The Martha Washington: “for women guests only”

When the Hotel Martha Washington opened its respectable doors in Murray Hill in February 1903, it was the first women-only hotel in the city. And management took the women-only part seriously.

Not only were men prohibited in rooms, few could work there. Though the elevator operators, head waiter, and bell boys were male, the rest of the staff was female.

The place was a big hit. The wave of professional women moving to the city at the time—nurses, stenographers, teachers, doctors—thronged the waiting list for a $1.50 to $5 per day room.

Over the decades, as other women-only hotels opened, it remained a safe place for fresh-off-the-bus models, actresses, and students. 1920s actress Louise Brooks stayed there (she was asked to leave, according to this account). The hotel even scored a mention in Valley of the Dolls.

By the 1980s, the MR had become an SRO, home to long-term elderly tenants, shorter-term drug dealers, and, in 1998, men, according to the Village Voice.

On its 100th anniversary, this dowager of a hotel was rebranded Hotel Thirty Thirty and more recently Lola. I love the way copywriters put a 21st century spin on its single-gender past.

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13 Responses to “The Martha Washington: “for women guests only””

  1. Terry B Says:

    When my sister-in-law first moved to Chicago many years ago, she lived in a similar women-only residence. It was a wonderful way for her to ease into big city living. I just discovered your blog through East Village Idiot, by the way. I will be back.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    East Village Idiot—-I am a fan!

  3. rabensam Says:

    I used to work a block away from there back in the Eighties, and always wondered if it might have been the inspiration for the “Susan B. Anthony Hotel for Women” depicted in Bosom Buddies. It’s within the realm of possibility, at least.

  4. rabensam Says:

    I used to work a block away from there in the Eighties, and always wondered if it might have been the inspiration for the “Susan B. Anthony Hotel for Women” depicted in the tv show Bosom Buddies. It’s within the realm of possibility, at least.

  5. Magnum429 Says:

    When they talk about Women only hotels the east side hotel should also be included. I used to see it while driving down the drive eveyday. but for the life of me can’t recall the street? I think it was in the 80’s (not sure)

  6. Ricky Says:

    When I first moved to New York in 1980 to go Pratt/Phoenix (the Manhattan branch of Pratt Institute at 30th and Lexington) one of the older female teachers lived at the Martha Washington and had for many years. And if I remember correctly, wasn’t there also a George Washington that for for men only?

    • Magnum429 Says:

      Hey Ricky~ I also went to New York Phoenix. We should communicate maybe we had the same teachers? Dod you remember the teacher with one arm. (Mr. Shadler) he was a character. He told me that he lost his arm while driving through a toll booth. Was fantastic drawing clowns. He also drew the design that was used on Grayhound buses. I’m at if you care to tell lies to one another (lol

  7. wildnewyork Says:

    Interesting, I didn’t know the George Washington was men-only. It’s on Lexington just before Gramercy Park. I think it fell to the same SRO fate as the Martha Washington but then was purchased by SVA and is now used as a dorm.

  8. Loulou Says:

    When I came to NYC to study acting and voice (1994-95) I lived at the Martha Washington for six weeks till I found a place in a shared appt on 3rd Ave. A friend in Switzerland had recommended the place, and I loved it, even if it was hot as hell in my room, no air conditioning provided. Bath and toilet were shared, but surprisingly clean.

    The cast: The friendly half-blind bag lady with the always smeared poppy red lipstick, kids riding bycicles in the vast hallways, the friendly Indian girl selling hot, watery coffee in the lobby and offering me the Village Voice because she knew I was looking for a share. The lobby where notes were taken and given to you if somebody tried to call you – this was the dark times before cellphones:-)
    The hunky guys at the elevator doors who scared men away. The old fashioned lobby-phones where cast-off husbands and whiny or angry boyfriends tried to talk to girls or wives to come down to the lobby. Those had sometimes to be bodily disposed of by said hunky lift boys. By talking to the manager, I got some more info about the somewhat glorious past of the place and once was allowed to visit the oldest resident in her small but cosy appartment where she had lived since she had moved to Manhattan as a young woman. She was in her eighties and still cool.

    I am sad that nowadays, I can walk the place only in my mind and not visit it anymore. Till it changed, I went there every time I visited NYC, just to get cozy. It was like a time capsule – but I’m really happy that I was allowed to experience it when it still was it’s old, shabby but charming and vivacious self. Thank you, Martha Washington!

    • Denice Says:

      Loulou, I stayed there for six weeks also, in 1986, while gathering enough
      to get into an apartment. Curious if you remember the rates.

  9. The 1984 murder of a Studio 54 “miss party girl” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] a 60-something diamond tycoon. After that relationship ended, she took a $120 a week room at the all-female Martha Washington Hotel on East 30th […]

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