Hotels with ties to women’s history
SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 3/18/2021, midnight
March is Women’s History Month. It’s a time to give women the accolades they deserve. For sure there’s herstory when it comes to women and hotels. Here are some of the hotels that have unique ties to women and celebrate their achievements.
Hotel Metropolitan, Paducah, Kentucky
Talk about moxie. In 1908 Maggie Steed, an African American woman built the Hotel Metropolitan to accommodate Black travelers during segregation. After being turned away because she was a woman, the 24-year-old widow used her late husband’s name to open the hotel. It was the first owned and operated hotel in Paducah by and for Blacks. It was much beloved by iconic guests like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Ike and Tina Turner, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to name just a few. The Hotel Metropolitan was listed in the legendary “Green Book” as a safe haven for Blacks. Today, the restored hotel is a museum with tours available by appointment.
C. Baldwin, Houston
The 2019 addition to Houston’s hotel scene is named after the “Mother of Houston” Charlotte Baldwin Allen. She is honored for her trailblazing spirit. She was a developer, cattle rancher, businesswoman and philanthropist. She married Augustus Chapman Allen, a real estate speculator who co-founded Houston with his brother. The couple separated in 1850, he left town and she stayed. Charlotte became the primary financial driver of Houston’s construction industry. She donated countless public land, even though as a woman she didn’t legally own any herself, including what would become the first city hall. The hotel has a female GM and showcases interiors by two high-profile, women-lead design firms. You can’t miss the enormous portrait of Charlotte near the hotel’s reception desk.
Hermitage Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee
The Hermitage was a hotspot for suffragist activity. According to the hotel’s website, during the historic hotel’s earliest years women were not permitted in the Oak Bar. Their place was the Loggia, a sun-filled salon steps above the lobby (and now called the Veranda). Here, as in other parlors across the country, it was customary to socialize over tea. And, more: Such gatherings helped propel the suffrage movement. In May 1920, the Tennessee League of Women Voters was formed in the Loggia. As efforts to ratify the 19th Amendment accelerated, the afternoon tea became a campaign event.
On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the ratification for the 19th Amendment, giving the amendment the 36th––and final––state necessary for ratification. Just blocks from the state capitol, both pro- and anti-suffrage groups headquartered at the hotel for six weeks leading up to the final vote. Its 250 guest rooms and suites, lobby, meeting rooms, and dining room were filled-to-overflowing with pro- and anti-campaigners. They called it “The War of the Roses.” The anti-ratification forces, led by women wearing red roses, were squared off against the yellow-rose-wearing pro-suffrage campaigners.
Viewing the hotel’s private collection of historic artifacts that date back to the 1920s is a must. The hotel launched a Yellow Rose Tea for the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month.
The Martha Washington Hotel & Spa, Abingdon, Virginia
Before the Civil War this building, now a hotel, was an all-women’s college called Martha Washington College, named after First Lady Martha Washington. The college paved the way for women’s careers in nursing and other professions. The school closed in 1932 and reopened in 1935 as a hotel.
Hotel Figueroa, Los Angeles, California
Kudos to the Hotel Figueroa. It broke a glass ceiling in 1926 as it was founded, financed and operated entirely by women for women. It was a respite for women travelers. The Figueroa hired Maude Bouldin, the first female hotel manager in America. She helped champion women’s causes and was pivotal in the hotel being civic-minded. The hotel hosted events and meetings from organizations like the Women’s Law Enforcement Committee of Southern California, the California League of Women Voters, the Women’s International League, and the Business Women’s Legislative Council. Women regarded the Figueroa as a place where they were free to speak their truth be it in the coffee shop, lounges, or during press conferences and rallies about art, activism, racism and social change. Bouldin’s portrait hangs in the hotel’s reception area.
Lafayette Hotel, Buffalo, New York
The Lafayette opened in 1904. It had the distinction of being designed by Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first woman member of the American Institute of Architects to have her own firm––which was a huge deal back then. Even after renovations, her creative touch remains, be it the large, arched windows of the Lafayette Brewing Company and the Crystal Dining Room at the back of the hotel, for example.
The Evelyn Hotel, New York City
You’ll find The Evelyn in the trendy NoMad neighborhood that has quite a history. In 1903 when the hotel was originally designed by William Birkmire, the area was named Tin Pan Alley and was the epicenter of the music industry with Broadway and vaudeville performers, musicians, and songwriters, including George Gershwin, ever present. The hotel opened in 1905 as Hotel Broztell. In 1992 it was named the Gershwin. After major renovations it reopened in 2017 with a name change as a tribute to Evelyn Nesbit. She was born in the late 1880s in Pennsylvania. She ventured to New York as a teenager to pursue her showbiz dream. She became a chorus girl, actress and a model for noted artists and fashion photographers. She is immortalized as a “Gibson girl” by artist Charles Dana Gibson. Her likeness adorned magazine ads, calendars, souvenirs and more.
Inn at Hastings Park, Lexington, Massachusetts
The Inn at Hastings Park is a short distance from where the Revolutionary War started. Innkeeping was an important aspect of Lexington’s history, which inspired owner Trisha Pérez Kennealy to combine the town’s history and its notable women into the inn.
Inspiration for the inn’s name comes from Maria Cary Hastings, a philanthropist who lived in Lexington in the 19th century. Maria donated the money necessary to start a library and insisted that it be open without charge to all who lived in Lexington. She supported the library throughout her life, which was named the Cary Library after her. Maria also ran Lexington’s Garden Club, which was the first in the U.S. This club provides a valuable service to the community by maintaining and supplying plant material for public spaces at many locations, and since its creation in 1876, it’s been primarily run by women. Hastings Park, across from the inn, was created and named in her memory.
The main building of the inn is housed in what was the Dana Home, which operated as an independent residence for seniors for more than 90 years. A portrait of Ellen Dana, the benefactor of the Dana Home, hangs in the inn’s living room.
The Duniway Portland, A Hilton Hotel, Portland, Oregon
There’s a story behind the hotel’s name. At the age of 18, Abigail braved the trail to Oregon and became a champion for social injustices and women’s rights, including the right to vote. She owned a newspaper that frequently published groundbreaking articles promoting free speech and human rights issues. Taking que from Abigail, The Duniway celebrates the artistic, creative and independent nature of Portland.
The Alida, Savannah, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Savannah, Georgia
The boutique hotel on the riverfront was named after Alida Harper Fowlkes, a local entrepreneur who worked to preserve the city’s heritage. As a young woman, she opened a handful of curated shops with goods supplied by merchants coming in and out of the harbors. She ran restaurants and restored many of Savannah’s homes and buildings, making a career by investing in what others abandoned and bringing the architecture of the city vibrantly back to life. During a time when most women stayed home, Alida’s is deemed “one of the most successful Savannah women of the 20th century.”
The Crawford Hotel, Denver, Colorado
The Crawford in Crawford Hotel is for urban preservationist Dana Crawford. She earned the honor for her help in revitalizing downtown Denver and creating the popular LoDo district. In 2014, it was Crawford who spearheaded the efforts behind the $54 million upgrade of Denver Union Station, the legendary downtown train station that went from being a memory to a transit center with more than a dozen locally owned restaurants, bars, shops as well as the hotel. She wanted Union Station to be “Denver’s living room––a place where both visitors and locals gather in a beautiful place with stunning architecture.”