A hard-working waitress Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress

“It is true that waiting on cranky people in a hurry is about the hardest thing that a girl can do,” Anna Murphy told a reporter in 1909. Murphy, owner of the Hotel Goldstone located at 314 East Fifth Street in Des Moines, admitted she had a difficult time hiring and retaining good waitresses at her hotel restaurant.


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The Goldstone was opened in 1887 complete with conveniences such as a telephone, dinner gong, fire alarms and steam heat in every room. Porcelain tiled fireplaces were topped off with wood mantels; bathrooms were located on each floor. The dining room located on the second floor could seat 64 diners comfortably. The basement held the kitchen and laundry.

When Murphy purchased the Goldstone in the early 1900s, the three-story structure offered 50 rooms for guests. She worked as a stenographer in a Des Moines law firm, saving her wages to make the big purchase. However, news articles mentioned that she had also acquired a mortgage to help with the purchase. “Just a little side investment in high finance, you know,” Murphy remarked when asked about her business. However, she saved a little on the transaction as she completed all the legal paperwork herself—thanks to expertise she had gained from her job at the law office.   

Although Murphy continued to work as a stenographer, she oversaw most aspects of the hotel—hiring workers, buying supplies and keeping the books. “It is all in having a little nerve and understanding something about the way business deals are carried on these days,” Murphy said about her hotel venture.  

Her restaurant had a reputation for excellent food. “The patronage is increasing all the time and my guests say I give them the best table in Iowa,” she said. However, her struggle to find waitresses persisted. She admitted the job required someone who wasn’t afraid of hard work, and she wanted women who were independent thinking. But it wasn’t unusual for a good waitress to pick up and leave when insulted by a diner. With the shortage of waitresses in the city, she could easily find another position in a competitor’s restaurant. Murphy said women leaving to get married was one of her biggest obstacles to keeping reliable workers. “It is a fact, though, that a restaurant owner prizes a waitress, next to his cook, as one of the most valuable of his assets,” she said.

Overall, Murphy thought she had made the right decision in expanding into the hotel business. “You have to take long chances to win. I took a chance in investing in this hotel and running it. But I am making it pay out and expect to win.”



  • “Plucky Young Iowa Woman,” Olean (NY) Evening Times. Apr. 14, 1909.
  • “This Girl Stenographer Runs a Big Hotel She Bought Just as a Side Line,” Spokane Press, Jan. 19, 1909. 
  • “Waitresses Few and Hard to Keep,” Des Moines Register, Feb. 1, 1909.

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