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tv   Paulina Bren The Barbizon - The Hotel that Set Women Free  CSPAN  October 11, 2021 9:09pm-10:01pm EDT

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providers giving you a front row seat into democracy. >> and award-winning writer and historian who teaches and attended wesley and university as an undergraduate and international studies from the university of washington and a phd in history from new york university. she sold the host of research including fellowships residency. her most recent book that set women free as a "new york times" editor's choice that has received international press coverage in the new yorker, "the new york times," wall street journal, "washington post," starting observer and london times among many others.
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starting with her ground breaking book the culture of communism after the 1968 spring which originated a new field of studies. welcome. >> i'm delighted to be here. it's so many things. it's the storyry of a place anda wonderful narrative in the 20th century with a nuanced entry of women and the businesses and professions that supported them. as a scholar and historian i am so curious about your own scholarly process. >> i'm interested in topics that
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haven't been written about before so there's not much to read to get started and that is very daunting. i'm always interested in the collective experience about the time and place so again i don't follow an individual biography so the panicry and dread i stard and thought this is great there's going to be many forces. not at all it turned out. people stopped for a very good reason and interestingly since we are at the society this evening,g, my first stop was the new york historical society where you have a wonderful
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archive but for reasons i can only speculate, as illustrated of the general for the land scape sources available this is about finding different avenues. >> it's almost as if the gave a multidimensional approach to the story and that gives quite a bit of vitality as well. >> when i look back, this is what interests me how you can
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put together a multifaceted the story. so it wasn't just a safe and respectable place for single women live but it was a kind of nexus for various institutions providing them with more career and life choices than ever before. but there's also these trading grounds like mademoiselle magazine and trading agencies. how did they provide security for women and how did it change through the late 70s and early 80s?y. >> they were sort of these rare access points for women to find
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independence. to talk about t the ark but respectability in the 1920s was what would give you independence and so it was a place with respectability and then as you say there were these other sort of pockets through which the women could seek different ways of envisioning their lives. one of the ones now back in the 1980s i remember seemed a sort of outdated idea so it was
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fascinating to discover this rich history that was a phenomenon of the 21st century and became particularly important after the crash and the great depression so there were others women were attending. she had to find a way to make a living with her kids and her sister and when the depression hit and the stock market fell, these elite women from these colleges with degrees in english literature and katherine gibbs was the way to do it, so that was important. another important avenue was
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modeling, which again we might think that's exactly the point that with the great depression, they were seen as pariahs and taking jobs away from them so logically by taking on women's work if they were going to work outside of the home and so now we have residents who are in fact catherine gibbs takes over three floors and four floors but the power of the modeling agency and he brings in young women a large extent to the midwest and it's a very american story because the women that stay there are not new yorkers but they are from small towns and
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these are the models and the looks that they are going for and it becomes a big agency and then in a really interesting sort of connection while i was doing the research, the entry point for me as a scholar and also the women was mademoiselle magazine which again i remember mademoiselle magazine. it started in the 1930s.
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it is with the most incredible story in mademoiselle magazine and in the early 1940s it was a way basically to bring the crème de la crème of young women across america, so there were different organizations and that in many ways the complexities so
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it was complex and a fascinating story behind these entry points. >> they were testing professional identities which were brand-new in many ways. through the decades of your story, tell us a bit about how that happens in the 20s to the 70s. >> this was fascinating to me because by looking at the hotel and new york through the course of the century, we sort of get a different sense of the modern era. so in the 1920s when it was built and opened its doors in
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1928, the thing is it wasn't the only women's hotel being built at this time. through the pandemic in many ways they were coming to new york to now try out these lives they were allowed to live and these are modern women the experience in terms of common rooms these would be around for
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a few decades and women wanted the same and the same development they were booked solid and that is how huge the demand was. one of the key things they didn't have kitchens because of aa wall that made it illegal to build thesees places, but the notion of not, the fundamental tos the identity which was if yu did not have to cook meaning you also didn't have to take care of a household, then you could live the life that you wanted to. but at the same time when it opened its doors in 1928, without realizing so much of it.
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but third it has this veneer. it was a place that was a safe haven for the elite respectable. it continued but pivoted and that is what was so interesting is looking at the women that stayed there through the socioeconomic diversity that didn't happen until the 1950s i discovered. but the economic diversity happened very quickly and that's one of the fascinating things to me how they ranged from debutantes to really women who
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run away from homes in rural ohio and they were living next door to each other now and that in itself i think is very interesting and then the 1940s as it started to come in, it certainly also impacted in its intellectual cachet in the intellectual societies and particularly its fascinating because this is the decade where it's nicknamed because of all these models.
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but it is now placed where they hang around at the coffee shop to pick up women pretending he isp a canadian coffee player and it's interesting when you dig into the young lives of these women. it's fascinating so there are many phases throughout the hotel history. >> particularly when one considers new york city in the 19th century empowering for women because they could be out and about by themselves. it's just a groundbreaking.
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>> absolutely and you are right to point to that. in june of 1953, she lamented quite a bit about how she hadn't found a date, a boyfriend. part of it she was boy crazy but another part of it was that even though things had progressed, you were privy need differently if you had a date next to you. you could go to places that you couldn't go to by yourself or with your girlfriends. so it was also grounded in experiential fact. >> this leads to my next
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question there are a few types that we see in your book from the home-grown beauty queen to the independence new york city but i am most fascinated by the highly educated women in other colleges trying to change drastically but why was it most of these women consistently chose the mindnumbing phenomenon? why go to college if that is what your aspirations look like. >> thabsolutely.
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the societal sessions always and continue to more directly affect women than men. men are not allowed to cry and field. it's damaging and true but the social pressures that women encounter often lead to a lack of access. i think that plays a big part of it and it's interesting because in fact because of this, there was a whole series of women's
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colleges particularly who had to make speeches trying to explain and justify why women even needed to have an education if they were not going to use it. it became a crisis of why are we sending these women to college, so the argument became an educated woman can educate her own children so that is the usage. what plays into this is not only the consumer cold war era that allows them to say you
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don't have to so there is that and also we shouldn't underestimate that women who were single, who were working. it was interesting looking at the phenomenon and how for example mademoiselle magazine, which was a hot mess but the hotbed of liberal women so all of these places were particularly targeted and seen as very vulnerable to the propaganda of the cold war.
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it's about desire and anger not being allowed to express it. in 1953 of june that was the same month of the report that came out and it included the author. they were called in one
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afternoon. i think that it's symbolic of the 1950s because she hated the fact that she was giving into the social pressure and couldn't help herself and it was tearing her apart and you could see that.
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how do these plague and torture. >> i also have a chapter on those who came to the barbizon and it was a launching pad you went there because you jumped of things and it was the place that was going to become what you jumped of but there were so many women who came and it wasn't what they hoped for various reasons and i have a whole chapter about them. what i find interesting in terms of this question is how much it was a part of their lives.
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these women were not at the center of attention and you could say quitee ordinary women but for example i interviewed models who went to the barbizon who said they always had women coming to see if they could get a double date. and the sell by date was again
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even for the womenwo who went there, they understood that even so, marriage had to be the endpoint. for a lot of these, these young womento from ohio this was their window. they were not going to the country club in ohio so it was very transactional at the same time that it was repressed. >> grace kelly and sylvia platt and on and on but reading about
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these people why did they choose to remain in new york over returning home, why did they have greater security, the dangerous world d o out there. >> no member is allowed beyond the lobby and there are so many who claim they made it up the stairs to the bedroom area. wonderful wild tales of that --
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but why they stayed it's a case by case basis but i would say the meaning of success in many ways is success and so then of course as the hotel then started on its reincarnation in the 1980s and 1981 and trying to re- envision themselves as a hotel, spectacularly every single time these women who when
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the process started 156 of them, there are five remaining today, these women got themselves a good lawyer and discovered they had rent control rooms, so at the hotel it's fascinating behind the hidden wall on each floor and when it was finally turned into a condo building in the 2,000, they completely were rejected inside and had no resemblance of what it looked
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like. but there were small studio one bedroom apartments and remaining five women lived there so how do we judge success. they ended up a success. only in new york city the. that does segue into the first question of the evening and it's o a simple one. >> it was on 63rd and still is
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63rd and lexington avenue centrally locatedly near everything. centrally located but it was sort of a boring desolate irish neighborhood and what changed things up he opened the bar two blocks away from the barbizon and was the first singles bar in
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new york that sort of changed the social landscape of the upper east side. >> one of the viewers is wondering if there's any depictions. >> it is about the experience that goes without saying that everybody knows it is biographical but to what extent. to an extreme extent really what
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she recounts but everything that happens there really did happen and including how famously throwing the entire wardrobe off the roof of the hotel on the last night that shef was there and then going home and having a breakdown in what we know is her first suicide attempt. there were a few movies based on the women's hotels i don't know
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if any of you remember, i don't mention this in the book but the sitcom in the 80s or 90s that was based around this idea of a few remaining hotels at that time. there's one remaining called the webster apartments that was built in the 1930s for employees of macy's by one of the founders of macy's and you can get a film there as a woman and it's still relatively affordable in the rules and regulations that isn't that appealing. i'm curious about the stories
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what did that look like? meeting women in the 80s and 90s with remarkable memories and also storytellers. this is a moment in their lives, this short window of real independence and excitement. i have to say that was probably my greatest delight. in terms of locating the sources the connection was incredibly
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helpful. i discovered the editor in chief so the office files are archived in wyoming. there are two with key things one was writing about the keynesian report but the other thing more important to me was this whole question of how to writee about women that had no sources, that is no guest registries, no floor plans, it gave me a little sense but no
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gift registries. it's important when you write history where it is built from the 1920s. i found this animated back and forth conversation in 1956 and they wanted to pick for the guest edit program that summer.
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they were going back and forth that's when we are going to lose customers and readers and everybody. and the very conservative that he tells says no, no, that's it. she's coming. they let her in and i spoke with how she became famous as a writer and so through that i was able to find something. it doesn't mean that there's a floodgate after 1956 but there is a full story.
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that was a godsend that i found in that particular conversation. talk a little bit more about how you mentioned the critical dynamic apart from this one the story that you told it doesn't open up the floodgates but how do things start shifting from this perspective? >> i think also i should say with the great depression, i talked about the start of the book the unthinkable molly brown and resident at the very beginning. she dies and is surrounded by flappers who she hates even though she does relate in many
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ways. but they were flappers in the 1920s and in the same way that all these ambitious women took a nosedive in the deep depression even more so in the case of black women and i talk about that in the book. she's let in and felt she was fine and one of the delights and early on i received an interesting one. who is actually friends with barbara chase and she lived at the hotel from 1917 to 1972 so
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probably a bit later. that's what i sort of write about in the book in terms of how barbara chase fits in even as society may be says she doesn't, she has a particular kind of attitude and so this is absolutely true. yes of course you had racism around you, but she felt comfortable because she had a particular point of view about herself as a woman and that she said made her fit in and feel comfortable. these questions are complex and felt incredibly comfortable so
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it's hard to say but certainly it was a white institution that had been set up as one being built in the 1920s and then in new york itself was changing. that segues into this question. can youca describe the culture f the hotel?
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there were young beautiful women running in on their heels and were asked the rehearsals on their broadway shows and photo shoots. then those on the outskirts of the coffee shop reading sort of wondering what they were going to do. but in terms of culture, it is a culture of female ambition and that's what's interesting to me. what i learned is this doesn't
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run on the same parallel track with the history of women's rights. women were and always will be ambitious regardless of their access and their rights to be so so there are ways of trying to circumvent that. it doesn't mean that you will succeed but to circumvent the restrictions that allow them to build on the ambition and that cuts across all sorts of other lines of experience. the ambition is central to the type of women and at this time to this place. i've been asked do you wish a place like this existed and is it difficult to imagine a place
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like this existing for a variety of reasons i could go into but i won't. but i do think that it's a tremendous loss that there isn't a place that somebody who is always vulnerable in a city and it was a place that was affordable where they could get a room and that i think is important and something that can only add to the larger culture of the city. >> beautiful answer, and it encapsulates the crux of the book and your argument. but the research and story is from wonderful writing and i wondered if you could be so kind to read us a passage.
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absolutely. >> at the famous hotel she could be from anywhere just as likely a small town in america across the george washington bridge but more often than not she arrived in the checkered cab because she didn't know how to use the new yorkid subway. she had the address on a piece of paper 140 and in all likelihood the taxi driver3r knw where she was going even before she spoke. perhaps he noticed her or how she held onto the handle of a brown suitcase or how she wore her best clothes. the piece of paper was crumpled
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by now having traveled by plane, bus or train she was a contest winner. because of what it meant in that moment she had made an escape from her hometown and all the expectations known that came with it. she left that behind after months of pleading. she was here now in new york ready to remake herself and start a new life. she had taken her faith into her own hands. >> a wonderfulve conversation bt unfortunately we are running out of time i want to thank you in the audience for also being with
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us today. the first thing she does is pits this idea of a parade down
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pennsylvania avenue. if there had been a celebratory parades i'm sure you've seen the pictures in the potomac but this idea of taking a cause, a march on washington, that was the suffragists idea. it's so common now that we think of it as a traffic headache but had never been done before in this way, the idea of a political march from the legislative branch to the executive branch. in the 1913 parade which i will talk about at great length if given an opportunity so i'm going to restrain myself because we have a lot to cover today. it didn't go at all so the events in the last minute but then this massive crowd blocked pennsylvania avenue so for the prospective it was standing at about 13th street you can see the capitol in the background and it's now the trump hotel.
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pennsylvania avenue is a broad street. it's got broad sidewalks so there's no light between these men and you can see they are men. they were there for the inauguration the next day and behaved very badly. they called them names and tripped them, the police did nothing and in some cases they joined in on the name-calling in the city. but again, how familiar is this image now? this is the march for our lives in the wake of the douglas shooting. now this is a friendly crowd but it's the same picture 100 years later so once you start seeing these parallels you kind of can't see them. no one had ever done this before in 1917. this was the national women's party idea, so not only is it
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incredibly common when there were so many black lives matter protesters that they started adding their signs to the fence at lafayette square but also what are these women doing? they are making a message go viral, this is the equivalent of a tweet. sure it reaches the people standing in front of the white house from lafayette square, but it reaches many more in the picture in the newspaper. that's why it's on really easy to read dark against a background. that's all how it's going to reproduce. ..

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