Talkshow Thursday: Meet Katherine Newman
On The Rails is my most recent publication. Set during 1910, the novella is about Katherine Newman and her experiences as a Harvey Girl in Arizona. What’s a Harvey Girl? Draw up a chair and let Katherine tell you all about it.
Linda: You were a schoolteacher prior to heading West. What was that like?
Katherine: I am from a small town in Ohio, so our school only had one room. That meant I had students from Kindergarten all the way through the end of high school. Although most kids dropped out after eighth grade. So many of them had to work to help provide for their families. Many families felt their children didn’t need what they would call higher education (high school). The best way to learn a subject is to teach it, so I used the older students to help teach the younger students. That also helped control the classroom by keeping them all busy.
Linda: What was the process of getting hired as a Harvey Girl?
Katherine: I had a bit of an in because my mother had been a Harvey Girl. But I still had to complete the application process. I was interviewed extensively and had to provide three character references. Then I waited and waited. Finally out of the blue, I got a letter telling me I had been hired and to report to Williams, Arizona in a week. That didn’t give me much time to prepare.
Linda: What is a typical day for a Harvey Girl?
Katherine: Our days are quite busy. We work a split shift, and serving the meals is the least of our responsibilities. In between the trains we shine the silver, dust, fold napkins, water the plants, iron our uniforms, and any other task the Head Waitress tosses our way. The idea is to create a warm, inviting atmosphere for the diners.
Linda: Fred Harvey had already passed away by the time you were hired, but his sons were running the company. What is it like to work for the Harvey organization?
Katherine: From what I understand, Mr. Harvey’s sons run the company exactly as he did. Mr. Harvey started the company in the mid 1880s because a traveler took his life in his hands eating at the establishments along the railroad lines. Mr. Harvey had already owned a restaurant so he knew he could do a better job. He managed to secure a contract to provide food on the entire Santa Fe line and became very successful. Attention to detail and extraordinary customer service are watch-words in the Harvey Company. Known for our well-cooked food, extensive choices, and generous portions, we are expected to create an exquisite dining experience that will keep our customers returning over and over. We never know when there will be an inspection, so we’re always ready. There are a lot of rules, but they make sense so the business can run smoothly.
Linda: What kind of rules?
Katherine: We have a very specific dress code including the fact that we are not allowed to wear make-up. We’re also not allowed to date during the first six months of our employment, and after that we have to seek permission from the House Manager. A strict curfew is enforced, and we sleep in a dorm. The rules protect our reputation, because in some places waitresses are considered not much better than soiled doves, although I don’t know why.
Linda: What do you like best about your job?
Katherine: I have met people from all over the country. It has been very exciting, and I’m glad to be a Harvey Girl.
On the Rails is available on Amazon and your independent bookstore: www.amazon.com/dp/B01MUYAGU3. Pick up your copy today!
About the book: Warren, Ohio, 1910: Katherine Newman loves being a teacher, but she loves Henry Jorgensen more, which is why she’s willing to give up her job to marry him. But instead of proposing, Henry breaks up with her. Devastated, Katherine seeks to escape the probing eyes and wagging tongues of her small town. A former Harvey Girl, Katherine’s mother arranges for Katherine to be hired at the Williams, Arizona Harvey House. Can she carve out a new life in the stark desert land unlike anything she’s ever known?
Henry Jorgensen loves Katherine with all his heart, but as the eldest son of a poor farmer can he provide for her as she deserves? The family’s lien holder calls in the mortgage, and Henry must set aside his own desires in order to help his parents meet their financial obligation. But when Katherine leaves town after their break up, he realizes he’s made the biggest mistake of his life. Can he find her and convince her to give their love a second chance?