The Barbizon

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What to expect

A glamorous social history of the women-only New York hotel that changed the world.

WELCOME TO THE BARBIZON, NEW YORK’S PREMIER WOMEN-ONLY HOTEL

Built in 1927, New York’s Barbizon Hotel was first intended as a home for the ‘Modern Woman’ seeking a career in the arts. It became the place to stay for ambitious, independent women, who were lured by the promise of fame and good fortune. Sylvia Plath fictionalized her time there in The Bell Jar, and over the years, its 688 tiny pink ‘highly feminine boudoirs’ also housed Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly (notorious for sneaking in men), Joan Didion, Candice Bergen, Charlie’s Angel Jaclyn Smith, Ali McGraw, Cybil Shepherd, Elaine Stritch, Liza Minnelli, Eudora Welty, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad, and writers Mona Simpson and Ann Beattie, among many others. Mademoiselle boarded its summer interns there – perfectly turned-out young women, who would never be spotted hatless – as did Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School its students – in their white-gloves and kitten heels – and the Ford Modelling Agency its young models.

Not everyone who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was destined for greatness – for some it was a story of dashed hopes and expectations – but from the Jazz Age New Women of the 1920s, to the Liberated Women of the 1960s, until 1981 when the first men checked in, The Barbizon was a place where women could stand up and be counted.

THE BARBIZON is a colourful, glamorous portrait of the lives of these young women, who came to New York looking for something more. It’s a story of pushing the boundaries, of women’s emancipation and of the generations of brilliant women who passed through its halls.

(P) 2021 Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

Critics Review

  • [An] insightful, well-written account…[Bren] details the lives of some of the Barbizon’s most well-known residents, including Molly Brown, Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath, and Joan Didion, and provides historical context about midcentury single women, careers, and sex…A must read for anyone interested in the history of 20th-century women’s lives, fashion, publishing, and New York.

    Library Journal
  • Varying delectably in cadence, from high-heel tapping and typewriter clacking to sinuous and reflective passages analyzing the complex forms of adversity Barbizon women faced over the decades, Bren’s engrossing and illuminating inquiry portrays the original Barbizon as a vital microcosm of the long quest for women’s equality.

    Booklist
  • A rare glimpse behind the doors of New York’s famous women-only residential hotel…Drawing on extensive research, extant letters, and numerous interviews, Bren beautifully weaves together the political climate of the times and the illuminating personal stories of the Barbizon residents…Elegant prose brings a rich cultural history alive.

    Kirkus Reviews
  • An entertaining and enlightening account of New York’s Barbizon Hotel and the role it played in fostering women’s ambitions in 20th-century America…Carefully researched yet breezily written, this appealing history gives the Barbizon its rightful turn in the spotlight.

    Publishers Weekly
  • Before Sex and the Single Girl, before “Sex and the City,” there was the Barbizon. It was a romantic building with a romantic purpose: It fixed a woman up with her dreams. Paulina Bren has written a stylish, charming history of a unique institution, brimming with aspiration and idiosyncrasy, and one that allowed a woman to survive without either marrying someone or cooking him dinner – even when she was barred from so much as taking a seat at the bar.

    STACY SCHIFF, author of The Witches and Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Residents of the Barbizon Hotel were once described as ‘young women alone.’ Thanks to Paulina Bren, they are alone no longer. The Barbizon is a fascinating social history of a forgotten place and time and an intimate portrait of women, trying to find their way in a pre-feminist world. I’ll never look at a hotel and think the same way again.

    KEITH O'BRIEN, New York Times bestselling author of Fly Girls

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