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Was your Grandmother a Harvey Girl?
Published: 04 June 2010
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Many women from the mid-west and eastern states in the U. S. went west to become Harvey Girls. If your female ancestor seemed to have disappeared during the period of 1880 to about 1950 they may have gone west to find employment. They left their homes and took jobs to work in Fred Harvey's restaurants along the Santa Fe Railroad route. These restaurants were found from Kansas to California. There were restaurants at stations along the line about every 100 miles.

Those women who decided to become Harvey Girls had to sign a contract to work for either a six-month or year long period. Some left at the end of their contact but many of these women continued to work for 35-40 years for Fred Harvey.

Fred Harvey trained these women who had little or no experience to not become simply a waitress but a part of a group of people who helped to settle the West. Fred Harvey had very high standards. He would only hire those who he felt were upstanding, educated and virtuous women. The ads placed in the paper would call for "Young women of good character, attractive and intelligent, 18 to 30, to work in Harvey Eating Houses in the West." He advertised in the East and Midwest because he felt that other than those women who were wives and mothers there were not many "respectable" women in the West in the early years.

Map of Santa Fe Railroad
[click on map for larger image in .pdf format]

Many of these women left their homes so that they could earn money to help their families. Some were hoping for adventure, the chance to travel and perhaps even romance.

As many as 100,000 women may have gone west to work as Harvey Girls. Many of these women ended up marrying and settling in the West and starting families of their own.

If your Grandmother was a Harvey Girl make sure that you tell her story.

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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