The Harvey Girls

Harvey Girls

Harvey House, Syracuse, Kansas

When you think of the wild western frontier do you think of fine dining.  No?  Well, Fred Harvey wanted you to.

Fred Harvey ​was born in England and came to America as a teen before the Civil War.  He worked in the restaurant business, starting as a pot scrubber then advancing to busboy, waiter and line cook.  He started his own cafe, and did well until the start of the Civil War when his business partner took their money and left to join the Confederacy. 

Rather than start another eatery, Harvey turned to the railroad industry.  While the war was bad business for restaurants, it was good for the railroad industry and Harvey did well as a railroad man.

Eating while traveling by train was far from pleasant.  Roadhouses on the western frontier were the epitome of the "wild west," rough and dirty with barely editable food.  In 1876 Harvey struck up a partnership with the Santa Fe railroad to improve the food options for travelers. He would establish restaurants to provide clean, decent meals at station stops, and in return the railroad would give him the space rent-free and allow him to ship food and supplies to the restaurants by train for free.   As a result, Harvey fed hungry train-goers and is also credited with civilizing the west with his "Harvey Girls"

Harvey's goal was not just to feed people, but to provide an experience.  The trains were opening up the west​.  The railroads didn't want just one-time passengers, they wanted frequent riders who would use the trains to sight-see and vacation routinely.  Railroads built lavish hotels in rustic areas accessible only by train ... the railroads profited by stays at their hotel and also by the guests' train passage to and from the hotel. 

Harvey wanted to bring his English manners to his restaurants in the west.  But he found that the local men he hired to serve as waiters were frequently late, often hungover, and fought with each other and with the customers.  His solution to his staffing problems was unheard of at the time - he decided to hire women.

Harvey Girl Uniform

Harvey House and Harvey Girls

But he didn't want just ordinary women.  He ran ads throughout the country:

Wanted:  Young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive and intelligent, to waitress in Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe in the West.  Wages, $17.50 per month with room and board.  Liberal tips customary.  Experience not necessary.  Write Fred Harvey, Union Depot, Kansas City, Missouri.

The ads did not mention that the Harvey Girls would be required to exhibit high moral character at all times - whether working hours or not ... and had to sign a statement swearing to their agreement.  The Harvey Girls lived in buildings next to the restaurant, had a strict 10:00 pm curfew and were chaperoned at all times.  At many eateries in the wild west "salon girls" were also expected to work as prostitutes ... Fred Harvey made it very clear that that was not the sort of girls he was looking for!

Harvey Girl Uniform

Harvey Girl uniform on display
at the Arizona Railroad Museum

The Harvey Girl uniform was designed to reinforce the women's respectability.  They wore black dresses with heavily starched white pinafore aprons, black stockings, black shoes and white ribbons in their hair.  Necklines were high and sleeves were long.  Cosmetics and chewing gum were forbidden.  Each Harvey Girl was inspected for neatness and cleanliness before opening and those who didn't pass were sent back to their room to change.   ​

New Harvey Girls underwent a six-week training period, then started at one of the smaller Harvey Houses before moving on to a larger, busier location.  They were not allowed to chat with the other Harvey Girls in front of a customer and were taught to smile at all times. 

The Harvey House success was due in large part to their organization.  It was a common scam for a roadhouse to take a customer's order - and money - but then serve the food so late that the customer ​had to re-board his train without eating.  Harvey House managers kept good tabs on the trains heading into their stations.  They had staff at the station preceding theirs to take a headcount of the number of people on each train, then would send a telegraph message ahead so that the next stop knew how many customers to expect.  When the train was one mile from the station a whistle would sound so that the Harvey Girls would prepare.

The Harvey House was also famous for its "cup code."  When a Harvey Girl seated you she would ask for your drink preference.  If you wanted coffee she turned your cup up, and if you wanted tea she turned your cup up-side-down.  When the coffee server or tea server came to your table she could fill your cup quickly and move onto the next table.   

Life as a Harvey Girl was restrictive, but also very liberating.  The wages were high - $17.50 per month plus tips was quite a sum ​in the late 19th century!  It was enough money to send some home to family, plus save a bit for yourself.  For many women it was the first time they had left home, it was exciting to be on their own (although fully chaperoned) and traveling to the great wild west.   

The Harvey Girls signed a one year contract, and they were not allowed to marry within that one year.  But the men far outnumbered women in the west, and many of the Harvey Girls would marry at the end of their contract.  Customers, even cowboys and ruffians, were expected to treat the Harvey Girls with respect - and they did!  The claim that the Harvey Girls civilized the west was twofold:  customers were expected to act civilized while dining, and when the Harvey Girls quit working to marry they presumably ran efficient, civilized households in the west.

When Fred Harvey died in 1901 his restaurants were continued by his children and later his grandchildren.  Most of the former Harvey House hotels and restaurants are now gone, but one exception is the El Tovar Hotel directly on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and just 330 feet from the Santa Fe railway station.  The El Tovar is part of the Grand Canyon National Park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Judy Garland in the 1946 musical "The Harvey Girls."
The musical created a whole new generation of people fascinated
by the Harvey Girls.

This month's Sock of the Month is the Colorado River Sock, a tribute to the Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River.  These toe-up socks feature a flowing slip stitch and cable pattern running up the center on both front and back, ebbing and flowing like the Colorado River itself.  If you yawn at the idea of wearing boring black stockings like the Harvey Girls, then be sure to check out the vibrant pink and purple Smooshy with Cashmere Grand Canyon colorway inspired by the Grand Canyon itself and created exclusively for our new Colorado River socks!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Diamond Dust Shoes (and Yarn)!

As a knitter you either knit socks, you appreciate the hand-knit socks other knitters make - or both!  So yeah, we all like socks.  But what about shoes?  Have you given much thought to shoes?  Well, Andy Warhol did.  The guy was really obsessed with the shoes of his time, and it's not too hard to understand why.

Victoria & Albert Museum - Shoes - 1710

High Heel Shoes, 1710

In the 1950s Andy Warhol was a commercial fashion artist in New York working on magazine illustrations and advertising.  He often drew shoe advertisements for the retail store I. Miller.  But he didn't just draw shoes, he drew shoes with flair.  He created whimsical line drawings that were fun, yet still showed the details his client wanted.  His work Pink and Blue Shoe (1955) is from this era. 

And what a great time to be painting shoes! Shoes of the 1950s were sexy and fun! 

No one knows who invented the first high heel shoe - they've been around almost forever.  Prostitutes in Venice were wearing platform shoes in the 1400s.  A platform shoe is high, but equally high at the heel and the toe, so it's not truly a high heel shoe.  Sometimes as high as 18 inches, the shoes made a street-walker, quite literally, stand out above her competition.

The style became popular among the aristocracy in Italy.  Yes, they were hard to walk in - but that was the point!  Impractical for the working man, a person in platform shoes was telling the world that he or she was wealthy enough that they did not have to walk much.  Some shoe historians believe that the high heel shoe of today grew out of the Venetian prostitutes' platform footwear. 

But other shoe historians disagree.  The horse-riding soldiers of the Ottoman Empire found that flat shoes were too slippery in the stirrups of their saddles, so they wore shoes with a heel.  Some argue that the modern high heel shoe evolved out of the Ottoman soldier's riding shoe.

In any case, the first known European to wear a high heel shoe was Queen Elizabeth I.  She was painted wearing high heel shoes and a list of her clothes from 1595 includes "a payre of spanyshe lether shoes with highe heels."  A female ruler in a man's world, it is possible that she wore high heels not so much for fashion but so that she was the same height as the men around her.  Being able to look a man in the eye would give her a psychological advantage with men who questioned the ability of a woman to lead. 

I Miller Needle Heel Shoe Ad - Life Magazine - October 1951

Stiletto heel shoe from an ad
in Life Magazine, October 1951

High heels became popular for both men and women throughout European history for the next 300 years, until the heel fell out of fashion in the early 1800s and were replaced with a slipper similar to a ballet slipper.  A small heel slowly came back in the 1850s and 1860s, and heel size has been fluctuating since then.

Until the 1950s.  Boring shoes were the norm in the 1940s, when war restrictions set limits on the amount of fabric used for a dress and the materials used for shoes.  By the 1950s shoes were becoming more interesting, but the real kicker came with the invention of the stiletto heel.  Throughout history, most heels on shoes were wood.  Wood heels have to be chunky, because a thin stick of wood would break when supporting the weight of the wearer.  New technology allowed the heel of the 1950s to be a metal shaft embedded into the heel.  This allowed for a skinny heel, and the stiletto heel was born!

Diamond Dust Shoes
by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol's shoe ads propelled him into fame and buoyed by the success of his shoe paintings, he started exhibiting his artwork in the 1950s.  Warhol was a household name by the 1960s and continued his art through the 1970s.

In the 1980s he went back to his roots with a series of shoe drawings.  Called the Diamond Dust Shoes, he had been experimenting with working with diamond dust.  Yes, real diamond dust.  However he found that actual diamond dust didn't have the sparkle he had hoped for, so he instead used ground glass.  The result added a stunning sparkle to his work.

Several times a year, Zen Yarn Garden releases a single yarn in a unique colorway inspired by a classic painting.  It's called the Art Walk Series.  The newest colorway ​is inspired by Andy Warhol's Diamond Dust Shoes.  The the yarn is a fun blend of red, purple, gray, blue and natural in a soft and squishy merino and cashmere blend.  Tjis is a fantastic sock yarn, in colors inspired by Andy Warhol's shoes - how awesome is that

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

History of Knitting Part VIII: Knitting in the 1920s

By the end of World War I many women were sick of knitting and absolutely despised the colors olive and gray.  ​Women talked of being "knit-out," exhausted by all of the knitting for soldiers they had done during the war. 

Mrs Calvin Coolidge Knitting in the 1920's

First Lady Mrs. Calvin Coolidge,
an avid knitter.

Yarn manufacturers panicked!  What to do?  In 1923 yarn manufacturer Fleisher hosted a knitting contest with $11,000 in total prize money.  First place was a whopping $2,000 ... at a time when winning a first prize for knitting at a local fair would bring in about $15.  Thousands entered the contest, including the First Lady herself, Mrs. Calvin Coolidge (she didn't win).

But while knitting slowed down in the 1920s, it didn't stop.  As we all know, some of us just can't stop knitting!​

Fashions were changing, with young women wearing shorter skirts and longer necklines​ while flaunting bobbed hair and cosmetics.  But the "New Woman" soon discovered that short hair was much more prone to a bad hair days than long hair.  Long hair, even on a bad day, generally hung straight.  If you had a permanent wave to your hair or used a curling iron at home to crimp and curl your hair, you might be in for trouble!  Curling irons of the time had no way to regulate heat - and often scorched your hair!

Knit Sweater - Lady's World Magazine - Feb 14, 1921

Modeling a knit sweater in
Lady's World magazine,
February 14, 1921.

No way to avoid it ... you were going to have some frizzy days.  The solution was the cloche hat, a knit hat with little or no brim worn close to the head like a skull cap.  The hair was hidden, except for a few well-behaved curls that were allowed to peek out in front.   

Sweaters became very popular - they were knit slim and tubular to exaggerate the flapper look of a small bust and slim hips.  They were also knit with (gasp!) stripes!  Big, bold horizontal stripes of multiple colors ... a perfect contrast to the drab olive sweaters knit for the soldiers during the war. 

1920s Men's Sweaters

1920s Men's Sweaters

But sweaters weren't just for the ladies.  While men continued to dress in suits of somber colors, an exception was made while "sporting" and especially while playing golf.  Men golfed in bold sweaters in bright colors with colorful argyle socks to match.  

Even with the craze for cloche hats and sweaters, knitting overall slumped as many war knitters took a break from their needles.  The slump didn't last long and the 1930s saw a huge revival in knitting . . . but that's a topic for another day!

Are you a New Woman?  Independent and fun - and not afraid of a bad hair day!  Put on some 1920s flair with the crocheted Simple Cloche With Flower hat, or knit the classic Abalone Shell Hat.

Happy Knitting! ... Scout