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A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice ​ From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there. WELCOME TO NEW YORK’S LEGENDARY HOTEL FOR WOMEN Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take thei A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice ​ From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there. WELCOME TO NEW YORK’S LEGENDARY HOTEL FOR WOMEN Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take their place in the dazzling new skyscrapers of Manhattan. But they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses. They wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining. Built in 1927 at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the Barbizon Hotel was intended as a safe haven for the “Modern Woman” seeking a career in the arts. It became the place to stay for any ambitious young woman hoping for fame and fortune. Sylvia Plath fictionalized her time there in The Bell Jar, and, over the years, its almost 700 tiny rooms with matching floral curtains and bedspreads housed Titanic survivor Molly Brown; actresses Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali MacGraw, Jaclyn Smith, Phylicia Rashad, and Cybill Shepherd; writers Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Gael Greene, and Meg Wolitzer; and many more. Mademoiselle magazine boarded its summer interns there, as did Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School its students and the Ford Modeling Agency its young models. Before the hotel’s residents were household names, they were young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase and a dream. Not everyone who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was destined for success—for some it was a story of dashed hopes—but until 1981, when men were finally let in, the Barbizon offered its residents a room of their own and a life without family obligations or expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased; it was the hotel that set them free. No place had existed like it before or has since. Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is both a vivid portrait of the lives of these young women who came to New York looking for something more, and an epic history of women’s ambition.


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A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice ​ From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there. WELCOME TO NEW YORK’S LEGENDARY HOTEL FOR WOMEN Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take thei A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice ​ From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there. WELCOME TO NEW YORK’S LEGENDARY HOTEL FOR WOMEN Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take their place in the dazzling new skyscrapers of Manhattan. But they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses. They wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining. Built in 1927 at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the Barbizon Hotel was intended as a safe haven for the “Modern Woman” seeking a career in the arts. It became the place to stay for any ambitious young woman hoping for fame and fortune. Sylvia Plath fictionalized her time there in The Bell Jar, and, over the years, its almost 700 tiny rooms with matching floral curtains and bedspreads housed Titanic survivor Molly Brown; actresses Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali MacGraw, Jaclyn Smith, Phylicia Rashad, and Cybill Shepherd; writers Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Gael Greene, and Meg Wolitzer; and many more. Mademoiselle magazine boarded its summer interns there, as did Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School its students and the Ford Modeling Agency its young models. Before the hotel’s residents were household names, they were young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase and a dream. Not everyone who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was destined for success—for some it was a story of dashed hopes—but until 1981, when men were finally let in, the Barbizon offered its residents a room of their own and a life without family obligations or expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased; it was the hotel that set them free. No place had existed like it before or has since. Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is both a vivid portrait of the lives of these young women who came to New York looking for something more, and an epic history of women’s ambition.

30 review for The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

  1. 5 out of 5

    Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)

    What a wonderfully researched and informative book! I enjoyed reading about the Barbizon and the people who stayed there. A a former New Yorker, this building truly became a landmark in the women's march to freeing themselves and being able to join the workforce. It became what women wanted, a place to live, where they were treated well and received services that men had formerly only received, a residential hotel. Through its doors passed the famous, names such as Sylvia Plath, Rita Hayworth, Gr What a wonderfully researched and informative book! I enjoyed reading about the Barbizon and the people who stayed there. A a former New Yorker, this building truly became a landmark in the women's march to freeing themselves and being able to join the workforce. It became what women wanted, a place to live, where they were treated well and received services that men had formerly only received, a residential hotel. Through its doors passed the famous, names such as Sylvia Plath, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly to name a few. It afforded women that independence they were so looking for, a place where they could discover their true selves away from the prying eyes and constraints of family. Such a well done interesting book which I definitely recommend most highly! Thank you for an advanced copy of this story Edelweiss! This book is due to be published on March 2, 2021.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    The rules were clear, and the expectations sky-high: Women should be virgins, but not prudes. Women should go to college, pursue a certain type of career, and then give it up to get married. And above all, living with these contradictions should not make them confused, angry, or worse, depressed. They should not take a bottle of pills and try to forget. When I woke up on New Year's Day 2021, checked my email, and learned I had won an ARC of The Barbizon in a Goodreads giveaway, I literally clappe The rules were clear, and the expectations sky-high: Women should be virgins, but not prudes. Women should go to college, pursue a certain type of career, and then give it up to get married. And above all, living with these contradictions should not make them confused, angry, or worse, depressed. They should not take a bottle of pills and try to forget. When I woke up on New Year's Day 2021, checked my email, and learned I had won an ARC of The Barbizon in a Goodreads giveaway, I literally clapped my hands with glee. For years I'd been fascinated by Mademoiselle magazine's college guest editor program, which had welcomed such soon-to-be-luminaries as Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion and put them all up at the Barbizon for the summer. I figured any history of the hotel would also be a history of the Mademoiselle program, and I was right. Built in 1927, the Barbizon was a single-room-occupancy long-term hotel for women, abundant with amenities and restricting men to the lobby. Many women who came to New York City to make their fortunes found it a comforting nest from which to launch their lives. Any history of the Barbizon, then, is a history of single women and, more significantly, a history of working women. The book takes us from the relatively progressive flapper era through the Great Depression, when many states made it illegal for married women to work, and on to the war era when women filled positions men vacated for the battlefield. This, of course, was followed by the 1950s, when women were encouraged to find their fulfillment solely as mothers and wives, eventually inspiring a book (The Feminine Mystique) about how well that worked out. Through it all, the Barbizon was there, housing models, actresses, and secretaries: the Katharine Gibbs secretarial school reserved several floors for its students, and Bren recounts the history of the school and the women who enrolled there. She then moves on to the Mademoiselle program, which understandably takes up a large portion of the book. If you're a fan of Sylvia Plath or Joan Didion, these sections may well be catnip for you, as they were for me. There's something fascinating about very young writers at the very start of their careers, and Bren did an impressive amount of research, hunting down their fellow guest editors and providing lots of firsthand perspectives. Plath in particular casts a very long shadow, and the portrait of her here is more rounded, in fewer pages, than the one in Pain, Parties, Work, which covers the same time period. As Bren herself acknowledges, the Barbizon housed a certain type of woman: reasonably well-off, and almost always white. There are so many stories that can be told about women and work in twentieth-century America, and The Barbizon is only one of them. Still, it's a first: as Bren relates, other writers have attempted to write histories of the Barbizon and given up in frustration. Bren herself nearly gave up, but persevered, pulling and prying material from many different sources. The end result is meant for a general audience; if you're expecting deep historical analysis, you may be disappointed. But I wasn't. The Barbizon is right in my wheelhouse, and I found it illuminating and hard to put down. It's 5 stars from me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    This was the last book unfinished in March and it was the perfect one in which to end Women's history month. So much history inside all seen through the eyes of the Barbizon. So many women stayed, passed through its doors. Hearts and dreams of becoming more than just a housewife mother. After WWII, women had more opportunity and they came to this safe haven from all over the country. The Gibbs secretary school opened in the Barbizon, Ford models provided a different opportunity and Madamoiselle This was the last book unfinished in March and it was the perfect one in which to end Women's history month. So much history inside all seen through the eyes of the Barbizon. So many women stayed, passed through its doors. Hearts and dreams of becoming more than just a housewife mother. After WWII, women had more opportunity and they came to this safe haven from all over the country. The Gibbs secretary school opened in the Barbizon, Ford models provided a different opportunity and Madamoiselle housed their girls here for their intern program. So many notables passed through these doors. Joan Didion, Sylvia Plath, Ali McGraw, Grace Kelly, so many, taking advantage of the changing times. We meet ordinary girls from various places, all with one thing in common. Finding a little something for themselves. Living a New York life before settling down. Some found it, some didn't. The wider history of women is not ignored. Expectations of the wider world and the changing face of society's view of the role women could play is also included. Such a interesting book, so well done.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a well researched history of The Barbizon, a women only residential hotel, in New York. The hotel was built in 1927 to cater for (mainly younger) women who came to work, and live independently, in New York and to replace the outdated boardinghouses that most lived in previously. Of course, many still did. Although this is subtitled, "The New York Hotel that set women free," it catered mainly for a certain class of girls. The book starts with New York in the Jazz Age, full of speakeasies a This is a well researched history of The Barbizon, a women only residential hotel, in New York. The hotel was built in 1927 to cater for (mainly younger) women who came to work, and live independently, in New York and to replace the outdated boardinghouses that most lived in previously. Of course, many still did. Although this is subtitled, "The New York Hotel that set women free," it catered mainly for a certain class of girls. The book starts with New York in the Jazz Age, full of speakeasies and glamour, although one of the first residents - the 'unsinkable' Molly Brown (from Titanic) was not a fan of the flappers. We then go through the Great Depression and women seen to be taking paid employment from men, which meant that the Barbizon helped literally protect women from ill feeling as they looked for careers. Weaved into this story are those companies who used the Barbizon, such as the Katharine Gibbs secretarial school. Secretarial work was seen as essentially female, so less of a threat, but many of those who took the first step on the corporate ladder taking shorthand, would end up with careers, rather than jobs. There was also the Powers modelling agency and Mademoiselle magazine, with the 'Millie's,' guest editors - something Sylvia Plath fictionalised in, 'The Bell Jar." This is a fascinating portrait of a glamorous residential hotel, which offered many women an opportunity to find a career and independence in a safe and secure environment. There were lectures, talks and tea and it opened its doors to many women who later gained success or fame - from Sylvia Plath to Joan Didion, Grace Kelly and many, many more who simply savoured possibly the first personal and economic independence of their lives.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    This is really more of a snapshot of women in Manhattan as experienced by those making the transition of coming of age in an era of accelerated change. The Barbizon, built in the late 1920's, initially represented a vision of female independence as the constraints of Victorianism gave way to more mobility and self reliance. But there had to be an intermediate step for women leaving the protection of home for the first time, and the Barbizon with its combination of hotel amenities and housemother This is really more of a snapshot of women in Manhattan as experienced by those making the transition of coming of age in an era of accelerated change. The Barbizon, built in the late 1920's, initially represented a vision of female independence as the constraints of Victorianism gave way to more mobility and self reliance. But there had to be an intermediate step for women leaving the protection of home for the first time, and the Barbizon with its combination of hotel amenities and housemother type managing style gave both parents and young women a sense of security. Paulina Bren did her research, spooling out her history with personal stories of many of the more famous residents, each of which personalized an era. Much is here about Sylvia Plath who embodied the transitional 1950's, forever memorializing the hotel calling it the Amazon in her account of the month she spent there as one of the guest editors, or GEs, of Mademoiselle Magazine, which is covered extensively. Also covered is the connection to Katharine Gibbs school and the part it played in the hotel's past. While it was interesting to read of Gael Greene, Ali McGraw, Grace Kelly and others, there was a fair amount of repetition which became tedious after a while. The purpose of the hotel has shifted with the times and fortunes of New York, its current status as a location for very high priced real estate and multimillion dollar co-ops. Not a perfect read, but fun for those who love reading about the popular history of New York in unique ways.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette (Now on StoryGraph)

    3.5 stars This can feel a bit dry and slow moving at times, but it does pick up quite a bit and becomes progressively more interesting as the author brings all the threads together. A large portion of the book is given over to Mademoiselle magazine and its guest editor program. That's because the magazine required all participants in the program to stay at the Barbizon during the forty years that the program existed. While the Barbizon with its strict rules did protect the girls and women who liv 3.5 stars This can feel a bit dry and slow moving at times, but it does pick up quite a bit and becomes progressively more interesting as the author brings all the threads together. A large portion of the book is given over to Mademoiselle magazine and its guest editor program. That's because the magazine required all participants in the program to stay at the Barbizon during the forty years that the program existed. While the Barbizon with its strict rules did protect the girls and women who lived there, it also shackled them to the societal restrictions and expectations that prevented them from achieving their potential. It's sweet, delicious justice that the two women who were treated as "less than" by Mademoiselle ended up being the most successful and well known. Gael Greene and Barbara Chase were kept hidden, not allowed to participate in the fashion show. Gael because they thought she was too zaftig, and Barbara because she was black and they thought their Southern buyers and advertisers would be upset. Gael became a famous restaurant critic, and Barbara became a very successful artist, sculptor, and poet.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    The Barbizon, through much of the twentieth century, had been a place where women felt safe, where they had a room of their own to plot and plan the rest of their lives. The hotel set them free. It freed up their ambition, tapping into their desires deemed off limits elsewhere, but imaginable, realizable, doable, in the City of Dreams. New York City is brimming over with history and the story of the Barbizon intrigued me. The first few chapters were a fascinating view of its beginnings. The histo The Barbizon, through much of the twentieth century, had been a place where women felt safe, where they had a room of their own to plot and plan the rest of their lives. The hotel set them free. It freed up their ambition, tapping into their desires deemed off limits elsewhere, but imaginable, realizable, doable, in the City of Dreams. New York City is brimming over with history and the story of the Barbizon intrigued me. The first few chapters were a fascinating view of its beginnings. The historical context was well articulated and I was engaged. When the Mademoiselle magazine GE program became the focus, I started skimming. There were so many names and so many details that really had nothing to do with the Barbizon itself. The magazine was using the hotel as a dormitory, but other entities were doing the same and did not get the same intensive focus. For me it was a bit off balance and I would have loved to see more photos like the one of Rita Hayworth at the beginning of Chapter One. Well researched, but could use some additional editing in my opinion. Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Mahon

    As a native New Yorker who was obsessed with Sylvia Plath as a teenager, I was eager to read the new biography of the Barbizon Hotel. I walk past the former hotel whenever I'm in Midtown East to see my doctor. If you have read Michael Callahan's book Searching for Grace Kelly or Fiona Davis's The Dollhouse, or even Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (where the hotel was immortalized as The Amazon) then you will want to read Paulina Bren's book The Barbizon. It's not a perfect book by any means, I found As a native New Yorker who was obsessed with Sylvia Plath as a teenager, I was eager to read the new biography of the Barbizon Hotel. I walk past the former hotel whenever I'm in Midtown East to see my doctor. If you have read Michael Callahan's book Searching for Grace Kelly or Fiona Davis's The Dollhouse, or even Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (where the hotel was immortalized as The Amazon) then you will want to read Paulina Bren's book The Barbizon. It's not a perfect book by any means, I found a few inaccuracies. For example, it was the Daily News, not the Daily Mail that had the infamous headline "New York, Drop Dead." There are a few others like that (books like this really need to be proofread better by both the copy editor and the author). The book is not just a biography of probably the most famous women's only hotel in New York but also of Mademoiselle Magazine and Katherine Gibbs. Only Katherine Gibbs survives unfortunately. I was an avid reader of Mademoiselle and I will be forever sad that I was born too late to participate in the Guest Editor program. It's too bad that nothing like that exists anymore or that there is no magazine that speaks for young college or twenty something women. Yes, I know there are online forums but there is something about a print magazine. Anyone interested in not only the history of New York but about women's history, particularly the 1940's and 1950's, should pick up this book. It's not just the story of women like Sylvia Plath, Bren also includes Barbara Chase-Riboud's story, not only the 1st African-American guest editor at Mademoiselle but also the first to stay at the Barbizon Hotel, Ali McGraw, Betsey Johnson, Phylicia Rashad, Jacklyn Smith and Meg Wolitzer also get a mention. I would have liked to have known more about the hotel during the 1960's for example, but I can't really quibble. The fact that this book exists is fantastic.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Burnett

    After World War I, women flocked to New York City to follow their dreams and sought safe, female-only places to live. While residential hotels for men existed, no such thing was available for women at the time. The Barbizon Hotel for Women was built to fill this void, housing such well-knowns as Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali McGraw, Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Phylicia Rashad and many more, and was so successful that it remains the most famous of the women-only residences erected in the first h After World War I, women flocked to New York City to follow their dreams and sought safe, female-only places to live. While residential hotels for men existed, no such thing was available for women at the time. The Barbizon Hotel for Women was built to fill this void, housing such well-knowns as Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali McGraw, Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Phylicia Rashad and many more, and was so successful that it remains the most famous of the women-only residences erected in the first half of the 20th century. In The Barbizon, Paulina Bren captures not only the history of the legendary hotel but also important moments in women’s history from that time period. Want to hear more about some great new reads? Listen to my podcast here: https://www.thoughtsfromapage.com. For more book reviews and book conversation, check out my Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thoughtsfro....

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    The first half of this book really kicked butt! It was everything I expected it to be. I learned about the reasoning behind the Barbizon, I learned some good gossipy facts about some of the women staying there, learned about the society of the time period, got an understanding of what companies had their 'girls' stay there -think Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School and different modeling agencies and I just had fun with this book. Suddenly, this book turned from a fun read into a mishmash - Mademo The first half of this book really kicked butt! It was everything I expected it to be. I learned about the reasoning behind the Barbizon, I learned some good gossipy facts about some of the women staying there, learned about the society of the time period, got an understanding of what companies had their 'girls' stay there -think Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School and different modeling agencies and I just had fun with this book. Suddenly, this book turned from a fun read into a mishmash - Mademoiselle (magazine) introduced itself and its affiliation with the Barbizon. Learning about that was interesting; however, when the magazine introduced its Guest Editor editions, the second half of this book just dealt with that. Well, the Guest Editors and Sylvia Plath, and the editor Betsy Blackwell (1937–1971). Had I wanted to learn about Sylvia Plath, I would have gotten a book expressly written about her. Yes, I grasp that the book "The Bell Jar" was written about her experience at the Barbizon, but I still didn't expect this sort of 'hero worship' from this author. Nearly the entire second half of this book became the most tedious read except for the part when the hotel kept going through different hands and remodeling up until it eventually became condos. *ARC supplied by the publisher and author.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I was excited to find a book about the Barbizon Hotel. I remember my mother talking about taking the train from Cincinnati to NYC to shop, attend the theater and visit museums and stay at the Barbizon Hotel. I always held a somewhat mystique for me. It would have been in the 1950's that my mother and her friend would stay there. It was interesting to learn the history of how a woman's only hotel came about and learn a bit about the residents. They tended to be those of the upper class. The progres I was excited to find a book about the Barbizon Hotel. I remember my mother talking about taking the train from Cincinnati to NYC to shop, attend the theater and visit museums and stay at the Barbizon Hotel. I always held a somewhat mystique for me. It would have been in the 1950's that my mother and her friend would stay there. It was interesting to learn the history of how a woman's only hotel came about and learn a bit about the residents. They tended to be those of the upper class. The progression of the book was interesting for me. The first third or so held my interest as it talked about the women looking for work, such as models. As it progressed, it felt as though the book was more about Mademoiselle magazine whose guest college editors stayed at the Barbizon. The last third was very easy for me to put down as it became very repetitious. The editors need to tighten up the book. I am giving the book 3 stars though it is really 2.5. What could have been a great read was just a book about those who "have" and not as well written as it could have been. Thank you Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest feedback.

  12. 5 out of 5

    OutlawPoet

    The Glam! The Barbizon, by Paulina Bren, is a very accessible book that lets the reader into a very glamorous world! Oh, I would have loved living there! But the author is very frank in her history and in the early days of The Barbizon’s glory, it was exclusively white – with no place for me lol. The author does tell us a little bit about the very first African American woman who was allowed to stay there – and what a strange experience it must have been for her! The book focuses more on some of t The Glam! The Barbizon, by Paulina Bren, is a very accessible book that lets the reader into a very glamorous world! Oh, I would have loved living there! But the author is very frank in her history and in the early days of The Barbizon’s glory, it was exclusively white – with no place for me lol. The author does tell us a little bit about the very first African American woman who was allowed to stay there – and what a strange experience it must have been for her! The book focuses more on some of the most famous (and iconic) residents, all while giving us a glimpse into the history and culture of America and how The Barbizon played a role. It’s definitely a story of glamour, but it’s also a story of feminism and independence and of a place that gave women a footing to fight for what they wanted. I also loved the photos interspersed in the book, though I’d love to have seen even more! This was a wonderful escape of a read – a bit of time travel into days gone by. *ARC Provided via Net Galley

  13. 4 out of 5

    Meghan Bohn

    I really enjoyed the first 50% or so (note: references etc started at 80% on my Kindle) but once I hit the 1950s/Sylvia Plath section, I lost interest. I put it down for a fiction novel and had trouble picking it back up. Please note these are Interesting Times and I've dropped a lot of books this year. Overall recommended. Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC. I really enjoyed the first 50% or so (note: references etc started at 80% on my Kindle) but once I hit the 1950s/Sylvia Plath section, I lost interest. I put it down for a fiction novel and had trouble picking it back up. Please note these are Interesting Times and I've dropped a lot of books this year. Overall recommended. Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

  14. 5 out of 5

    abby

    The Barbizon was the most glamorous of the women-only hotels that cropped up on the New York City skyline in the early 20th century. Opened in 1928, how the Barbizon evolved over the next century is the story of the cultural change in America, especially for women. The 1920s began the era of the "New Woman," the flapper girls who emerged out of the First World War viewing college education and independent working years as an important stepping stone to married life. The goal was still to get mar The Barbizon was the most glamorous of the women-only hotels that cropped up on the New York City skyline in the early 20th century. Opened in 1928, how the Barbizon evolved over the next century is the story of the cultural change in America, especially for women. The 1920s began the era of the "New Woman," the flapper girls who emerged out of the First World War viewing college education and independent working years as an important stepping stone to married life. The goal was still to get married and have a family, but to maybe have something for herself first. The problem is there was no where to live. Previously, working women had been condemned to boarding houses that were run by charities and felt as much. In fact, a woman working in NY could not check into a hotel after 6 pm, unless accompanied with enough luggage to convince the front desk she was not a prostitute. Lest insufficiently sized luggage get her branded a hussy, women sometimes sheltered the night in train stations to avoid the accusation. In this environment, women-only hotels that allowed long term residency options were a necessary convenience. This book follows The Barbizon through its many incarnations and in doing so chronicles the social and economic changes in an entire nation. First appealing to sophisticated, artistic women with nervous upper middle class parents, the Barbizon shifted focus in the Depression to the increasingly practical working girl. In the 1950s, the hotel became the residence of choice of the city's aspiring actresses and models. Show business could be a scary place for a young woman, but The Barbizon was a safe harbor. It also housed the young guest editors for the magazine "Mademoiselle." This is where the book struggles with a bit of an identity crisis, because so much of it is taken up with "Mademoiselle." Not just the guest editors program (blown out of proportion in it's importance) but also the inside politics of the magazine and how it changed over the years. Specifically, the author is enamored with one specific "Mademoiselle" guest editor, Sylvia Plath. Given that Plath's residency at the hotel consisted of about one month in 1953, it's hard to understand why she dominates so much of the book. The Barbizon started to lose its luster in the 1970s, as changing gender politics made a woman-only hotel seem a stodgy relic. The hotel started admitting men, refurnished, and eventually became condos the sold for millions. One of the more interesting topics that isn't touched on enough in the book is The Women-- a group of women who checked into the Barbizon back in the 30s/40s/50s and never left. Under rent control, not only were they paying a pittance but were legally allowed to stay regardless of any renovations. It's an interesting juxtaposition of the old New York of rent control and working class apartments with the new New York of eight-figure condos and neoliberalism where we push out the old (in this case, old women) while putting up a plaque in their honor. Overall, I enjoyed The Barbizon. The parts about "Mademoiselle" were a bit of a slog, but the beginning and ending parts of the book made up for it. 3.5 stars.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    2.5 stars rounded up — maybe. Let's see if it stays. "But before they were household names, they were among the young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase, reference letters, and hope." The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free loses itself and feels like more of a mishmash of The Changing Times for White Middle-Class Creative Women Who Briefly Visit Manhattan as Guest Editors for Mademoiselle Magazine (1930ish-1970ish). I feel vaguely disappointed but still enjoyed parts of this hodge 2.5 stars rounded up — maybe. Let's see if it stays. "But before they were household names, they were among the young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase, reference letters, and hope." The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free loses itself and feels like more of a mishmash of The Changing Times for White Middle-Class Creative Women Who Briefly Visit Manhattan as Guest Editors for Mademoiselle Magazine (1930ish-1970ish). I feel vaguely disappointed but still enjoyed parts of this hodgepodge. Built at the end of the 1920's, exclusively for women, the Barbizon hotel seems to be intrinsically linked with Mademoiselle magazine and Gibbs College. But the focus in this book is definitely on the former. There are times when reading The Barbizon that I forgot that it wasn't really The Mademoiselle instead. Many of the famous residents at the Barbizon were there for the quick summer guest editor program sponsored by the magazine. People like Sylvia Plath. While Bren does mention and pay nice tributes to other women, she spends an inordinate amount of time on Plath and the summer she was there — especially considering Plath lays this summer out to bare in The Bell Jar, which Bren also mentions often. I get the fascination. I do. But I wanted less of a character study on these women we already know so much about and I wanted to know more about the hotel itself. I wanted to feel as if the hotel was a character within these pages — and I just don't think Bren quite got there. Also, there's a whole swarm of women, who come to be known as "The Women," who never leave and, because of the tenant laws are never forced out by rent increases. A small group continues and protests through various renovations — around whom they design and redesign a whole floor on which to contain these elderly ladies. Please, more of these ladies. And large photographs. And even some more of the dirty laundry (pardon any pun); some digging into these murders and attacks and suicides that took place there — who were these women? "In 1975, seventy-nine-year old Ruth Harding, a lonely resident who liked to hang out in the lobby and talk to anyone willing to listen, was strangled to death in her eleventh floor room. Her murder went unsolved." Perhaps it would've been better served as a larger format, coffee table book — I certainly would've loved more focus on the actual hotel Barbizon and the ways in which it changed over the years and the women — famous or not — who passed through its doors. I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This affected neither my opinion of the book, nor the content of my review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jarrett Neal

    A spry mix of feminism and social history, The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free takes readers on a tour through the famed New York hotel, chronicling women's shifting roles and the many challenges they faced from the 1930s through the hotel's decline and eventual renovation from stylish women-only hotel to luxury condominiums. Paulina Bren's book reads as both a tract of women's history and a who's who of the many famous women who spent time in the hotel, among them Ali McGraw, Cybil Shep A spry mix of feminism and social history, The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free takes readers on a tour through the famed New York hotel, chronicling women's shifting roles and the many challenges they faced from the 1930s through the hotel's decline and eventual renovation from stylish women-only hotel to luxury condominiums. Paulina Bren's book reads as both a tract of women's history and a who's who of the many famous women who spent time in the hotel, among them Ali McGraw, Cybil Shephard, Joan Didion, Jaclyn Smith, and Phylicia Rashad. But she reserves the biggest spotlight for two of its most famous residents, Grace Kelly and Sylvia Plath, who would each go on to attain iconic cultural and artistic status yet come to tragic ends. Bren's writing is clean and strong. She obviously did a great deal of careful research. She has the unique ability to make readers feel a bit of nostalgia for this by-gone era while never losing sight of the circumscribed reality in which these women, and by extension all women of the mid-twentieth century, lived. With marriage being crammed down these women's throats every waking minute, everything from the food they ate to the clothes they wore (Barbizon residents were restricted from entering or exiting the hotel in slacks) was curated for them. No men were allowed beyond a certain point. Rigid hierarchies were set for them. Anyone familiar with TV shows like Mad Men or the career gal novels of Suzanne Rindell and others will relate. The hotel served as a launching pad for ambitious women who wanted more than to be a wife and mother. While some went on to become models, actresses, and writers, others used their time at the Barbizon to live out their bachelorette years before eventually settling down for marriage and the quiet suburban life the culture constantly told them they should aspire to. The fates of the Barbizon and its residents shifted along with the culture. With the rise of women's rights, Civil Rights, and the wide socioeconomic chasm in New York City, the hotel lost its glamour and allure by the mid-seventies. In our current era of enraged cancel culture witch hunts, polarization, and defiant self-expression, some readers may look upon the Barbizon and its mission with eye-rolling derision. Yet we cannot dismiss the Barbizon's role in helping women launch their careers, find themselves, and make their own choices, even if those choices had sad and injurious consequences. I'm pleased that Bren did not shy away from the hotel's tacit exclusion of women of color and that she balanced her depiction of the hotel as a place where women found both solidarity and rivalry, emancipation and confinement. We will never see its like again but for what is was worth the Barbizon meant a lot.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Thank you to Goodreads, #NetGalley & Simon & Schuster for this ARC. What history this hotel was. I did know it was a hotel for single women only, in New York, but never knew about the history of the Katherine Gibbs secretarial school being there, or the celebrities staying there or the connections it had with Mademoiselle magazine and it's guest editors every Summer which had upcoming writers like Joan Didion, Diane Johnson and many others. The celebrities that stayed there were Grace Kelly, Ali Thank you to Goodreads, #NetGalley & Simon & Schuster for this ARC. What history this hotel was. I did know it was a hotel for single women only, in New York, but never knew about the history of the Katherine Gibbs secretarial school being there, or the celebrities staying there or the connections it had with Mademoiselle magazine and it's guest editors every Summer which had upcoming writers like Joan Didion, Diane Johnson and many others. The celebrities that stayed there were Grace Kelly, Ali McGraw, Jaclyn Smith and so many others. It also focused on the eras and what was happening at the time with racism, having their first African American resident etc. A lot of the girls were upcoming (hopefully) models which Mlle magazine helped them get jobs too. This book is rich in history and the demise when it was sold in the 1980s was sad and they were made into condos that had floors catering to the women who lived there since the 1930s. They were rent controlled rooms so the new owners couldn't kick them out. I loved how they catered to them by leaving the rooms intact via secret doors on certain floors. To me one of the downsides of this book is how they focused A LOT on Sylvia Path's and Joan Didion's time there probably because she was their most famous guest. There was a lot mentioned about Plath's The Bell Jar which is loosely based on The Barbizon which I didn't know when I read it years ago. There was also a chapter after she left and committed suicide. Also, it was redundant after a while year after year with the guest editors etc.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    THE BARBIZON BY PAULA BREN Having attended the Barbizon Modeling School in Boston, MA when I was younger I was excited to see this title about the famous Barbizon Hotel on my dashboard. This book is a social history of the twentieth century. It is very informative starting out with the history of prohibition and the speakeasies to the flapper. The Barbizon residential Hotel started out for women who could be from anywhere but it was built in 1927 in New York City. I had heard of it when I attended THE BARBIZON BY PAULA BREN Having attended the Barbizon Modeling School in Boston, MA when I was younger I was excited to see this title about the famous Barbizon Hotel on my dashboard. This book is a social history of the twentieth century. It is very informative starting out with the history of prohibition and the speakeasies to the flapper. The Barbizon residential Hotel started out for women who could be from anywhere but it was built in 1927 in New York City. I had heard of it when I attended the school in Boston. Many famous women stayed there including Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion, who was a Mademoiselle contest winner. The book describes the origins of Mademoiselle. Rita Hayworth posed in the hotel's gymnasium for Life magazine. This hotel was located on 140 East Sixty Third Street. It was a safe place for women to stay as men weren't allowed past the mezzanine level. It was home to the Katherine Gibbs School which women were known to wear white gloves and were taught typing and shorthand. Also women stayed there that were models of the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency which was still one of the world's top three agencies for super models in the early 1980's that much I remember. Paulina Bren has written a social commentary of an iconic building that has been a snap shot of a multitude of twentieth century history which includes the early part ending with the hotel as a backdrop of each historic movement. It chronicles too much to include in a review to do it justice. Publication Date: March 2, 2021 Thank you to Net Galley, Paula Bren and Simon & Schuster for providing me with my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. #TheBarbizon #PaulinaBren #Simon&Schuster #NetGalley

  19. 4 out of 5

    Phyllis

    Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a digital advance reader copy. All comments and opinions are my own. This was an extremely well-researched book that was for the most part fascinating. I read it just as Women's History Month 2021 launched - perfect timing! This nonfiction historical biography described the history of the Barbizon Hotel in New York as well as the birth of the feminist movement, primarily focusing on the movement's growth in the 1960's and 1970's. Another focal point of Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a digital advance reader copy. All comments and opinions are my own. This was an extremely well-researched book that was for the most part fascinating. I read it just as Women's History Month 2021 launched - perfect timing! This nonfiction historical biography described the history of the Barbizon Hotel in New York as well as the birth of the feminist movement, primarily focusing on the movement's growth in the 1960's and 1970's. Another focal point of the book was the growth of the modeling industry in New York, which I really enjoyed learning about. The book captured the cultural double standard of how men and women were treated in a variety of areas - employment, dating/sex, marriage/childcare, centering mainly on the 1950's and 1960's. Beginning in the late 1930's through the 1980's, the hotel had an arrangement with Mademoiselle magazine, which allowed a group of 20 young college girls to stay at the Barbizon for a month each summer as a Mademoiselle Guest Editor. Many of the chapters spotlighted one particular woman who had stayed at the hotel, including Joan Didion, Grace Kelly, Gael Greene, and Sylvia Plath. In addition to working at Mademoiselle Magazine, several of the other women who stayed at the Barbizon were models, actors, and dancers. And many attended Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School. Using interviews, letters, books, and articles, the author was able to vividly describe the lifestyle of these young women - their frustrations, limitations, successes and disappointments related to the cultural restrictions of the 1950's and 1960's. I think this is "must" reading for anyone who wants to know about the birth of the feminist movement.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bronwyn

    Man, I wanted to like this more than I did. Three stars maybe isn’t fair, but four stars would be too much. And I liked it quite a bit in places. There are a lot of good anecdotes told and interesting people featured. But. I don’t understand what this book was trying to do. The first few and last chapters are about The Barbizon, which is what the book is supposed to be about. But the whole middle of the book is really about Mademoiselle magazine. And that was super interesting! But it didn’t rea Man, I wanted to like this more than I did. Three stars maybe isn’t fair, but four stars would be too much. And I liked it quite a bit in places. There are a lot of good anecdotes told and interesting people featured. But. I don’t understand what this book was trying to do. The first few and last chapters are about The Barbizon, which is what the book is supposed to be about. But the whole middle of the book is really about Mademoiselle magazine. And that was super interesting! But it didn’t really fit the book as presented, even though Mademoiselle was closely linked with the hotel for much of its existence. If the title/subtitle had just been changed to The Barbizon and Mademoiselle, I wouldn’t have such issues and would rate this higher. (Maybe that’s bad of me since it was still an interesting book. I don’t know.) I wanted to like this more than I did, despite all the interesting information. I just didn’t understand what the point of the book was. It’s like Bren found all these interesting stories that vaguely connected to the same place and decided to make a book out of it. I’m still glad I read it, but it wasn’t what I wanted. (Though now I do want to read more about Sylvia Plath, so sort of good job, book.) (Also, I don’t know who edited/proofread this, because they didn’t get Gypsy Rose Lee’s name right.)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    Paulina Bren has written an unprecedented book about the fascinating women who have stayed in the Barbizon Hotel over the years. From Grace Kelly to Sylvia Plath, she gives brief but detailed and poignant accounts of their stays. But beyond that, she also includes how their experiences at the Barbizon shaped them and made a meaningful impact in each of their lives. I, admittedly, requested this book solely for the Sylvia Plath coverage, but I wound up getting sucked into the book as a whole even Paulina Bren has written an unprecedented book about the fascinating women who have stayed in the Barbizon Hotel over the years. From Grace Kelly to Sylvia Plath, she gives brief but detailed and poignant accounts of their stays. But beyond that, she also includes how their experiences at the Barbizon shaped them and made a meaningful impact in each of their lives. I, admittedly, requested this book solely for the Sylvia Plath coverage, but I wound up getting sucked into the book as a whole even beyond the Plath bits. Interestingly written, Bren puts forth a unique history that's definitely worth reading. I don't think I learned anything about Plath's experience at the Barbizon that I didn't already know, but the analysis and examination of Plath's experience in her own life as well as the lives of her fellow Mademoiselle guest editors stand out and separate this book from a typical Plath biography. With The Barbizon's specific focus on the hotel itself, the depth of Plath's time there can really be explored. I recommend this book for people interested in history, particularly 21st century women's history. And for Plath lovers, it's definitely worth a read!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    I've always been fascinated by the Barbizon. Many young women came to New York City to establish a career and live in a safe spot. For many the only way parents would let them go is if they stayed in the protected environment of the Barbizon in a dormitory-like environment. The book did not disappoint but it was so much more than a history of the hotel. The author gave a bit of history about the Katharine Gibbs School and the Powers models who all lived there and a large portion was devoted to t I've always been fascinated by the Barbizon. Many young women came to New York City to establish a career and live in a safe spot. For many the only way parents would let them go is if they stayed in the protected environment of the Barbizon in a dormitory-like environment. The book did not disappoint but it was so much more than a history of the hotel. The author gave a bit of history about the Katharine Gibbs School and the Powers models who all lived there and a large portion was devoted to the guest editors at Mademoiselle. These were all girls in college who won a contest to work at the magazine and live at the Barbizon for one month. Notable residents focused on were Sylvia Plath and Grace Kelly. The book is about early feminism, how the GEs were all their to develop careers in writing and the arts, struggling to make their way in a male dominated world. Now the hotel is no longer but has been converted to pricy condominiums but still there are a few of the old inhabitants still there living hidden away from the new inhabitants. Thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    The Library Lady

    This is basically a pedestrian history of white, middle/upper class young women who passed through the Barbizon Hotel in NYC in the 20th century. There is a great deal about the Katherine Gibbs secretarial school and even more about the Guest Editors program at Mademoiselle, both of which housed young women at the Barbizon. There's a lot of focus on Grace Kelly and Sylvia Plath, and a bit about Barbara Chase (later Barbara Chase-Riboud), who broke the color barrier, and a few other more typical This is basically a pedestrian history of white, middle/upper class young women who passed through the Barbizon Hotel in NYC in the 20th century. There is a great deal about the Katherine Gibbs secretarial school and even more about the Guest Editors program at Mademoiselle, both of which housed young women at the Barbizon. There's a lot of focus on Grace Kelly and Sylvia Plath, and a bit about Barbara Chase (later Barbara Chase-Riboud), who broke the color barrier, and a few other more typical women, but this mostly just rushes on and on, naming names and making comments on society in general. The hotel offered safe, downright cloistered, housing for women. But how did it "set them free"?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Literary Redhead

    A stunning history of American women seen through the scrim of The Barbizon in NYC. The residential hotel housed single women only, propelled to pursue their career dreams via post-WWI freedoms and the right to vote. The residents are enthralling ... from actresses Grace Kelly to Ali McGraw, writers Sylvia Plath to Joan Didion, along with fashion models and secretaries all clambering for success in the big city. A 20th Century historical gem! Pub Date 02 Mar 2021 Thanks to the author, Simon & Sch A stunning history of American women seen through the scrim of The Barbizon in NYC. The residential hotel housed single women only, propelled to pursue their career dreams via post-WWI freedoms and the right to vote. The residents are enthralling ... from actresses Grace Kelly to Ali McGraw, writers Sylvia Plath to Joan Didion, along with fashion models and secretaries all clambering for success in the big city. A 20th Century historical gem! Pub Date 02 Mar 2021 Thanks to the author, Simon & Schuster, and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine. #TheBarbizon #NetGalley

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Mae

    What a fun book. I’ve always been fascinated by the Barbizon, and it was wonderful to read a book on its history that also is a marvelous history lesson in mid-century New York for women. The author details so many interesting women who lived in the Barbizon, most particularly the guest editors of Mademoiselle magazine over the years (like Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion). My only regret reading the book is it’s an advance copy and the end notes haven’t been formatted, so I will have to get a finis What a fun book. I’ve always been fascinated by the Barbizon, and it was wonderful to read a book on its history that also is a marvelous history lesson in mid-century New York for women. The author details so many interesting women who lived in the Barbizon, most particularly the guest editors of Mademoiselle magazine over the years (like Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion). My only regret reading the book is it’s an advance copy and the end notes haven’t been formatted, so I will have to get a finished copy later to check out the WEALTH of information in them!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shari Suarez

    The Barbizon is part of New York history. It was a long term occupancy hotel for women with many famous residents over the years including Sylvia Plath, Grace Kelly and Ali McGraw. This is a well-researched history of the hotel from its beginnings to its current iteration as luxury condos. The author has taken a book that could have been dry and boring and turned it in to a fascinating portrait of the famous building and the women who stayed there.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eugenia

    It took me a bit longer to reward than expected but I found this a fascinating read about history of a huge part of the 20th century New York and its women, a reflection of possibility of freedoms that began to be available to women in this country. Very enjoyable and well researched with so much air of intimacy and personal experience.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vicki Parsons

    Insightful and well-written account of a fascinating residential hotel. I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. More than just a historical recounting, it provided an interesting look at society and culture of the 20th century, as well as documenting the dynamic changes for women. The research was sound and the writing enjoyable. Insightful and well-written account of a fascinating residential hotel. I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. More than just a historical recounting, it provided an interesting look at society and culture of the 20th century, as well as documenting the dynamic changes for women. The research was sound and the writing enjoyable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    This is a brilliant social history of women during the transitional years of the mid-Twentieth century. The author used the nexus of the Barbizon Hotel to tell the story. There is emphasis on the emergence of working and independent women, with the focus shifting to specific women and events. Some residents became iconic, Grace Kelly and Sylvia Plath, others became leading lights in other professions. This book totally combines careful research with fascinating readable stories. As a historian a This is a brilliant social history of women during the transitional years of the mid-Twentieth century. The author used the nexus of the Barbizon Hotel to tell the story. There is emphasis on the emergence of working and independent women, with the focus shifting to specific women and events. Some residents became iconic, Grace Kelly and Sylvia Plath, others became leading lights in other professions. This book totally combines careful research with fascinating readable stories. As a historian and voracious reader, I found this satisfying and engaging. I intend to recommend it to my women’s studies classes and reading groups. FYI, for many years, my mother-in-law had a business in the building so this book brought back so many memories. Bravo, Paulina Bren! Thank you Netgalley for this opportunity to read and review this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Paulina Bren states in her introduction to "The Barbizon - The Hotel That Set Women Free," that there wasn't a lot of source material about the hotel. About twenty percent of the book is acknowledgements and references, but it's true, very little is about the hotel itself. The book is focused more on the women who lived at the Barbizon over the decades, and how society and culture changed both the women and the hotel. The book covers from the late 20's to the 80's, and features residents such as Paulina Bren states in her introduction to "The Barbizon - The Hotel That Set Women Free," that there wasn't a lot of source material about the hotel. About twenty percent of the book is acknowledgements and references, but it's true, very little is about the hotel itself. The book is focused more on the women who lived at the Barbizon over the decades, and how society and culture changed both the women and the hotel. The book covers from the late 20's to the 80's, and features residents such as Grace Kelly, Joan Didion, and Sylvia Plath. There's a LOT of Sylvia in the book, possibly because there was more source material on her than many of the others. Bren also talks in-depth about the relationship between the Barbizon and businesses, such as Mademoiselle magazine, the Katharine Gibbs College, both of which gave women jobs and opportunities they hadn't had before, just as the Barbizon gave them a safe, but less-restrictive environment in which to live. There's a lot of material, and most of it was interesting, but there's a fair amount of jumping around, and different decades are sometimes referenced in the same chapter without a clear indicator of what is happening when. I would still recommend this to anyone interested in women's history and women in the workforce in the 20th Century. I received an advance copy from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

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