All Aboard! Pioneer women traveling west began with their families in lumbering wagons following the Great Trails. This Western migration was continued by rail with a new breed of independent women from the 1880’s through the mid- twentieth century. This is their story!
Instead of traveling West with oxen and mule-power, the Railroads and Fred Harvey encouraged young adventurous women to board an Iron Horse across a desolate continent to new opportunities and homes. Advertisements across the East coast lured these women to responsible positions in newly built, and finely run restaurants and hotels along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line. Western hospitality, and the safety of a well-run family-oriented organization like Fred Harvey’s would give women a chance to make their own way in the world without having to marry first before they could travel to places unknown. Although Will Rogers said: “Fred Harvey provided food and wives for the West,” at least these future wives had a taste of independence first!
They came first as waitresses, and in the 1920s the more educated young woman of social grace was called to become Couriers, or Guides, for the Indian Detours. These Harvey Detours were excursions off the beaten track of the rail lines and went into the Indian country of New Mexico and Arizona, with young educated women who shared their expertise about these areas as you bumped along unpaved desert roads in automobiles and buses.
At a time when there were “no ladies west of Dodge City and no women west of Albuquerque,” we owe a great debt to Fred Harvey, and the Rail Roads, for the second and third great migration of women Out West!