Women of La Fonda and Route 66



Panel discussion moderated by Meredith Schweitzer, Former Curator of the New Mexico History Museum. Panelists include La Fonda on the Plaza's Chairman of the Board, Jenny Kimball, award-winning Architect & Designer, Barbara Felix, and Documentary Filmmaker, Katrina Parks.

The women of La Fonda and Route 66 impacted the development of the West.  When the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway purchased La Fondal and leased it to the Fred Harvey Company, the movement to employ women in the West took hold.  Having first introduced hotels and dining halls along the rails in 1873, the Harvey Company quickly developed a reputation for impeccable service standards and introduced those standards to La Fonda during our formative years.

Fred Harvey, the company’s founder, created the “Harvey Girl” concept to improve the service and encourage good manners amongst the rowdy cowboys and rugged roustabouts notorious out West.  Harvey Girls were competent, pleasant, cheerful and adhered to the high service standards demanded by Fred Harvey.  Dressed in plain black long-sleeved, floor length woolen dresses with starched white aprons, and completed with a perfect bow-tie, their uniforms became synonymous with impeccable service and cleanliness. Harvey Girls at La Fonda modified the formal dress to include local customs like embroidered floral blouses and long Mexican peasant skirts.  This ambitious female workforce brought distinct charm and professional service along the rails, and the Harvey Girls have been credited with playing a large role in taming the wild west. 

Offering hardworking, curious and free-spirited young women the opportunity to earn a decent living and educate themselves in the highest standards of service, was unique for the era and is a cherished part of La Fonda’s history.

From Willa Cather to Simone de Beauvoir, Edna Fergusson to Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the famous Harvey Girls and Ethel Ballen to La Plazuela’s stalwarts like Carol Anglin and Araceli Sotello, to Lisa Bertelli our Human Resources Director who’s worked for us for over 39 years – the women of La Fonda hold the keys to our successful 100 Years of Hospitality.

Those of you familiar with La Fonda know our guiding muse for all design and architectural decisions is Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.  Colter was a true trailblazer and visionary – originally hired by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in 1910. From a base in Kansas City until her retirement to Santa Fe in 1948, she took all or partial credit for buildings that include: the Canyon’s Watchtower, Hopi House, and Phantom Ranch; El Navajo Hotel, in Gallup; La Posada, in Winslow, Arizona; and Union Station, in Los Angeles – and of course, her influence is ever-present throughout La Fonda on the Plaza in the heart of Santa Fe.

In 1929 the hotel revealed Colter’s design genius to a world of travelers eager to experience the authentic southwest.  At La Fonda, Colter’s vision is still on full display through handcrafted light fixtures, painted headboards, tiles, commissioned murals and handwoven textiles – all by local artisans.  

Kimball, Felix, Schweitzer and Parks all hold a deep appreciation for Colter and the path she forged for women in the southwest.

The panelists will discuss how women have impacted our region’s rich and storied past – laying the foundation for the emergence of new voices and ideas, and forging a vibrant and inclusive present and future. 

Route 66 Women:  The Untold Story of the Mother Road | Produced by Katrina Parks

Route 66 Women: The Untold Story of the Mother Road is a documentary film series that uncovers the extraordinary lives and achievements of women who overcame gender discrimination and segregation to build fulfilling lives for themselves and generations to come on America’s most iconic highway. From entrepreneurs to waitresses, from anthropologists to politicians, from artists to military sergeants, these women transformed their communities and the American West for the better through their hard work, perseverance and ingenuity.

Tune in to the documentary:

Eastern New Mexico & West Texas

March 6, 2022 KENW will broadcast the premiere of Episode One at 10 AM, followed by Episode Two on March 13, 2022 at 10 AM and Episode Three on March 20, 2022 at 10 AM.

Los Angeles

On March 16, 2022 KCET will broadcast the Los Angeles premiere of Episode One at 10 PM and KOCE will broadcast it on March 18 at 6 PM.


On March 17, 2022 KRMA and KRMZ will broadcast the Colorado premiere of Episode One at 10 PM.


On March 14, 2022 WITF will broadcast the Pennsylvania premiere of Episode One at 9 PM, followed by Episode Two on March 21, 2022 at 9 PM and Episode Three on March 28, 2022 at 9 PM.