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Food History

Railroad dinners by Fred Harvey

For two decades, Hollywood had an unfailing recipe for profitable movies. Write a fluffy script whose main function was to string together eight or 10 songs, add a few pretty girls, and presto! You had a cash cow that never went dry. For a couple of hours, moviegoers could sit in a dark theater and forget the misery of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The next decade, these musicals helped ease the gloom of the war-torn &



The Harvey Girls&

is a good example. Released in 1946, it managed to include 10 songs in only 102 minutes. One of the songs, &

On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe,&

won the Best Song Academy Award that year.

The beautiful girls were Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury and Cyd Charisse. The story is set in the 1890s, when railroads were connecting the West with the rest of the country.

Susan Bradley (Judy Garland) is a mail-order bride on her way to New Mexico to marry her unknown fiance. En route she meets several Harvey Girls (waitresses) who are going to New Mexico to open a new Harvey&

s restaurant. When the romance does not work out, Judy (Susan) becomes a Harvey Girl. Not a very complicated script but Judy sings, Cyd dances and Angela is cast as the troublemaker.

The movie was actually based on fact. Fred Harvey was born in England in 1835, then immigrated to the U.S. when he was 15. He worked in several restaurants in New Orleans and St. Louis, but settled in Kansas as a freight agent for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. His duties included regular train travel. He was disgusted by the food he was served.

Recalling his restaurant experience, Harvey built several lunchroooms on Kansas rail lines.

His standards were clean restaurants, competent and friendly service, quality food and reasonable prices. He made an offer to other rail lines. As they expanded, he agreed to build and operate Harvey Houses among the routes. He would do the same for their dining cars. &

Meals by Fred Harvey&

would guarantee a quality dining experience.

To staff these new places, he advertised: &

Wanted. Young women between 18 and 30, with high moral standards.&

Salary was $17.50 per month plus room and board and &

generous tips.&

Men outnumbered women by almost two to one in the territories of New Mexico and Arizona, so Harvey prudently added a pledge that the Harvey Girls would not marry for six months.

The offer attracted thousands of applicants and a firestorm of protests. &

A woman&

s place is in the home,&

was an oft quoted axiom. He had anticipated this. His girls were trained in Kansas City before being dispatched. They were taught to be friendly, helpful and efficient, but there were strict rules of behavior. Anyone violating these rules was dismissed. They were waitresses, but they would behave like ladies.

Fred Harvey took another calculated risk. He hired black American men as waiters on the dining cars he managed. He never thought of himself as a revolutionary, but these two decisions created undreamed-of employment opportunities for both women and black Americans. To Harvey, it was just common sense. When he died in 1901, the Fred Harvey Co. was operating 15 hotels, 47 restaurants and 30 dining cars.


s comment: I am sorry but there is no recipe this week. I had hoped to include a Fred Harvey recipe but the paperwork required to get permission is formidable.