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tv   Paulina Bren The Barbizon - The Hotel that Set Women Free  CSPAN  October 12, 2021 12:10am-1:01am EDT

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an award-winning writer and phistorian who teaches. she attended wesleyan university as an undergraduate and at international studies from the university of washington and phd from new york university. she's held the host of research grants and fellowships including her most recent book the hotel that set women free is the editor's choice and has received international coverage with the new yorker, "the new york " times," "the wall street journal," the post, the sunday
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observer and the london times among many others. in addition, a well-known scholar behind the iron curtain starting with her groundbreaking book that originated a new field of study.e welcome. >> i am delighted to be here. >> delighted to have you and to discuss your book the hotel that set women free. it's so many things. it's the story of a place and it's also a wonderful narrative that interweaves the history of the united states with a nuanced history of women and the businesses that professionally supported them. as a scholar myself i'm so curious about your own scholarly process and where in the world did you begin?
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>> i say that half jokingly. i am interested in topics that haven't been written about before. it's not really that much to read i'm interested in a collective experience the panic and dread because this is certainly the case when i started i thought this is great a famous hotel and not at all it turned out people were trying to write this book before and stopped for a very good reason and interestingly since the historical society this evening,
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my first stop was the new york historical society where you have a wonderful archive but for the reasons i can only speculate about, it's very thin and is illustrative of the landscape and the sort of available so it's about finding different avenues and building it back up brick by brick. >> it's almost as if they give you that approachh to that stor.
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and in the way of thinking about the sources, absolutely. >> so it wasn't just a safe and respectable place but it was also a kind of nexus for various institutions that sustain these women providing them with more career and life choices than ever before. so the book is also about these trading grounds. how did they provide security for women and how did it change from the 70s and early 80s?
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>> there were these access points for women to find independence so it does begin at the hotel. as you said this is a place of respectability. it was what would give you independence and so it was a place of respectability and then there were these pockets that could seek different ways of envisioning their lives.
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so it was fascinating to discover this history and it became important after the crash and the great depression so there were others that they were attending. in the colleges with degrees in english literature they start to make a living.
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they were taking jobs away from men so logically if they were going to work outside of the home and we have residents at the hotel. catherine takes over two and three floors as a storm within the hotel it is a very american
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story. in the 40s and 50s when it becomes a big agency and also the interesting connection was the mademoiselle magazine which in the 80s it has this
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remarkable history. it was run by a woman and was known by the bible for every college girl. it's one of the most incredible stories and mademoiselle magazine and in the early 1940s it was a way basically to bring in the crème de la crème. for the different organizations and also the complexities.
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the complex stories behind all of these entry points. >> they were testing out professional identities. but we call these women the new women and she certainly evolved throughout the decades of your story. tell us a bit about how that happened from thehe 20s into the 70s.>> looking at the hotel through the 20th century we sort of get a different sense of this modern
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erahe it wasn't the only women's hotel being built atot this tim. there was a whole state of them in the 1920s because they were liberated through world war i and through the pandemic they were coming to now try out. for the experience in terms of common rooms the same developers
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they saw consume them so they start to build these and one of the key things because of the law that made it easier to build these places it is fundamental to the identity. when it opened the doors in 1928 it was a modern twist without
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realizing so much of it was a feminist twist but it had this veneer of being very elite.e they continued to advertise as a place that was a safe haven for the elites respectable young women and society. they continued that way. what is so interesting is looking at those that stayed there.
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a debutante to really women that run away from schools in rural ohio and that in itself is very interesting. then in the 1940s when they started to come in it certainly also impacted in terms of the intellectual cachet and then this new woman particularly fascinating because this is the decade that nicknamed because of all these models.
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they were at the coffee shop pretending to pick people up as a hockey player. there is all of this but it's interesting when you dig into these famous women and the kind of complex they feel. they had many phrases throughout the history.
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it's groundbreaking in fact. >> absolutely and you are right tot point to that. she lamented quite a bit about how she hadn't found a date, a boyfriend. part of it that she was boy crazy but another part of it even those things had progressed. as a young woman in the 1950s you were prettied if you had a date next year. you could go to places that you couldn't go to by yourself or with your girlfriends. so it was also grounded in
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experiential fact. my next question there are a few types we see in your book from the homegrown ambitious girl seekingbe independence but i'm most fascinated by the seven sisters and other colleges that change drastically. why was it they consistently chose to subject themselves to the mindnumbing job? you're right, the dollhouse was merely an interlude to become mistress of her own home. >> absolutely. and this is very much the 1950s, this is the dollhouse
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era. i think the basic answer would be they are not exactly the same. it's always and continues to more directly affect women than men. we can talk about the toxicity it's difficult they are not allowed to cry and feel. it's damaging and it's all 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 is interesting becaue in fact it reigned supreme in
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the 1950s though there was a whole series particularly that 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. he became a national crisis of why are we sending these women to college, so the convoluted argument became because an educated woman can educate her own children so that's the usage. >> that is like of the 18th century which isn't too much progress. >> it was shocking and also of course what plays into this is
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not the postwar era which of course allows the structures to say you don't have to work. but also the cold war. we shouldn't underestimate that. women who were single, who were working were seen as suspicious. that played into it. ..
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>> . >> so i found that it was the same month the report on sexuality came out. and also on the divorce had a
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wonderfulw level them they were told about the kinsey report and then to have a copy of that right now go to your cornerstone speak to each other and write what you think about it. and some of the women were veryom honest that nobody explains it. and that is quite systemic on a specific and vulnerable. and always talking about this in her diaries and with that response to the kinsey report and then so symbolic on the 19 fifties because she hated the fact giving into the social pressure and you can see that.
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>> there is a definite disconnect the how do these play and torture? >> . >> we also have a chapter on the loan women who came it was a launching pad. you went there and it was the place you become what you dreamt of that there were so many women who came and it wasn't what they hoped for various reasons. i have a whole chapter about them. and what i find interesting about sexuality is to be
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weaponize of how much that with a central attention but i interviewed models who said they always had women coming to their door to see if they could get a double date. it wasn't just a date but about the fact aen lot of these women didn't have that much money for a nice dinner other than saltines out-of-the-box and the date meant food and also meant more exciting but having a nice dinner or a warm meal and and the sell by date
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and they understood that even so marriage has to be the endpoint. >> like a contract almost. >> exactly. so with the small town women the debutantes would always meet the right kind of men so these young women from ohio this was their window it was very transactional at the same time it was repressed.
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>> grace kelly and sylvia platt. on and on. i love reading about the's nonfamous people. and having greater security that's dangerous in new york city. >> no one was allowed and those who claim of the bedroom area wonderful wild tales of that it's hard to say who actually managed the front desk with those various professionals.
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but then she would send them away. so it was very protected but why do they stay? it's hard to say on a case-by-case basis but i would say the meaning of success in many ways in a room of one's own in new york is success. so hats off to them. and of course and with the reincarnation in the 1980s and nineties. and then to open the doors to man and then trying to we envision itself as a hotel.
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spectacularly and feeling every single time. the's women when they started there was 156. and then to ensure that the rooms are actually considered rent control. behind the head and wall of each wall when it was finally turned into luxury condos in the early 2000's the hotel was
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completely we guided inside it has no resemblance of what it was. like this lush apartment and the remaining five women lived there. so how do we judge success? and they ended that in my book a success. >> but that was the original contract. >> that does segue into the first question of the evening. where exactly is it located?
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>> absolutely. the barbizon on lexington avenue. >> so centrally located. >> it essentially located but certainly after the desolate irish neighborhood and what turn on —- change things up is the brother of he who himself is a wonderful writer and he is remarkable and open the bar
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two blocks away from the barbizon and obviously it was a magnet for all the women staying at the barbizon naches change the social landscape of the upper eastside for these women. >> and for the new women in popular culture athe the time for the stories or novels. it's actually her experience from 1953. that everybody knows is biographical so to the extreme
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extent i having spoken to those that were with her and really what she recounts and she turns into 12. but everything that happens there really did happen. including her entire wardrobe. after the last night she was there and then having breakdown with her first suicide attempt. and in many ways it was triggered by her experience and that was the closest depiction and in the 1930s there were a few movies based on women's hotels were other
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writers would go to the barbizon and to write about it. and if you mention this in the book but this account in the eighties or nineties called prison buddies with tom hanks was based on this idea of the few remaining women's hotels at that time and of course it was a cheap way to live so this iss in the women's only hotel and the one remaining one which was built in the 1930s by the founders of macy's you can still get a room there and is still relatively affordable. in terms of rules or regulations is not that appealing to many young
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women. >> and i am curious about locating your experience. so withme women in the eighties and nineties were incredibly funny with remarkable memories, better than i've ever had. and also storytellers so we talked about this short little window of real independence excitement so they recall that very very well. i have to say that was my greatest delight in locating those forces and it was
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incredibly helpful. i discovered the editor in chief wrote a book about her remarkable person. so her office files are in laramie wyoming. that was very helpful it is disorganized going to thousands and thousands of memos but the two things that i found because of that that were important to me was writing about the kinsey report. but the other thing more important is how the whole question of how to write about women that means there are no
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guests guest registries they could afford found a floor plan. no lessons of introduction no employee records. nothing like that. so it's really important when you write history that the hotel is fill in the 1920s obviously for white women but when does the first black woman get to stay there? does she want to? so that's important to answer. i was so happyo about this when we found this animated conversation. and about the women we want to
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protect. by far the best and the amazing student and attractive the only problem was she was black. going back and forth on the business side and then to say we have to keep doing everything for first. rules customers and readers and everybody. meant to say no she is coming. and the big question is will the barbizon even let her in? i spoke with her. she is amazing. and so through that it doesn't mean there was a floodgate after 1956 but it allows me to
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tell aha full story. >> and the unexpected place as well. >> so talk a little bit more about and so talk about the barbizon apart from what you just told us to open up the floodgates but how do they start shifting? >> and also with the great depression i talk about at the start of the book and then the resident at the very beginning that she died at the barbizon
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that sushi hates even as she relates to them in many ways. but they were in the twenties as well. with all of these ambitious women's plans of the great depression. and we talked about that in the book. so the entry of barbara chase it is also her personality but she felt fine at the barbizon. and with the fan mail and the e-mails.s. but then where were you when i was writing this? and a woman wrote was actually
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friends with barbara chase and lived at the hotel from 1970 to 1972. and she said that what i write about in the book in terms of how barbara chase fits in even of society says that she doesn't she has an attitude. and so in the early seventies and this is true. yes you have racism all around you but she felt comfortable at the barbizon and that made her fit in and feel comfortable at the barbizon.
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so these questions are complex and those that felt incredibly uncomfortablele so it's hard to say but certainly it was obviously set up as one being built in the 1920s but in new york itself is changing. so it is an added complexity who was in or out of the barbizon beyond social economics. >> and then to segue into a trick question. can youe describe the culture of the hotel? >> . >> there are many levels. in the coffee shop.
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there is the element of the high school cafeteria. and then young beautiful women running in on their heels. and then it was just wonderful. but the culture in that sense was social culture it is a culture female ambition. and this is interesting to me
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that i say this book is a history of female ambition and what i learned is that it does not run on the same parallel track with the history of women's rights. women always will w be ambitious regardless of their access so there are ways to circumvent that. and then to circumvent the restrictions that allow them to build on their ambition. and that cuts across as i say the lines of experience that really ambition is central to come to new york and at this
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time and this place. do you wish a place like this existed is difficult to imagine a place like this existing for a variety of reasons to go into which i want one —- want but it is a tremendous loss that somebody who doesn't know a soul especiallyom that are vulnerable in a setting where they could get a room. that is something that can only add to the culture of the city. >> and it encapsulates with your argument. beyond the wonderful research it is wonderful writing if you
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could be so kind. >> absolutely. >> in the first two pages again. >> so who was the woman? she could be from anywhere. just small town america across the george t washington berridge on —- bridge but she did not know how to use the new york subway. so had a piece of paper on her hand. the barbizon hotel and in all likelihood the taxi driver knew where she was going even before she spoke. perhaps he knew how she waved down the cab or held onto the handle of the brown suitcase
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she newly arrived in manhattan a piece of paper was left crumpled by train or bus or biplane in the contest women and then to be impossible to replicate for what that meant and with the expectations that come with it. she left all that behind after scrimping and saving and ready to remake herself. should take her fate into her own hands. >> beautiful writing and a beautiful narrative.
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>> and also in the audience thank you for being with us today. >> at the age of 82 wally went into space for the first time the oldest person to ever travel into space. originally a part of the mercury 13 lady astronauts are nearly 63 sixties the women who underwent training but never selected to go into space. recently on american history tv she recalls the earliest days of the space program and here is a portion of the interview. >> what are those test and at any point do you think what am i doing? >> no. i had no shadow of a doubt the
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subject that could do anything they wanted to do. i didn't know it would take all whole day every single tooth and bone of x-rays but they wanted perfect specimens at that time. let's go back to the men, the mercury there were 159 men selected from the arms services how many were selected? twenty-five women were selected and how many past? thirteen. so we have a little bit of information on how well do women do things or how well do they come across on the main on the mayflower? to go across the prairies in the covered wagons? great big families why can't
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we fly and go into space sorry folks. we can do it. and we have tried extra hard to do our best because nobody wants to fail. and failure is not a part of my makeup. i do the best i can do in a cake and as many doors as i can do matter where i go. l medit
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c-span history for more this date in history posts. .. >> and the assistant director of public engagement for the national world war ii museum thank you for joining us for two nights webinar on how the v.a. assisted veterans from world war ii this program is a part of the 75th anniversary of the commemoration that is sponsored by the department of defense. you may not think of the v.a. to be a significant part but the rapid expansion starting 1944 with the g.i. bill what impact over 12 million servicemembers

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