Fred Harvey was a businessman and entrepreneur. He recognized a need for better restaurants and accommodations along rail lines throughout the Southwest. He formed a partnership with the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway to open establishments along their routes. He established numerous restaurants under the Fred Harvey Company and managed many at Grand Canyon. He worked with Mary Colter to design much of the exterior and interior of his establishments at along the South Rim and Inner Canyon. As part of the hotel and restaurant service staff, the Fred Harvey company created the iconic Harvey Girls, who are often described as the first workforce made up of all women.
Women made up much of the service staff that worked at the Fred Harvey Company’s establishments. Women came from all over the country to work with the company. Eva Fuqua said, “I was 17 years old, and I had never been over 50 miles away from home. . . there were no jobs where I lived . . . It was the smartest thing I think that I could had done at that time.” 1 The Harvey Girls were famous for their impeccable service. They wore matching uniforms, long black dresses with white aprons. The training was meticulous and there were strict rules. Employees would be provided room and board. Women always had to follow strict curfews and protocols.
Moving away from their families provided these women independence they would not have previously been granted. Zada Sharon said, “Women were just trapped in the worlds they lived in because they had no independence – financial independence didn’t exist.” 2 When the Great Depression hit, many took the opportunity with the Fred Harvey Company so they could support others back home. Irene Armstrong said, “It was unheard of for a woman to go that far away from home. Most of these girls had never been away from home. It was kind of scary, but I like to say, it was in the middle of the depression and if you had a job, you were lucky.” 3
Many women worked at Grand Canyon in the Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar, and more. Dorothy Hunt said, “I worked at the bright angel lodge... I worked for 12 years up there from 1946 to 1958... they were so nice to you... they made you feel like you belonged to the family. It was really an excellent place to work.”4 Working with the Fred Harvey company at the Grand Canyon gave Edna Lemons more than just a job, it is also where she met her husband. Edna Mary Victoria Chaves Lemons was hired to work as a laundress at Grand Canyon. Roy Lemons was working with the Civilian Conservation Corps at the time. Edna Lemons said, “[We met] the day I arrived... we went to the Bright Angel, we were looking around, there was a dance, and he was there with his friend... His [Roy’s] friend told me later that he said, ‘see that dark brunette gal, if I like her personality as much as I like her looks, I’m going to spend the rest of my life with her.’ here we are fifty-six years later.” 5 Roy and Edna Lemons are buried together in the Grand Canyon cemetery.
While Fred Harvey was ahead of his time in some ways, he almost always hired White women to be Harvey Girls. At establishments in the Southwest, where Hispanic and Native women made up a large part of the population, there was still very little recruitment to hire Harvey Girls from these communities. Most often women of color were hired for the lowest paying jobs, such as laundress and cleaner, amongst other “back of house” positions.
There were always exceptions to the rule. One Harvey Girl working in Arizona remembers a woman of Hispanic heritage working with her in the 1930s. She said, “I was assigned to train the first Hispanic woman hired by the house manager. She was a wonderful person; the manager knew it, and I know – a whole lot of people at the Harvey House knew it. But the railroad men threatened to leave if she stayed and worked. The manager ignored them. She stayed. And that was that. Things changed a little at a time.” 6
Hiring practices were forced to change during WWII when labor became harder to find.
Lucy Delgadillo Moore said, “Harvey picked all the girls from the east, some from Europe, when they got to Santa Fe, New Mexico, there were no more beautiful blonde girls, tall blonde girls, to his specifications, so he met his first Hispanic and Native American girls... during the war they needed people... they didn’t want to hire me, they had to... I was delighted to be a Harvey Girl... I was there, I was Hispanic, and I love who I am, I knew who I am, what I am, and why. I love who I am, and I explained nothing. I just went to work. And my work showed the fruits of my life. [It was] a fantastic period.” 7
The Fred Harvey Company began hiring women of Hispanic heritage as well as women from the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo communities.
Marion Dale Lucero left the Hopi reservation at age 17 to look for work with the Fred Harvey Company. She started in 1949, washed dishes, and worked as a Hopi Harvey Girl. She traveled with other women and had a vibrant social life, meeting her future husband as a Harvey Girl when he was in the military. Olive Monongye, a Hopi woman who worked as a Harvey Girl for 30 years, said, "We would be rushing around when the train was coming, we would hear the whistle and we would run around. The train stopped and all the people would come out and it would be so crowded, and it was always nice. . . everybody was happy. . . I worked hard over there and for a long time." 8
Working as a woman of color during that time was not always easy.
Hilda Velarde Salas said, “I was a Harvey girl from 1939 to 1945. . . I learned to do a lot of things that I would never have learned before. . . I enjoyed the people that went there. They asked a lot of questions because I was Hispanic with dark hair and dark eyes and most of the women who worked there were fair, blue eyes, so I was kind of an attraction. They asked what nationality I was, how come I could speak Spanish and English, and I guess that interests them. . . at first, I was nervous about it, but I learned to just keep going.” 9
Working as a Harvey Girl could also mean a possibility for upward mobility. Salas continued, “Since I was a waitress, I’d get tips. And I saved my money. I was the first one in the family that opened a bank account. . . I had enough money when we came here to California to give a down payment on a house.” 10
Zada Sharon said, “I’m glad I was a Harvey Girl. The most important thing in the whole story of the Harvey Girls is the fact it gave woman a chance to move out of the lives they were locked into and to be able to be a bit adventuresome.” 11
1 Setting the Standard: The Harvey Girls. New Mexico History Museum. 2020.
4 White, Robin. Kachinhongva, Phyllis. Quinn, Michael. "Winslow Harvey Girls - Oral Histories: Lucy Delgadillo Moore, Dorothy Hunt and Janice Stewart". 100th Anniversary of the El Tovar Hotel. Mar 24, 2005.
5 Quinn, Michael. "Roy and Edna Lemons - Oral History Interview" Grand Canyon National Park. Sept 7, 1995.
6 Poling-Kempes, Lesley. The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West. United States: Hachette Books, 1994.
7 "Winslow Harvey Girls - Oral Histories: Lucy Delgadillo Moore, Dorothy Hunt and Janice Stewart".
8 Lucero, Colleen. “When I worked for Fred Harvey” The Hopi Harvey Project, 2014.
9 Setting the Standard: The Harvey Girls.