When restaurateur Fred Harvey established his popular Harvey House restaurants along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway in the late 1800s, thousands of young women were recruited to staff them. Many “Harvey Girls” came from rural and immigrant families and sought opportunity and adventure. Decades later, the Fred Harvey Company employed African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities. It was reputable, well-paying work at a time when women had few occupational choices.
Michaeline Chance-Reay, professor emeritus of curriculum and instruction and women studies at Kansas State University, explores the Harvey Girls’ duties and working conditions from their beginnings in the 1880s through the mid-20th century, when increased automobile and air travel led to the closure of many Harvey eateries located along rail lines.