The 2023 Top 25 Historic Hotels of America Where Women Made History
WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#historichotels—Historic Hotels of America®, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for promoting and celebrating authentic historic hotels, is proud to announce The 2023 Top 25 Historic Hotels of America Where Women Made History list. The written histories of historic hotels are largely records of the men who built, bought, visited, and made history at these hotels. In the United States, most historic hotels were built in eras when it was uncommon, even considered immoral, for a single woman to stay at a popular hotel without a female companion or family member. When travel became easier in the 19th century with the widespread use of passenger railroads, women were expected to tend to their homes and their families, and not to travel on business or on their own for leisure. However, this does not mean that women were not present at hotels and, subsequently, not a part of the history of hotels in the United States in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Women-only hotels and boarding houses were once common, and remained popular through the 1970s. Larger hotels offered separated women’s and men’s dining rooms, reading rooms, and tearooms for female guests. Within the fields of hotel management and design, a few women held privileged positions of power at hotels as the wives or daughters of hoteliers, or were able to break social barriers and achieve professional success. Under racial segregation up until the mid-20th century, these spaces and rare opportunities for advancement at luxury hotels were exclusively for white women. But women of all backgrounds and classes have been making history at hotels throughout the history of American hospitality: performing gendered labor such as keeping rooms clean, meals served on time, and telephones connected, and even taking action to protest racial segregation. At these hotels, the achievements and compelling stories of the iconic “Harvey Girl” waitresses, trailblazing “Whirly-Girls,” First Ladies, athletes, artists, activists, engineers, and other women who made history represent many facets of women’s history and women’s diverse experiences in the United States. Historic Hotels of America invites travelers to experience these historic hotels in person, and to be inspired to learn more at the places where women made history.
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The Omni Homestead Resort (1766) Hot Springs, Virginia
Women’s sports history has been made several times on the historic golf courses of The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and recently featured in the 2022 Top 25 Historic Hotels of America Most Historic Golf Courses announcement, this historic resort has hosted many tournaments since the 1890s and women have made history on all its historic courses. The New York Times wrote on September 10, 1899: “The well-kept greens have won the praise of all the visiting experts, and, as usual, golf has been the most popular pastime here this Summer. Everyone is anxiously looking forward to the tournament.” Glenna Collett, perhaps the greatest female golfer of her time, won the USGA Women’s Open on The Cascades course in 1928. The victory was among her finest, as she defeated one of her most challenging competitors, Virginia Van Wie. Collett’s win at The Omni Homestead would ultimately be the first of three consecutive first-place finishes in the U.S. Women’s Amateur tournaments; she would ultimately win six U.S. Women’s Amateur tournaments. In 1935, Babe Didrikson Zaharias famously drove her ball into the fork of a tree. Aspiring French golfer Catherine Lacoste won the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open at The Omni Homestead Resort. An underdog heading into the competition, no one expected her to win amongst a crowded field of competitors like Louise Suggs, Marilynn Smith, and Sandra Haynie. Despite the odds stacked against her, she managed to beat the entire field, finishing with a 79 in the final round. Lacoste subsequently became the first international golfer to win the U.S. Women’s Open, as well as the youngest. She also had the distinction of being the only real amateur to win the tournament—an achievement that still stands today. First Ladies have also been seen playing golf at The Omni Homestead Resort. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson spent their honeymoon at the resort, and played golf together each morning on The Old Course. Future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy learned to play golf on The Cascades course as a young girl in the 1930s.
The Red Lion Inn (1773) Stockbridge, Massachusetts
The Red Lion Inn is an iconic landmark located in the picturesque town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the Berkshires. Celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2023, this historic hotel is steeped in history and has maintained a long-standing tradition of female stewardship. In 1773, Silas Pepoon established the small tavern and his widow Anna Bingham successfully operated the tavern for eleven years after his death. A century later, “Mert” Plumb, married to the inn’s owner, took on the duties of managing the Inn, and began collecting antiques for refurnishing the Inn, some of which remain inside the Inn to this day. In recent decades, The Red Lion Inn has been owned and operated by three generations of women. In 1968, the Inn was purchased by Stockbridge residents, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, who renovated the property and made it a year-round destination for the first time. The newly renovated Red Lion Inn brought fame and fortune to the historic inn. Jane operated the Inn until 1993, when her daughter, Nancy, followed in her mother’s footsteps and became the President of The Red Lion Inn. In 2013, Nancy’s stepdaughter, Sarah Eustis, became part of the leadership at the family-owned and women-operated historic hotel. Family recipes passed down through the generations of women also appear on the Inn’s menus. When The Red Lion Inn’s Apple Pie à La Mode recipe was selected for the 2022 Top 25 Historic Hotels of America Most Unique Culinary Heritage and Culinary Traditions, Nancy Fitzpatrick recalled that the recipe was passed down from her grandmother, Mary Pratt: “When we first opened, Nana May (as we called her), went out to the kitchen and showed the chef how she made her pie.” The Red Lion Inn was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 1989, and is a charter member of the program.
The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1818) Washington, DC
The Willard InterContinental, Washington, DC has hosted an impressive roster of notable women over the past two centuries. The hotel offered something uncommon: public areas designated for women, including a Ladies’ Lounge, a private entrance for ladies to enter and exit the hotel, and the famous Peacock Alley, when the center of DC was dominated by male-only spaces. In The Pompeian Room, where men and women mingled socially, women were even permitted to smoke—scandalous at the time. One of the most notable women to stay at The Willard in the 19th century was Julia Ward Howe. Howe was an American writer and political activist who started her literary career in the 1850s. While she had attracted some national attention for her support of the abolitionist movement, Howe would not become a household name until she wrote the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the beginning of the American Civil War. Howe was inspired to pen the song during a trip to Washington with her husband to meet President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Inspired by the music she had heard during a review of the troops, Howe returned to her guestroom at The Willard that night and began to write. By morning, she had written the verses for a new song that served as the spiritual ode to the preservation of the Union. Entitled “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” it first appeared on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. It was an overnight sensation, becoming one of the most frequently sung tunes by Northern soldiers during the American Civil War.
Hamilton Hotel (1851) Washington, DC
Given its prime location just a few blocks from the White House, Hamilton Hotel has seen its fair share of history pass through its stately hallways since it opened in 1851. However, this storied hotel is not just a testament to the “old boys’ club.” In fact, while some might assume that the Hamilton Hotel takes its name from one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, the moniker honors his second daughter, Eliza Hamilton Holly, who was a family friend of the hotel’s original owner. The Hamilton Hotel continues to draw inspiration from history-making women to this day with The Suffrage Suite: Women Win The Vote. Created in partnership with the Freedom Forum’s Newseum and Boston-area political activist Barbara Lee, the suite was unveiled in 2020 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. It is a women’s history exhibit and a guestroom, featuring a treasure trove of photographs, original artwork, historical artifacts, and more contemporary memorabilia—all curated by Samantha Barry, the editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine. The suite is decorated in shades of yellow and purple, the colors of the suffragists. Within the suite, guests can experience the stories of suffragists, from Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, to modern-day changemakers like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the 116 women elected to Congress in 2018, the “Year of the Woman.” A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2021 and listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the Hamilton Hotel is a Beaux-Arts-style masterpiece, and has been one of the most illustrious hotels in the capital city for generations.
The Morrison-Clark Inn, Washington DC (1864) Washington, DC
Charming and stately, The Morrison-Clark Inn, Washington DC was originally two separate townhouses constructed off Massachusetts Avenue at the height of the American Civil War. During the 1920s, a national women’s organization known as The Women’s Army and Navy League brought the Morrison House and the Clark House together as a single structure for its national headquarters. The new buildings quickly became the epicenter for all of the League’s charitable events to aid members and veterans of the U.S. military. During the peak of demand by soldiers and veterans in 1943, the women of the League provided 46,000 rooms and 85,000 meals in a single year. The organization specifically attracted many prominent female figures within Washington society, which elevated the League to one of the city’s premier social groups. The most notable women to attend the League over the years were numerous First Ladies of the United States, who often served as the leader of the organization. In fact, First Lady Grace Coolidge was at the head of the reception line when The Women’s Army and Navy League held its opening ceremony at the Morrison House. The Women’s Army and Navy League remained at the Morrison-Clark Houses up until the late 1980s, when it sold the buildings to hoteliers. The new owners renovated the buildings, transforming them into a stunning boutique hotel known as The Morrison-Clark Inn, Washington DC. The Inn was quickly recognized for its historic importance, and has been a charter member of Historic Hotels of America since 1989.
Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel (1871) Chicago, Illinois
Bertha Honoré Palmer’s life became entwined with the historic Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel when she married Potter Palmer, who built the hotel for her as a wedding present in 1871. Today, the hotel’s interior beauty and personality can be traced to her creativity and passions. The glamour of the hotel can, in part, be credited to her interior design choices: she specifically installed additional features like garnet-draped chandeliers; a 1.25 ton, 24-karat gold winged-angel Tiffany candelabra; and 21 breathtaking ceiling frescos created by French painter Louis Pierre Rigal. A great patron of the arts, in her lifetime, Palmer collected over 200 impressionist paintings, making it one of the largest collections of its kind outside of France, and featuring artists including Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. She selected pieces from her own collection to curate the hotel, and much of the collection is now part of The Art Institute of Chicago. Bertha Honoré Palmer is also famous for her work planning the World’s Columbian Exposition (better known as the Chicago World’s Fair) of 1893. She was involved in the creation of the exposition’s Women’s Building, which showcased the historical achievements of American women over the past century, and famously proclaimed there, “even more important than the discovery of Columbus is the fact that the government has just discovered women.” Her experiences at the World’s Fair inspired her to create a unique treat that guests could easily eat when walking through the Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel. At her request, the hotel’s team of pastry chefs concocted a handheld, cake-like chocolate dessert that they called the “brownie.” Although they have likely enjoyed the treat before, guests can experience the Palmer House Brownie during their visit, and can even take a square home with them. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel dates to 1871 and was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2007.
Wentworth By The Sea (1874) New Castle, New Hampshire
A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2004, Wentworth by the Sea is among the last great stately resort hotels to grace New Hampshire’s coast. It was founded as The Wentworth Hotel in 1874, and offered generations of holiday makers sun, sand, and sea. Among the activities Wentworth by the Sea offered were classes taught by renowned experts. Two of the experts brought in to entertain guests were trailblazing female celebrities of the early-20th century: sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Olympic swimmer Helen Wainwright. Annie Oakley was a renowned sportswoman who became a pop-culture icon for her incredible marksmanship during America’s Gilded Age. Oakley arrived at Wentworth by the Sea in 1916, and exhibited her rifle skills and abilities on horseback. Throughout her career, Oakley taught thousands of gun-handling lessons to interested individuals. In 1920, new management led to exciting modern amenities and entertainment including a saltwater pool, a nine-hole golf course designed by legendary golf course architect Donald Ross, and private bathrooms in the guestrooms—a luxury at the time. After the change in management, Oakley supervised shooting lessons at the resort’s new golf course. Helen Wainwright was the first woman to swim across the English Channel, and hosted a series of popular swimming demonstrations at the New York Hippodrome. In 1925, Wainwright taught swimming classes at Wentworth by the Sea, and gave special demonstrations for guests in the saltwater pool.
1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa (1886) Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Known as “The Grand Ol’ Lady of The Ozarks,” 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa opened in 1886 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Between 1908 and 1934, during the resort’s “off” seasons, the Crescent College & Conservatory for Young Women housed students at the hotel. An advertisement in the Arkansas Gazette on July 6, 1910, described the girls’ school as being “on top of the Ozarks, at Eureka Springs, the famous health resort. Most picturesque town in America,” where young women could take “Full Preparatory and Collegiate courses. Conservatory of Music, Art, Expression, Commercial branches, Horseback riding a feature.” It soon became one of the most exclusive boarding academies in Arkansas, training the minds of countless women who passed through its doors. Due to tough economic times brought on by the Great Depression, the college closed completely in 1934. Among its most influential graduates are Mary Ella Lundy and Mayme “Natachee” Scott Momaday. Lundy, a dedicated athlete and musically-gifted student during her time at Crescent College, went on to become the Head of Women’s Education and Physical Education for Women at the University of Georgia for 35 years. Momaday made history for her talents as an artist, educator, and writer. Being Kiowa Cherokee, she championed Native American cultures and student-centered education. Momaday taught at the Jemez Pueblo Day School in New Mexico and is popularly known as the author of the children’s book, Owl in the Cedar Tree (1965).
Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins (1890) and Phantom Ranch (1922) Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Carved by the mighty Colorado River, the majesty of the Grand Canyon has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years. Several hotels inducted into Historic Hotels of America are in Grand Canyon National Park and reflect that source of inspiration. Two of these hotels were designed by pioneering architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter. Between 1902 and 1948, Colter worked her way up to become the principal architect and interior designer for the Fred Harvey Company, a popular tourism and hospitality company prominent in the American west. Although Colter designed and decorated many buildings throughout her prolific career, some of her seminal works are the park’s Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins and Phantom Ranch. Both lodgings have been members of Historic Hotels of America since 2012. These Grand Canyon National Park hotels showcase Colter’s take on National Park Service Rustic architecture, which draws upon a building’s surroundings for inspiration, utilizes natural materials, and synthesizes architectural styles like Mission Revival, Spanish Colonial, and Arts and Crafts to create an organic aesthetic and architectural style. This can especially be seen in her “geologic” fireplace in Bright Angel Lodge’s History Room. In a true masterstroke, the fireplace is crafted from each of the Grand Canyon’s rock layers, from cobbles from the river, up to the rim’s newer stone strata. Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins was completed in 1935 and today it is a hub of activity along the gorge’s Southern Rim, as it serves as the check-in point for the Grand Canyon’s mule rides. Phantom Ranch opened in 1922, and today it retains the same rustic charm and sense of adventure that Colter imbued in it many years ago, remaining the only lodging facility located beneath the canyon rim. Open year-round, Phantom Ranch is only accessible by mule, by foot, or by rafting the Colorado River. The accommodations at Phantom Ranch are dormitory spaces and cabins.
Riggs Washington DC (1891) Washington, DC
Housed in the former headquarters of the Riggs National Bank in Washington, DC’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, Riggs Washington DC was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2019 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Once known as the “Bank of Presidents,” today, the Riggs pays tribute to the nation’s leading historic hostesses with its series of First Ladies’ Suites. Designed as an homage to four First Ladies, each of the First Lady Suites are more than 500 sq ft with unique personalities of their own. The Ida McKinley Suite is dedicated to First Lady Ida McKinley’s love of flowers, from its graceful floral wallpaper to the lush, rose-pink textiles. In fact, McKinley was known to carry a bouquet of flowers to public appearances, so she could avoid shaking hands. First Lady Caroline Harrison was an avid porcelain painter, so the Caroline Harrison Suite is decorated in soothing blue hues, bone-china whites, and porcelain dishes collected from DC-area antique shops. Harrison is credited with establishing the White House’s china collection, and even designed the very first set. The Louisa Adams Suite honors First Lady Louisa Adams, who loved music and was a talented musician. She would often perform duets with her husband and retreat to her room to compose songs or strum her harp. Today, guests in the Louisa Adams Suite can unwind much like she might have—by playing the room’s baby grand piano. Widower U.S. President Martin Van Buren invited his daughter-in-law Angelica Van Buren to take the role of “acting” First Lady at the age of 20 after marrying into the family. Known for her flair for opulence, the Angelica Van Buren Suite is similarly extravagant, resplendent in luxe velvets and gold accents. The four First Lady Suites offer guests freestanding soaking tubs, and separate living rooms provide plenty of space to relax.
St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton (1894) St. Louis, Missouri
On September 1, 1894, the iconic Union Station opened its doors as a major train depot. Today, the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, is a popular family entertainment destination. When this National Historic Landmark building opened, it was a symbol of the city’s position as a hub of commerce and transportation. Legendary restauranteur Fred Harvey opened his Harvey House dining room at Union Station in 1895. Visitors can dine in the same elegant dining room today, now called the Station Grille. In its heyday, St. Louis Union Station was the largest and busiest railroad terminal in the nation, with more than two dozen railroads operating from its massive train shed. During the height of World War II in 1943, the Fred Harvey Restaurants at Union Station served more than 2,700,000 meals in their three distinctive dining rooms. Dining with Fred Harvey was an elegant experience, with linens imported from Ireland, silver from England, and china from France. Harvey’s waitresses were recruited to head West, and formed the bulk of the workforce. To be a Harvey Girl, women had to be between the ages of 18-20 and of ‘good character’—they even had to sign a contract to stay in their job for one year at a fixed rate of $17.50 per month. The Harvey Girls were housed in dormitories and watched over by a “housemother.” During the early era of the Fred Harvey Company, Harvey Restaurant waitresses wore long black dresses with starched white collars and white aprons. They also could not wear makeup, pinch their cheeks, or flirt. Nevertheless, the “Harvey Girls” helped make the restaurants a fixture in the St. Louis community for years until the station’s conversion to a hotel at the end of the 20th century.
West Baden Springs Hotel (1902) West Baden Springs, Indiana
West Baden Springs Hotel has long captivated the imaginations of its guests with its unique architecture and luxurious amenities. Since 1902, its most stunning feature is its unique architecture, epitomized by the magnificent historic dome that rests atop the resort. While many have contributed toward creating the opulence that defines the West Baden Springs Hotel, none were more influential than Lillian Sinclair Cooper. The daughter of the hotel’s owner, Lee Wiley Sinclair, Cooper assumed managerial responsibilities over the West Baden Springs Hotel in 1912, and inherited the hotel upon his death in 1917. Her appointment prompted her to initiate extensive renovations. She oversaw the creation of numerous new architectural motifs, including the development of a stunning brick driveway that featured twenty-four elaborate eagle-topped light standards. The road’s most compelling feature was the Beaux-Arts-inspired gateway that Cooper herself made with double-arched steel and stone. While her work covered many areas of the hotel building, it was underneath the dome where she truly left her mark.
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