March 20, 2018

Celebrate Women's History at These Four Historic Hotels

March is a month for many things, such as spring cleaning and avoiding getting pinched for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. But perhaps most important, March is Women’s History Month, which makes it an especially great time to celebrate and reflect on the vital, oft-overlooked ways in which women have shaped the course of history.

Since historic hotels are often filled with extraordinary histories, it’s only natural that they and the stories of some of these influential women would intersect. With the help of Historic Hotels of America, we’ve collected four hotels that have risen to significance thanks in no small part to women of the past.

The exterior of Willard InterContinental.

photo by: David/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Julia Ward Howe composed the lyrics to "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at The Willard, despite her husband's condemnations of her intellectual pursuits.

The Willard InterContinental—Washington, D.C.

The list of famous guests who have spent a night at the Willard InterContinental would be too long to read; in fact, nearly every president since Franklin Pierce have visited at least once. In addition, the Beaux-Arts hotel, which dates to 1901, has also served as something of a breeding ground for literary inspiration. (Martin Luther King, Jr. put the finishing touches on his "I Have A Dream" speech while staying at The Willard). Author and poet Julia Ward Howe would agree—the words to the immortal “Battle Hymn of the Republic” appeared to her within the Willard’s gleaming doors.

As the story goes, Howe visited Washington, D.C., with her husband in November of 1861 to attend a review of Union troops, just months after the dawn of the Civil War. A popular tune among the soldiers was “John Brown’s Song,” which honored the radical abolitionist. Howe’s minister observed that the talented poet could pen better lyrics, and Howe concurred. The next morning, Howe awoke in her room at the Willard with new lyrics floating in her head, and dashed for a pen to scribble the words down.

In the decades since, the “Battle Hymn” has become one of the most well-known patriotic songs in the country. While none of Howe’s other works achieved such notoriety, her contributions to the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements further secured her position as a prominent figure of the late-19th century.
The exterior of the Martha Washington Hotel & Spa.

photo by: Martha Washington Hotel & Spa

Battles frequently broke out in the area surrounding The Martha during the Civil War.

The Martha Washington Hotel & Spa—Abingdon, Virginia

The Civil War had a very different impact on the Martha Washington Hotel in southwest Virginia. At the time, the hotel served as an all-women’s college. But when war broke out, the building became a hospital for injured soldiers. Many of the students bravely chose to remain and help nurse them back to health, despite the inherent dangers of living in a war zone. Fortunately, the school survived the conflict, allowing the women to resume their education after their service.

The college finally closed in 1932, sitting vacant for a few years before reopening as a hotel in 1935. Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Taylor, and Harry Truman have all spent time at the Martha, and many of the structure’s historic features have been preserved.

The exterior of the Redbury New York.

photo by: The Redbury New York

The Redbury New York is located near Tin Pan Alley, a hub for music publishing in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

The Redbury New York—New York City

The Redbury New York has gone by many names over its 115-year history, most notably as the “Martha Washington Hotel” and “Hotel Thirty Thirty,” but its first name, if not the most florid-sounding, is most indicative of the building’s significance.

Designed by Robert W. Gibson and opening in 1903 as the “Women’s Hotel,” the building was the first hotel built solely to provide affordable lodging for single, professional women in the city. Some guests stayed for only a night while others took up permanent residence, but there was one constant: no men. In fact, males were not even permitted to venture beyond the ground floor.

The 416-room hotel would prove to be ahead of its time, as several other women-only hotels like the Barbizon Hotel, Rutledge Hotel, and Allerton House opened in New York City over the following decades. Men would finally be allowed to stay at the hotel starting in 1996, but its legacy as a landmark of women’s history in the city endures.

The east courtyard of Berkeley City Club.

photo by: The Berkeley City Club

One of the Berkeley City Club's two open air courtyards.

The Berkeley City Club—Berkeley, California

Architect Julia Morgan was a pioneer in her field, and her design for The Berkeley City Club stands as one of the finest of her career. Opening in 1930 as the “Berkeley Women’s City Club,” the club was conceived as a centralized location for women in the Berkeley area working to promote social and civic progress, inspired by the success of other organizations forming around that time. Women gathered to share ideas and translate them into meaningful action, from affecting public policy change to performing community service. By the time Berkeley’s new club was ready to open, around 4,000 women had already joined as members.

Part of the club’s immediate popularity may have had to do with the eclectic, six-story clubhouse that Morgan had designed for them. Combining elements of Gothic, Romanesque, and Moorish architecture, the structure is filled with expansive groin vault ceilings and traceried windows. Two open air courts with loggias are located on the property, one each on the east and west sides. But the club’s centerpiece remains its natural light-filled swimming pool. And since the club opened its doors to men in 1962 and now serves as a hotel and event venue, its waters are open for all to enjoy today.

Nicholas Som is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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