Fred Harvey was an English immigrant to America who loved the restaurant business. His contribution to American Manifest Destiny was making a deal with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to open quality restaurants along its route through the Southwest. When he couldn't hire good waiters, he advertised for well-bred women from the East to staff his dining rooms. Housed in neat dorms and trained like army recruits, between the late 1870's and World War II, Harvey Girls single-handedly fed, gentled, and married into the West. This is their story, and it's a charming, well-told one.
Gr 5-9-The story of the adventurous and talented women who left the East and Midwest to work in the renowned Sante Fe Railroad restaurant chain established by Fred Harvey after the Civil War, and which continued to operate until 1950. These carefully groomed, capable waitresses and hostesses had a civilizing effect on the rough men of the frontier, and ``...played as big a part in settling the West as most men who traveled to this region during the latter half of the nineteenth century.'' The book is well researched, and Morris makes excellent use of comments gleaned from interviews with former Harvey Girls. The narrative is lively, conversational, and spiced with wry humor that will interest even reluctant readers. It includes descriptions of railroad towns in the unsettled West, points out the importance of Harvey's entrepreneurial talents, and briefly explains the rise and fall of the railroads. The book is illustrated with many black-and-white photos of the restaurants and of the women who devoted years of service to them. A solid treatment of an aspect of Western history seldom considered in other texts.- Phyllis Graves, Creekwood Middle School, Kingwood, TX
Young people probably won't be familiar with this topic unless they've seen the Judy Garland movie "The Harvey Girls" (which, curiously, is not mentioned here). Although the idea of women going out to "civilize the West" has a certain innate appeal, kids may be slightly disappointed when they find out that the Harvey Girls were really just waitresses at Fred Harvey's eating establishments along the Santa Fe railroad. Still, these were women who left their homes and families for the chance to earn their own money and for adventure, and as such they were pioneers in the women's movement. The book is useful for this perspective as well as for its description of the gradually changing Wild West. The writing is sometimes stiff, and Morris doesn't set the scene very well--she gives no years for her opening description of western life--but the interviews with Harvey Girls and the many black-and-white photographs add appeal.