The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free

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.

Title:The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free
ISBN:9781982123895
Format Type:

    The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free Reviews

  • Violeta

    Given that life as we know it these days doesn’t give back much by way of stimuli, I find myself increasingly drawn to reads that transport me into the particulars of life in years past. In this con...

  • 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 ma...

  • 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...

  • 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, pas...

  • 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...

  • 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, initiall...

  • Jeanette (GR isn't sending comment notifications)

    3.5 starsThis 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 ...

  • 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 fr...

  • 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 m...

  • 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...