Skip to Main Content

The Barbizon

The Hotel That Set Women Free

LIST PRICE $36.00

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.

The Barbizon tells the story of New York’s most glamorous women-only hotel, and the women—both famous and ordinary—who passed through its doors. World War I had liberated women from home and hearth, setting them on the path to political enfranchisement and gainful employment. Arriving in New York to work in the dazzling new skyscrapers, they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses; they wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels that catered to their needs, with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining.

The Barbizon would become the most famous residential hotel of them all, welcoming everyone from aspiring actresses, dancers, and fashion models to seamstresses, secretaries, and nurses. The Barbizon’s residents read like a who’s who: Titanic survivor Molly Brown; actresses Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedron, Liza Minelli, Ali McGraw, Jaclyn Smith, and Phylicia Rashad; writers Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Gael Greene, and Meg Wolitzer; and so many more. But before they were household names, they were among the young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase, and hope.

Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is an epic story of women’s ambition in the 20th century. The Barbizon Hotel offered its residents a room of their own and air to breathe, unfettered from family obligations and expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased. No place had existed like it before, or has since.

Adam Patane

Paulina Bren is a professor at Vassar College in New York, where she teaches international studies, gender, and media. She is the author of a prizewinning book about soap operas and communism behind the Iron Curtain, and a coeditor of a collection on consumerism in the Eastern Bloc. Born in the former Czechoslovakia, Paulina spent her childhood in the UK before moving to the United States. She attended Wesleyan University as an undergraduate, later receiving an MA in international studies from the University of Washington and a PhD in history from New York University. She has held a host of research grants and fellowships, including residencies in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, and Atlanta. Paulina currently lives in the Bronx with her husband and their teenage daughter.

“This book tells the story of the women, both famous and ordinary, who stayed at the Barbizon. It’s about what it meant for them to finally have a room of their own, and how that changed their lives in ways big and small. As the chapters build, Barbizon become a surprising, and very moving, history of women’s ambition. (It’s also a love letter to New York, under 300 pages, AND has a scene where Grace Kelly dances down the hallway, topless.)” —Emily G., Editor, on The Barbizon

"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 

"This is the history I’ve been wanting to read all my life. I just didn’t know where to look. How delightful to find it in the legacy of this magical hotel, captured in brilliant detail by the masterful Paulina Bren. Even if you can’t move into the Barbizon, reading this book will make you feel like you’ve lived there for years. You’ll never want to move out. —MEGHAN DAUM, author of The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through The New Culture Wars

"From famous models to Joan Didion, from hopeful stenographers to Sylvia Plath. The Barbizon housed women who eagerly sought independence, adventure, and careers in New York City.  Besides the story of the famous women-only hotel, The Barbizon chronicles key aspects of American women's history in the first half of the twentieth century. A compelling read!" —LYNN DUMENIL, author The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I

"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