Winslow Harvey Girls (from left) Melodee Gutierrez, former Grand Canyon Harvey Girl Dorothy Hunt,Marie LaMar, Leslie Brewer and Rachel Sheats.
“Mother always squeezed the orange juice fresh and we never had a second day of dessert,” she recalled. “We always had table cloths and cloth napkins. That was our Harvey legacy.”
LaMar and others from the Winslow Harvey Girls were special guests at the El Tovar reopening and centennial celebration for the historic hotel and nearby Hopi House on April 12 and were in the Bright Angel History Room throughout the day on April 13 to show Harvey Girls historical items and talk about the history of these women who helped settle and civilize the west.
LaMar said she began to understand the fullness of her Harvey heritage in June of 1993 when she began to rally to save the La Posada, the last great railroad hotel designed by architect Mary Colter.
Closed as a hotel in 1957, it served as the Albuquerque Division Headquarters of the Santa Fe Railroad from the mid-1960s until the late 1980s, when it was offered to the city of Winslow for $1.
“They declined it,” LaMar said. “They felt it would bankrupt the city. That’s when I learned that not all of our leaders were gifted with visionary thinking. We knew for sure then that we would wake up one day and see a wrecking ball there. We knew we had to do something.”
For LaMar and others of her generation, the La Posada represented a rite of passage.
“Mothers would send us to eat there,” she said. “They gave us instructions on how to behave and dressed us in our Sunday best – hats, gloves, heels and hose. We learned our social graces through the Fred Harvey Co.”
She went to work rallying the community to save the landmark building. Citizens, known as the Gardening Angels, adopted portions of the grounds, tending and restoring them. As a group they applied for a grant from Transportation Enhancement Funds and to their surprise received $500,000 to acquire the hotel.
The Winslow Harvey Girls were formed in 1995 as one of the fruits of their efforts. The group numbers 24 members ranging in age from 18-91. Five are related to or are former Harvey Girls. Their mission, according to LaMar, is to be meeters and greeters and ambassadors of good will.
“Our goal is to promote the history of the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey, Mary Colter, the Harvey girls and La Posada,” she said. “We have accepted the torch for the next 100 years.”
It was her research into the history of the railroad and Harvey Co. that helped her understand her parents better.
“Mother and dad had a polish to them,” she said. “I learned how big a part the Harvey experience played in our lives.”
When restaurateur Fred Harvey put out the call for attractive, intelligent women between the ages of 18 and 30 to work in his restaurants along the Santa Fe rail line, LaMar’s mother answered. The youngest of seven children, she left Kansas City, Mo., in 1921 to work in Seligman, Ariz.
LaMar said many of the 100,000 Harvey Girls were from homesteads, attracted by what was good pay for the time, particularly with tips, and the prospect of paid room and board. Most were able to send money home to their families and still be the best-dressed girls in town.
LaMar’s father worked at the Harvey newsstand there. Working for the company meant following strict rules. Young women, when they became Harvey Girls, signed an agreement that they would not marry for the term of their service. They lived in dorms under the supervision of a house mother and, regardless of their age had a curfew of 10 p.m. When they were on duty, socializing with other employees was forbidden.
Still, LaMar’s mother and father managed to carry on a courtship through notes and secret meetings.
“My father used to leave notes folded under coffee saucers and plates,” said LaMar. The family still has some of those notes. One, he signed Reginald, Prince of Wales.
They married in secret and were able to keep it from the company for six months. When it was discovered, both were promptly fired.
They moved to Winslow where they had their first daughter in 1924, the next daughter came 14 months later and Marie was born in 1928.
They were raised in what LaMar called “the elegance of the Harvey experience. They duplicated the life they had learned. It was as nice as it could be. During the Depression, we didn’t know we were poor.”
There was another characteristic that Harvey Girls shared, said LaMar – they were outgoing and adventurous. Her mother was no exception.
“She wasn’t shy but she was retiring,” she said. “And she had an ornery streak – there was a little cinnamon in the apple pie.”
Dorothy Hunt, the oldest member of the group, was a Harvey girl at Grand Canyon from 1946-1958, after the company relaxed its ban on marriage. Her husband was assigned here as a brakeman for the Santa Fe Railroad and she followed. In the fall when the summer workers went home, she was asked to work at the Bright Angel coffee shop and then as the first bartender in the Bright Angel cocktail lounge.
It was a good job, with exacting standards, she said.