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The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

de Paulina Bren

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In the early 1980’s I stayed at The Barbizon when I was in New York City on business. By that time, it was in its last gasp as a going concern, and was a regular hotel, not a residential one. I remember how small and cramped the rooms were and wondered how anyone could have lived there for more than a few days. But lived there, people did – lots of them. The Barbizon was arguably the most famous of the several women’s residential hotels in New York.

Beginning in the 1920’s it offered a safe, respectable place to live for hundreds of young women who were coming to the city to pursue a career, be it in business acting or modeling. As the years went on, businesses reserved space for “their girls” in the hotel, most notably The Powers and Ford modeling agencies, Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School, And Mademoiselle Magazine for its College Guest Editors Based on these corporate endorsements as well as by word of mouth from the hotel’s “alumna,” The Barbizon became the place where parents felt their daughters would be safe while making their way in the big, bad city.

Of course, like so many things, all of this changed in the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. The hotel lost its éclat and started to be considered dowdy and out of date. It went through several iterations as a hotel, before being converted to luxury condominiums in the 1980’s.

This book provides an interesting look into a New York and a society that is gone forever. ( )
  etxgardener | Aug 15, 2021 |
Read sample. Did not spark a lot of interest in reading more ( )
  cjordan916 | Aug 11, 2021 |
NOT VERY GOOD. not interesting to me.
  evatkaplan | Aug 9, 2021 |
The Barbizon Residential Hotel for Women opened in midtown Manhattan in 1928 and immediately marketed itself as a safe space for the New Woman looking to explore New York City. Over the decades the hotel, with its weekly rents and women-only rules became a space where big names but also many working women landed as they explored their options in the city. Bren's history explores both the history of the building but also focuses on some of its notable residents, including Grace Kelly, Joan Didion, and Sylvia Plath (who fictionalized her experiences at the Barbizon and her guest editorship at Mademoiselle magazine in The Bell Jar). As the hotel's success was intertwined with that of Mademoiselle magazine and also the Gibbs secretarial school (and to a lesser extent the Powers modeling agency), Bren also provides insights into these organizations and the women who worked there and stayed at the Barbizon. Bren is cognizant of the Barbizon as largely the refuge of white, upper-middle class women but does include a section on Barbara Chase, the first Black guest editor at Mademoiselle and likely the first Black woman to stay at the Barbizon. Well written for a general audience, this is a great read for those interested in women's history particularly of the 1920s-1960s. ( )
  MickyFine | Jul 27, 2021 |
The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free tells the story of a landmark "women-only" hotel, but also the stories of the City of New York, the state of women in America during the 20th century, and the individual stories of many famous women who stayed at the Barbizon. From Titanic Survivor, Molly Brown, to model and actress Cybill Shepherd, the hotel was home to models, artists, writers (including Sylvia Plath), the students of the Katherine Gibbs School, the Guest Editors of Mademoiselle magazine, and countless women who longed for escape from rural life. The Barbizon Hotel for Women offered security, culture, and a sense of female companionship that could be both competitive and life-affirming. The Barbizon is a woman's-eye view of the transitory status of New York City, the American economy, and the role of women in society. The book is well-researched and documented with many direct quotes and photographs. ( )
  shelf-employed | Jun 16, 2021 |
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Who was the woman who stayed at New York's famous Barbizon Hotel? - Introduction
The New Woman arrived in the closing decade of the nineteenth century. -Chapter One
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The rush of excitement when this young woman walked through the front doors of the Barbizon would be impossible to replicate later in life because of what it meant in that moment: she had made her escape from her hometown and all the expectations (or none) that came with it. She had left that all behind, resolutely, often after months of pleading, saving, scrimping, plotting. She was here now, in New York, ready to remake herself, to start an entirely new life. She had taken her fate into her own hands.
Opening in 1903, the Martha Washington was a squat twelve stories that stretched one city block along Madison Avenue from Twenty-Ninth to Thirtieth Street. Far ahead of its time, it addressed a need for accommodations for self-supporting white-collar women when New York hotel rules stipulated that no single female traveler could be offered a room after 6:00 p.m. unless she was hauling a heavy travel trunk to prove she was no prostitute.
By 1934, there would be seventy-five thousand homeless single women in New York. Just as men had apples to sell, they also had flophouses to go to, dormitory beds for twenty-five cents or less, while the women had nothing. Instead, they rode the subways and sat in train stations, the invisible victims of the Great Depression. With nothing to peddle, many were reduced to selling their own bodies, taking on sex work to balance the scale between life and death. Black women looking for domestic work gathered on street corners, waiting for employers to drive by and make an offer; the women called it their new “slave markets.” In the 1920s, some young black women had participated in flapper culture just like their white counterparts; that march forward stopped short. Now both white and black women were expected to hand over to men whatever jobs and self-respect might be left for the taking. More than 80 percent of Americans believed that a woman’s proper place was again in the home.
By 1932, twenty-six states had made it illegal for married women to hold a job, and in the states where it was not mandatory to quit work upon marriage, it was still mandatory to disclose one’s impending married status because it was considered outrageous for a woman to be taking a job away from a “real” breadwinner.
George Davis’s swift slide into McCarthyism, even as he swore he was against the Red-baiting, clearly conflated communism with a distaste for ambitious women. In this, George, albeit a bohemian, a homosexual, and a New Yorker, was not so very different from many other Americans.
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