I am an American history buff and I am especially interested in railroads and how we as a nation expanded and moved out west. Having made two cross country trips with my family from New York to California in the late 50’s, I have a special appreciation for the limited services and amenities that existed back then.
For those not familiar with Harvey Girls, they were the brain child of Fred Harvey who recognized the need for quality dependable, affordable and reliable eateries for travelers along the railroad lines out west before the advent of dining cars. His diners, known as Harvey Houses first started in Florence, Kansas in 1878 and grew to more than 80 establishments along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rail line. Initially there was one along the line every 100 miles where trains would stop for a half an hour for riders to dine in comfort before returning to the train.
This documentary focuses on the women who worked at the Harvey Houses. Fred Harvey quickly recognized the importance of employing women because they brought decorum and peace to what had previously been a caldron of racial unrest between the former black male employees and primarily while male customers so soon after the Civil War.
Harvey Girls were a special breed of women some of whom were fiercely independent for their time or were just desperately needed work because of their personal circumstances. From the 1880’s until the 1960’s, Harvey Houses employed more than 100,000 brave, young women as waitresses paving the way out west while unwittingly providing wives for railroad men. The Fred Harvey Company was one of the few businesses that continued to hire employees during The Depression.
The film provides an intriguing chronological expose of these remarkable women who were hardworking, devoted and grateful employees while also providing a nostalgic historical journey of western expansion. Although the film was perhaps a bit lengthier than necessary, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Viewers were treated to an informative and entertaining Q & A following the film with members of the Harvey Girls one of whom was a former Harvey Girl.