Grace Kelly or Joan Didion might pass by, or a Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School student, wearing a hat and white gloves.
The Barbizon Hotel, at the corner of East 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue, was the sanctuary of young women seeking careers, or husbands, in New York City.
Occupying one floor, the Gibbs school offered charm classes and secretarial courses, along with lectures by academics such as Columbia poet Mark Van Doren.
A modeling agency signed young ingenues hoping to appear in department store catalogs and magazine advertisements. After years of discrimination, a resident started her own agency that protected models' rights.
Historian Paulina Bren in "The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free" tells the stories of the famous and anonymous women who called the hotel home from 1927 through the 1980s. The women enjoyed a variety of amenities, including a pool and beauty parlor. Men couldn't go past the lobby. The place was like one of those romantic Manhattan movies.
"The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free" is one of the few new books that entice me. According to so-far positive reviews, it evokes 1950s-era New York style and an age when women were gaining economic and social independence.
New Yorker writer Casey Cep in a review in the magazine's current issue praises Bren's colorful account and gives her own expansive history of the hotel.
Sylvia Plath, like Didion, was one of the college students selected by Mademoiselle magazine to live for a summer in New York City at the hotel and work as guest editors. The aspiring journalists also received etiquette training and met literary and political luminaries.
Plath based her posthumous novel, "The Bell Jar," on her depression-shadowed Mademoiselle experience, and Didion recalled the hotel in her essay, "Goodbye to All That."
Women have not yet achieved full freedom. Bren shines a beacon for the future in "The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free."