More than beefsteak and a cup of coffee: Reinterpreting the Harvey Girls in Kansas
This work provides the historical research and conceptual framework for a new interpretation of the Harvey Girls. The women who worked in Harvey eating houses were more than just waitresses -- they were Harvey Girls -- an efficient, well-trained, well-groomed corps of waitresses. The popular, romanticized image of the Harvey Girls, however, portrays these women as mythical figures who brought civilization to the ''Wild West." Over the past fifty years, the Harvey Girl has taken on a mystique that relegates her to a position based on her traditional feminine virtues, rather than her actions and abilities as a working woman. This type of image-making denies any real understanding of the concrete experiences and conditions of the Harvey Girls. This study identifies the problems with current interpretations of the Harvey Girls, and outlines concepts which can be utilized in creating interpretive museum exhibitions. Focusing on those women who worked in Kansas Harvey Houses and those who left Kansas for Harvey Houses in the Southwest, this study utilizes oral history interviews to gain a broader understanding of the real life exp~riences of the Harvey Girls. As an integral part of the Fred Harvey system and the Santa Fe Railroad, the Harvey Girls played an invaluable role, not only in women's history, but also in railroad history. Their collective experiences serve to illustrate the roles women played in the American West.