The ‘Harvey Girls’ give way to our own ‘Hudson Girls’


By SUSAN LEATHERS

I hate to be wrong. But Thursday I discovered I have been wrong about something for a long time, and it totally busted my plan for today’s column.

One of my favorite books as a pre-teen was “One of Fred’s Girls.” Published in 1970 by Doubleday, it was the fictitious story based on the real lives of the “Harvey Girls.” Growing up, I loved reading stories about independent, successful women, especially those from history. I still do.

One of my favorite books as a pre-teen was “One of Fred’s Girls.” Published in 1970 by Doubleday, it was the fictitious story based on the real lives of the “Harvey Girls.” Growing up, I loved reading stories about independent, successful women, especially those from history. I still do.

First hired in 1883, Harvey Girls were single young women “18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent” who left their families to work for Fred Harvey in one of his many restaurants established at railroad stops in the developing Wild West.

In the book, long out of print unfortunately (and there isn’t a copy at the Brentwood Library; I checked), author Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood shares the story of 18-year-old Bonnie who leaves Indiana for a frontier town in the New Mexico territory for adventure and a new life.

The rules were strict and the training advanced for the day. But Harvey girls earned a living ($17.50 a month plus tips, room and board), and ultimately helped civilize and populate the region as many married local men and settled down in their new hometowns.

Here’s where my story and its great connection to Brentwood goes astray.

For years when I’ve traveled, I’ve noticed Hudson bookstores and newsstands in airports. Somewhere along the way, I confused Hudson with Harvey and convinced myself the airport stores descended from what Fred started all those years ago.

When I heard that my favorite Brentwood ladies, the Card Crusaders at the FiftyForward Martin Center, had hit the big time they recently secured a contract with the Hudson Group to sell their hand-made greeting cards in the company’s Nashville Airport stores with the possibility of going national I couldn’t wait to connect the dots.

“Meet the newest ‘Harvey Girls'” was my headline. For a week, I wrote this column in my head, crafting my analogy of the two groups of women.

Though several — OK, many — decades past being “18 to 30,” the Card Crusaders are some of the spunkiest, most independent women I know. They’re also the best role models any young woman today could ask for. About three years ago they saw a need, in this case a new bus for the senior center, and all by themselves figured out a way to make money to help buy one.

Like the Harvey Girls, the Card Crusaders have uniforms, though their matching polo shirts and vests are a far cry from the Girls’ black and white starched linen ones. They also have formed a kinship and sisterhood not unlike the ones formed by Bonnie, her best friend Twixy and the rest of the girls in the novel.

When I sat down to actually type what was in my head, I Googled “One of Fred’s Girls” to remind myself of the book’s details.

That’s when the Harvey/Hudson myth was shattered.

I then Googled “Hudson Group.” Since Fred Harvey catered to rail passengers and the Hudson Group caters to flying ones, I’d like to think my mistake was an honest one. Hudson got its start in 1926 in New Jersey but as far as I can tell, there were never any “Hudson Girls.” I did learn that in March, one Courtney Thornton was named VP of partner relations & business diversity. Maybe she can be the first.

To “my” Harvey Girls, I send huge congratulations on your accomplishments. They have not only snagged a big order, in the three years since the first card was designed, they have created approximately 10,000 cards and netted $40,000 before costs for the Martin Center. They also now have a catalog of 80 designs!

And here’s a breaking news tip you read here first: At the center’s Aug. 19 potluck, where sports columnist Joe Biddle will make his annual appearance to talk football, the center will have a “one-day sale.” All cards will be $3 instead of the normal $4.

See you there!

 Susan Leathers is founding editor of Brentwood Home Page. Click here to read previous columns. Email her at stleathers@gamil.com.

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