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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


These indomitable young women provided railroad patrons with food at Fred Harvey's railroad restaurants. The advertisements called for "young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent, as waitresses in Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe Railroad in the West." In exchange for good looks, manners, and service, women found employment, adventure, and oftentimes, marriage beyond the opportunities of home and farm. These young women braved the perils of an uncivilized West while maintaining a reputation for femininity and morality that has stood the test of time. All donned a standard uniform of black or white starched skirt, high-collared blouse, with a bib and apron; they served their patrons with practiced precision. Harvey Girls contracted for six, nine, or twelve months of service and received a salary, room and board, tips, and free tickets on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. In addition to previously unheard-of monetary benefits, the job profited women with pride and independence.

From the late 1800s to the mid-1950s Harvey Houses were famous for their tradition of quality food, high standards of service, and reasonable prices. In partnership with the Santa Fe Railway, entrepreneur Fred Harvey opened his chain of restaurants, serving weary travelers gourmet meals in thirty minutes. In Oklahoma the Francis and Hugo depots offered lunchroom services; the depots at Guthrie, Purcell, and Waynoka opened eating establishments in the early 1900s and continued to serve until the late 1930s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Waynoka and Guthrie sites were still available for special occasions.

Suzzanne Kelley


Samuel Hopkins Adams, The Harvey Girls (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1944).

Dee A. Harris, "More Than Beefsteak and a Cup of Coffee: Reinterpreting the Harvey Girls in Kansas" (M.A. thesis, Wichita State University, 1996).

Lesley Poling-Kempes, The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West (New York: Marlow & Co., 1991).

Judith Ann Stoll, "Harvey Girls: Then, Now, and Forever" (M.A. thesis, Kansas State University, 1995).

Judith Stoll, "'In Their Best Bib and Tucker': The Harvey Girls," Kansas Heritage 5 (Winter 1997).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Suzzanne Kelley, “Harvey Girls,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=HA042.

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