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The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound

Airs Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: The girls at the bar. "The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound" explores the lives, experiences, and contributions of the women who worked for the Fred Harvey restaurant empire.

America's tales about taming the Wild West rarely include women. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, more than 100,000 pioneering young women left home to work as waitresses in restaurants located on train platforms along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. "The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound" airing on public television stations nationwide beginning November 1, 2013, explores the lives, experiences, and contributions of the women who worked for the Fred Harvey restaurant empire in its earliest days.

Courtesy of American Public Television

Hilda Velarde Salas serves food in a restaurant.

The Harvey House restaurant chain was started by Leavenworth, Kansas entrepreneur Fred Harvey. Harvey left his native England at the age of 15 and found work in New York’s growing restaurant industry. As the Civil War was brewing, he began working with the railroads, achieving more senior positions as he moved west. Despite his seniority, Harvey never forgot his restaurant roots and, recognizing the poor quality of food for rail travelers, decided to do something about it.

In 1870, Harvey started a company designed to serve travelers throughout the Southwestern U.S. good food at reasonable prices in clean, elegant restaurants. The women who worked for these restaurants — the Harvey Girls — later became icons, themselves, playing an important role in World War II and helping to transform society's view of women's work.

The Harvey House company left its mark by not only providing work opportunities for women, but by promoting cultural diversity in the workplace. Harvey hired Hispanic and Native American women to be waitresses alongside their Anglo peers.

In 1946, MGM turned the Harvey Girls into legend when they released the motion picture musical "The Harvey Girls" starring Judy Garland. Until now, this fictional Hollywood movie was the only film to immortalize their story.

"The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound" examines this lesser known part of American history in great detail, telling the story of the Harvey Girls through interviews with the few surviving participants, their friends and family. Further insight is provided by author and Fred Harvey expert Stephen Fried.

© 2013 - Assertion Films, Los Angeles, Calif.

Video

The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound Trailer

Above: America's tales about taming the Wild West rarely include women. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, more than 100,000 pioneering young women left home to work as waitresses in restaurants located on train platforms along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. "The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound" explores the lives, experiences, and contributions of the women who worked for the Fred Harvey restaurant empire.

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