The History of the Harvey Girls

Today’s special guest is Rhonda Gibson, here to talk to us about her latest interesting book research about the Harvey Girls and her newest book releases. Welcome, Rhonda!

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest blogger here at Petticoats and Pistols! I love coming here and sharing my latest research efforts. Right now I am devouring all information on the Harvey Girls.

Iโ€™ve been a fan of the Harvey Girls for many years. Come next year, I will have a Harvey Girl novella released by Winged Publications. As you can imagine, I have been reading up a storm about these outstanding women who helped shape the West.

From the late 1800s to the mid-1950s Harvey House restaurants and dining rooms upheld their tradition of quality food, high standards of service, and reasonable prices. The Harvey Girls served weary travelers gourmet meals in thirty minutes. Some served in restaurants, others in lunchrooms. All donned the standard uniform of black or white starched skirt, high-collared blouse, with a bib and apron. They served their patrons with practiced precision and polished etiquette.

Each patron would tell their waitress whether they preferred coffee, hot tea, iced tea or milk. The cup code enabled their choice to be served quickly. If the waitress left the cup right side up in its saucer, that meant coffee. Upside down meant hot tea. Upside down, but tilted against the saucer meant iced tea. Upside down, away from the saucer meant milk. Patrons who changed the positions of their cups risked getting the wrong drink.

The advertisement for โ€œyoung women 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligentโ€ as waitresses in Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe Railroad in the West is legendary. Their contribution to the growth of the American West is preserved in poetry, song, and film. The humorist, Will Rogers, observed that the Harvey Houses kept the West in food and wives.

From a variety of backgrounds, many of them supported parents and siblings back home on $17.50 in wages plus tips, while they carved out a future for themselves. They also received free room, board, clean uniforms, and a train pass to their training facility. Your family tree may have a Harvey Girl among its branches.

Right now, the Harvey Girls novella is in research mode but I do have two new books out this month, Pony Express Special Delivery and The Cowboyโ€™s Way. I am giving away a copy of Pony Express Special Delivery, so leave a comment either about the Harvey Girls or the Pony Express for a chance to win.

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54 thoughts on “The History of the Harvey Girls”

  1. Two fascinating topics, Harvey Girls and Pony Express. All I knew about the Harvey Girls was from the movie with Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury. There were so few options for women to go out on their own, becoming a Harvey Girl must have been quite the thing. As for the Pony Express, what a tough life for those riders.

    • Hi Sally!

      The Harvey Girls are fascinating to learn about. I love the Pony Express, too. I did tons of research on them and simply fell in love with the old West all over again. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I love hearing and reading about the Harvey Girls and the Pony Express but I confess they are areas I haven’t researched very much, sad to say, so I really appreciate blogs like yours, Rhonda. Also, I’ve really enjoyed books of yours that I’ve read, so thank you!

    • Aw Thanks, Eliza!

      I’m so glad that you have enjoyed my books. There is so much to research out there so never be sad that you missed something. I’m glad that you were able to stop by today, thanks!

  3. Thank you for this great post. I too know about the Harvey Girls from the Judy Garland movie and I do remember studying a little about the Pony Express sometime back in my days at school…many years ago. ๐Ÿ™‚ I find them both very interesting.

    Cindy W.

  4. How fascinating about the Harvey Girls. Never knew anything about them or the reataurants. Your post was quite educational regarding our country’s history. Thanks!

    • My friend, Linda Farmer Harris, helped me with this post and learning more about the Harvey Girls. She was the first one to tell me about the cups and gave me several books to teach me more ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for stopping by MH ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. Wonderful. Log. I learned a lot about the Harvey Girls from reading one of Jodi Thomas’s historical series. Truly a wonderful part of our history in settling the old west.

    • Hi Tonya!

      When I was simply a reader, I devoured Jodi Thomas’s novels. I don’t remember her having a Harvey Girl series, I’ll have to go look that up. Thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Love the history of the Harvey girls and look forward to reading your book next year.
    Thank you for sharing about the Harvey girls.
    Have a blessed day

    • Hi Gael!

      You’ll have to keep in touch and let me know what you think of my Harvey Girl story next year ๐Ÿ˜€

      Thanks for stopping by. I love seeing everyone!!

    • Hi Estella,

      In the early years, I think the girls had no idea what their part in history was. They simply wanted to help their families. Later in the 1900’s, those girls knew what roles they were playing and were proud of the jobs they had and you are right, it was a great experience for most of them.

    • Connie, I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I have gotten from reading books, visiting old Harvey Houses, and watching videos of the time. I believe you would enjoy it too ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I knew about Harvey Girls because of the movie but you have shined a light on their history. I love the unique way that they showed what the customer wanted to drink. The Pony Express is another fascinating part of our history also. I would love to read both of these books.

  8. Good morning, Rhonda. Happy birthday. Celebrating you and the Harvey Girls is a great way to start today.

    Can you imagine agreeing to wait a year before getting married? That was part of the contract the women signed. Imagine meeting the railroad worker of your dreams or the cowboy from a nearby ranch during your first week on the job and hoping another HG doesn’t catch his eye.

    For your HG story, what is your setting?

    • Hi Lin!

      I was just telling everyone that you and I have a history of researching the Harvey Girls together. What I neglected to mention was that you are also writing a Harvey Girl novella and that we will be sharing a collection with other writers in it. I’m thrilled that both our books will be stand alones too!

      Aw yes, that year long wait caused a lot of conflict, I’m sure! Railroad workers, cowboys and business men all found the Harvey Girls fascinating.

      My story is set in New Mexico. Where is yours set? I can’t remember…

  9. What an ingenious way of figuring out drink choices. I never knew that. Reading about the Harvey girls must be intriguing research. It makes me wonder if they ever hired some girls that weren’t “attractive.” I read about the post from the newsletter. Hope you have a wonder Happy Birthday celebration. Blessings!

    • Yes, Kerri they did hire girls that are what today we would not consider attractive. They were considered attractive in that time period. They hired slim girls, well built for labor, big hands so they could “handle the platters” meaning platters of food. Most had roman shaped noses and dark hair that was straight or cropped short. That was a great thing to ponder.

      I’m so glad that you are getting my newsletter, I hope you are enjoying it.

  10. Hi Rhonda, I’ve always been interested in the Harvey girls, too. My book Calico Spy is about a female Pinkerton detective working undercover as a Harvey girl and I can’t tell you how much fun I had doing the research. There’s an old Harvey house still standing in Barstow, California and that was the model for my fictional one. Good luck with your story!

    • Hi Margaret!

      Love, love your books. I visited the Barstow Harvey House when James and I took a trip out that way. So fascinating. Thanks for the great reads and for stopping by today to say hello.

  11. First of all, Happy Birthday! Second, I never knew about the Harvey Girls until now. I am going to have to read up on them. I love all your books and can’t wait for the novella. So very proud of you.

  12. Hi Rhonda,

    Thanks for the birthday wish! Oh you will love learning about the Harvey girls! I’m so glad you enjoy my books. Thanks for coming by today and saying hello!

  13. Welcome to Wildflower Junction Rhonda! Enjoyed your post very much. I know little of the HG other than the movie you mentioned. And I was glad to see Margaret’s post because I never thought the restaurants went all the way to California! I guess I thought it was a Midwest/Texas sort of thing. Good to know those gals really traveled! And what a welcome relief it must have been to some of them who had no other options. Thanks for your informative post.

  14. There is an old pony express station here in western nebraska. Love how the mail traveled thanks to the fearless riders.

  15. I forgot a couple of things in my earlier post:

    —to ask you for a suggestion to read about the Harvey Girls and also for the Pony Express
    (I knew about the Pony Express of course but learned about the Harvey Girls through romance)

    —to tell you I had read romance novels about the Harvey Girls which is how I learned about them (Cheryl St John’s The Doctor’s Wife, The Lawman’s Bride, and The Preacher’s Daughter, as well as Jodi Thomas’s The Texan and the Lady, and To Tame a Texan’s Heart)

    —to thank you for your pinterest post with all the wonderful photos!

    —also besides the books of yours I’ve read, I have more on my TBR list.

    Looking forward to the Harvey Girls novella!

  16. I’ve read a few books about the Harvey Girls. They certainly are impressive, neat and tidy about their appearance and such hard workers.I wold love to read your newest Pony Express Love Inspired. I’ve read other books of yours and loved them!

  17. The pony express was much shorter lived than the Harvey Girls. It doesn’t seem possible that it existed for less barely 1 1/2 years. They advertised for young, fast riders. The mortality rate was high and the legend grew and as stayed with us. Harvey also recruited the young and adventurous. It was a much safer environment. It offered these young women a solid future as well as a respectable way to earn a living and help their families. It was a much safer way to start a new life than being a mail order bride.

  18. Ever since I’ve heard of the Harvey Girls I’ve been fascinated by them! I know Margaret Brownley has written some books featuring them ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for a little more history Rhonda.

  19. The first time I heard about the Harvey Girls was from the film with Judy Garland. It was very interesting and offered the girls a way to work and earn money which was hard to do back then. I’ve read about the Pony Express and it was essentially a dangerous job for those who rode for them. Thank you for your interesting post.
    Carol Luciano

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