The Harvey Girls %u2014 Finding Love at the Train Station

BY CAROLYN LEONARD Modified: October 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm •  Published: October 12, 2012

EDMOND -- Remember the mournful sound of a train whistle? If that sound ever made you want to head off to somewhere on an adventure, you won’t want to miss the program at Edmond Genealogy Society meeting Monday evening Oct. 15 to be presented by Sandie Olson of Waynoka.

Harvey Girls -- and guys -- worked in Fred Harvey Restaurants along the Santa Fe Railroad. Some who worked in Waynoka were locals, others were sent by the company. The Harvey House at Waynoka was in operation from 1910 till 1937 and Ms Olson was instrumental in the building’s preservation.

Waynoka was the center for Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railroad and also by 1930 the center of the Transcontinental Air Transport led by Charles Lindbergh. Crossing America, travelers would sleep in Pullman cars on trains by night and fly on TAT's Ford Tri-Motor planes by day.

One of your female ancestors may have been a Harvey Girl. Fred Harvey's biggest challenge was not delivering fresh food to his far-flung outposts but finding reliable help. So he placed advertisements in the East and the Midwest for single "young women, 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent."

These women became the famed Harvey Girl waitresses, trained in rules of etiquette and given black-and-white uniforms befitting a nun. Humorist Will Rogers once said Harvey and his young servers "kept the West in food and wives." Indeed, one estimate put the number of Harvey Girls who wound up as brides of western cowboys and railroadmen at 20,000.

Mrs. Harvey met each girl as she was hired. Paid $17.50 a month, this was a dream job for many who were unable to cope with the burgeoning populations of big cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. So many Harvey Girls, always respectable, became the wife to a customer.