Three Cheers for Hospitality
True West|October 2021
The Harvey Girls of yesteryear set the standard for uniform customer service across the West.
SHERRY MONAHAN

The Harvey Girls rose to fame in the later part of the 19th century when legendary restaurateur Fred Harvey floated a novel idea to his soon-to-be manager in Raton, New Mexico. When Fred opened his restaurants along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, he employed mostly Black waiters, which was customary at the time. Sadly, many of the waiters got little respect, were harassed and feared for their lives, so some carried guns while working. After settling another disturbance in Raton in the 1880s, Fred needed a new manager for that location. He was traveling with a young family friend named Tom Gable who was impressed with Fred’s business acumen. He told him as much, so Fred offered Tom the manager position. Tom agreed on one condition—he wanted to replace all the male waiters with young females from Kansas. Harvey had employed some women in the past, but not on this scale. Fred agreed to the experiment, so Tom moved his family from Kansas to Raton. One of the first waitresses hired at Harvey’s Raton restaurant was 18-year-old Minnie O’Neal from Leavenworth, Kansas.

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