The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

by Paulina Bren

Hardcover, 2021




Simon & Schuster (2021), 336 pages

User reviews

LibraryThing member Beamis12
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 there 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 societies view of the role women could play is also included. Such a interesting book, so well done.
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LibraryThing member jetangen4571
historical-places-events, historical-research, historical-setting, nonfiction, celebrities, 20th-century*****

This NYC institution housed many of the women who loomed large in the women's movement as well as prominent editors, film and other celebrities, and even an important secretarial school from 1927 until reformatted into apartments for the wealthy. It was a residential hotel like no other and was complete with a dry cleaner, hairdresser, squash courts swimming pool, fashion designs, library, soundproof rooms for musicians and roof gardens in an era when these was a considered to be male amenities. At first some sought to castigate the women and the rules in which there was no male oversight, but it was more like protection from men than by men and it played its own part in laying the path for women's lib. Did you know that during the depression it was illegal for women to have jobs? A wonderful tribute to change and an excellent read.
I requested and received a free temporary ebook from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. Thank you!
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LibraryThing member shelf-employed
The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free tells the story of a landmark "women-only" hotel, but also the stories of the City of New York, the state of women in America during the 20th century, and the individual stories of many famous women who stayed at the Barbizon. From Titanic Survivor, Molly Brown, to model and actress Cybill Shepherd, the hotel was home to models, artists, writers (including Sylvia Plath), the students of the Katherine Gibbs School, the Guest Editors of Mademoiselle magazine, and countless women who longed for escape from rural life. The Barbizon Hotel for Women offered security, culture, and a sense of female companionship that could be both competitive and life-affirming. The Barbizon is a woman's-eye view of the transitory status of New York City, the American economy, and the role of women in society. The book is well-researched and documented with many direct quotes and photographs.… (more)
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
In the 1920's, the Barbizon opened as a women's only hotel in the middle of New York City. These exclusive residents catered to their every need as they sought careers, husbands, or just freedom. This book chronicles the story of the hotel, it's interaction with Mademoiselle magazine, and the famous people who lived within its walls.

I grew pretty bored with this book about halfway through. The book felt extremely repetitive and went over the same few people over and over. I wanted to hear a variety of stories and felt that the book lacked the variety needed for more than a short story or essay. Overall, 2 out of 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member MickyFine
The Barbizon Residential Hotel for Women opened in midtown Manhattan in 1928 and immediately marketed itself as a safe space for the New Woman looking to explore New York City. Over the decades the hotel, with its weekly rents and women-only rules became a space where big names but also many working women landed as they explored their options in the city. Bren's history explores both the history of the building but also focuses on some of its notable residents, including Grace Kelly, Joan Didion, and Sylvia Plath (who fictionalized her experiences at the Barbizon and her guest editorship at Mademoiselle magazine in The Bell Jar). As the hotel's success was intertwined with that of Mademoiselle magazine and also the Gibbs secretarial school (and to a lesser extent the Powers modeling agency), Bren also provides insights into these organizations and the women who worked there and stayed at the Barbizon. Bren is cognizant of the Barbizon as largely the refuge of white, upper-middle class women but does include a section on Barbara Chase, the first Black guest editor at Mademoiselle and likely the first Black woman to stay at the Barbizon. Well written for a general audience, this is a great read for those interested in women's history particularly of the 1920s-1960s.… (more)
LibraryThing member etxgardener
In the early 1980’s I stayed at The Barbizon when I was in New York City on business. By that time, it was in its last gasp as a going concern, and was a regular hotel, not a residential one. I remember how small and cramped the rooms were and wondered how anyone could have lived there for more than a few days. But lived there, people did – lots of them. The Barbizon was arguably the most famous of the several women’s residential hotels in New York.

Beginning in the 1920’s it offered a safe, respectable place to live for hundreds of young women who were coming to the city to pursue a career, be it in business acting or modeling. As the years went on, businesses reserved space for “their girls” in the hotel, most notably The Powers and Ford modeling agencies, Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School, And Mademoiselle Magazine for its College Guest Editors Based on these corporate endorsements as well as by word of mouth from the hotel’s “alumna,” The Barbizon became the place where parents felt their daughters would be safe while making their way in the big, bad city.

Of course, like so many things, all of this changed in the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. The hotel lost its éclat and started to be considered dowdy and out of date. It went through several iterations as a hotel, before being converted to luxury condominiums in the 1980’s.

This book provides an interesting look into a New York and a society that is gone forever.
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Fascinating history of the Barbizon Hotel, or 'Club Residence for Professional Women', in New York - and other associated topics, including Mademoiselle magazine - which opened in 1928 and weathered nearly 80 years of famous residents, changing trends and declining fortune before being turned into designer condominiums in 2005.

Not the first but one of the most famous female-only residences, the Barbizon was the home of writers including Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion, winners of the Mademoiselle 'guest editor' contest, actresses Grace Kelly and Ally McGraw, but also many determined but unknown young women claiming independence from men and marriage in the 1920s and 1930s, including Gibbs Girls and Powers models. Sadly, this pioneering spirit later turned into the 'marriage market' of the 1950s: Yet all the women at the Barbizon, from the debutantes to the Carolyns, shared the same goal: marriage. As bold as one might be, however big one might dream, as a young woman you knew that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was marriage. Had to be marriage. Even if a part of you longed to be an actress, a writer, a model, an artist.

Paulina Bren admits that there are few surviving archives for the Barbizon - I would have loved to see more photos of the original interiors! - but she has certainly done her research and exhausted all available sources, including interviewing a wide selection of past residents. The memory of Sylvia Plath features prominently, combining the symbiotic relationship of the Mademoiselle's guest editors and the safe retreat of the Barbizon - The Bell Jar is a fictionalised account of her stay at the hotel, which she renamed the Amazon (and which I now want to read!)

I would normally be sad to read about the decline of such a memorable establishment in all its Art Deco glory but honestly, after pages of men-mad women, suicides and ageing hangers-on (a small group of original residents clung onto their rooms through numerous renovations and rebuildings, even after men were admitted in the 1980s), I was kind of glad when money moved in and independence moved out. The 1950s were definitely the most depressing era, however!

An entertaining and accessible history of an iconic building, which I sadly hadn't heard of before reading this!
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LibraryThing member Lemeritus
A fascinating book on so many levels - a feminist story without being didactic, a fond history of New York City without being ponderous, flavored with gossip and scandal without being cheap - the Barbizon Hotel (now Barbizon/63) still proudly stands 23 stories tall and, in Bren's homage, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety."… (more)


Original language


Physical description

9 inches


1982123893 / 9781982123895
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