Harvey Girls and Navajo Trading Posts

My mother-in-law's mother Hazel was a Harvey Girl in Arizona. I'm not certain of the exact time period, but she started in Kansas City and then went to Ash Fork Arizona. My mother in law was born in 1915, and her mother was married in 1912. Harvey Girls couldn't work and be married so it had to be before 1912. I don't know how long she worked for the Harvey Houses but she came west to find cowboys! She did find her future husband!

A Harvey Girl in Civilian Clothes, circa 1905

A Harvey Girl in Civilian Clothes, circa 1905

This rug was hers and I’m assuming it came from Arizona but I have no idea how she got it or any history of it.  It measures 24" square.  Can you help? 

Was this Navajo Saddle Blanket a Wedding Gift in 1912?

Was this Navajo Saddle Blanket a Wedding Gift in 1912?

I confess I was ignorant of the cultural phenomenon of Harvey Girls and Harvey Houses until I came across their stories while driving across country 25 years ago. 

Between the 1880s and the 1940s over 100,000 women worked as “Harvey Girls” in restaurants all over the west.  Established by Fred Harvey, a peripatetic Englishman transported to the United States, these restaurants and hotels truly contributed to the western expansion of the United States. 

Fred Harvey worked as a postal clerk and freight manager for the Burlington Railroad; his base of operations was Topeka, Kansas.  Prior to his restaurants, train travelers had no dining options while traveling and were at the mercy of unregulated roadhouses or local women selling meals out of their homes.  These independent operators were subject to no standards of quality, nor were their schedules always aligned with train schedules:  if you weren’t finished with your meal when the engineer was ready to over on you either abandoned your meal or missed the train. 

Harvey proposed the idea of building cafes along the railroad but his employer turned the idea down.  He brought the idea to the Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railroad and was given an open-ended budget to secure sites and build restaurants across the west.  These restaurants produced consistently fresh, high quality meals served in predictably clean dining rooms by strictly regulated waitresses.  The railroad itself delivered fresh produce and meat; the Santa Fe railroad even ran two of its own dairies.

Harvey advertised all over the east coast for neat articulate women of good moral character with at least an 8th grade education to staff the dining rooms.  These women received their tickets west, salary, room and board.  They had to agree to stay in the Harvey employ – including not getting married – for at least six months.

If Hazel lived in Ash Fork, she and fellow Harvey Girls likely worked and lived at the Escalante Hotel.  Harvey Girls abided by strict rules of dress and deportment both on and off duty.  Still, most of these women married and stayed to raise families and communities; they are the ones considered to be responsible for bringing civility, culture and stability to the west. 

Along with restaurants and hotels, the development of Trading Posts grew along the rail lines.  Trading Posts offered Navajos the economic opportunity a place to purchase items like flour, coffee and tobacco – to which they had become accustomed to during their years of forced internment – with wool, pottery, baskets and rugs.  The Navajo items gained popularity with traders and collectors across the United States, even having some influence on some of the design elements.

If Hazel married in 1912, the Navajo weaving might have been gifted to her as a wedding present by friends or co-workers.  The colors and texture of the wool together with the pattern suggest that this saddle blanket sized piece was woven in the first quarter of the 19th century. 

The blanket itself is in poor condition:  the looped ends are worn and the warp and weft seem to be unraveling.  It could be repaired but the restoration would diminish its charm without adding much to the minimal monetary value it currently has.  Make sure the frame’s backing is acid free and you can enjoy your Navajo saddle blankets for generations to come.