirt with them or even look at them. The worst part? Under his contract, they were forbidden from getting married!

The Harvey Girls Did it Anyway

With such strict rules, you would assume those girls never got married or had friends of their own, but you would be fooled!

I don’t know how they did it, but more and more Harvey girls would get married. Romance stories came out of them, novels, movies, you name it!

We love them, but Fred Harvey hated it 😀

He made his rules even stricter, by forbidding them from sitting at all during work, but nothing stopped their charm. 

Aren’t they amazing?

Had you heard of them before, my loves? Do you have any relatives who were Harvey girls?

I’d love to hear it! Please, do share your story 🙂

-Written by Cassidy Hanton

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