Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Appetite for America

My grandmother had once mentioned she had worked as a Harvey House girl and though she had seemed quite pleased with that little fact, I have to admit I never really knew what a Harvey House girl was. Stephen Fried was written a book which tells me all about Fred Harvey and his restaurant and the role they played in the lost era of railway travel:
In 1946, when Judy Garland starred in a movie called "The Harvey Girls," no one had to explain the title to the film-going public. The Harvey Girls were the young women who waited tables at the Fred Harvey restaurant chain, and they were as familiar in their day as Starbucks baristas are today. . .

It was a brilliant formula, and for a long time Fred Harvey's name was synonymous in America with good food, efficient service and young women. Today, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone aware of the prominent role Harvey played in civilizing the West and raising America's dining standards. His is one of those household names now stashed somewhere up in the attic.

I'm not clear on where or when she worked at a Harvey House restaurant. My memory is that it wasn't too far from her birthplace of Bokchito, Oklahoma, but that little town is, and was, so out of the way that I doubt any railway came through. This list of locations shows Hugo may have been a possible work location - it's the nearest small, big town - but likely she worked in Okmulgee or Muskogee when she was beginning to make her way in the great wide world. I can imagine her in a setting much like this one:

(The picture is from the linked book review.)

If my grandmother seemed pleased about her stint as a Harvey House girl, it seems she had good reason to be, claiming her not-at-all small part of a vanished America.


  1. Pete,
    Stephen Fried here. If you're curious about where your grandmother worked, you might want to reach out to the folks at the Waynoka Historical Society, as they are the main location in the state involved in preserving Fred Harvey and Harvey Girl history. The Harvey Girl photo on the back cover of my book is from Waynoka, and they actually have one of the best archives of HG photos in the country. Hope you enjoy the book.
    Stephen Fried

  2. Hey, Stephen, thanks for dropping by and for the tip. I'll give the Waynoka Historical Society a try. Good luck with your book; it's a fascinating subject, something sure to be of interest to a lot of people.