Paulina Bren is the author of The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free. It’s the fascinating true story of one of the first residences for women only. From its opening in 1928 to the present, Paulina brings us the evolution of both the place and the women who stayed there. Located in the heart of New York City, it drew women from all over the country. Each one brought ‘a suitcase and a dream.’ Paulina delves into how the Barbizon was supposedly setting women free. And explains the reality of how it didn’t. Some made it, others did not.
Known as a safe haven for the ‘Modern Woman’ seeking a career, the women all were expected to have the same goal. That goal being one of marriage, family and suburban living. Some of the famous among its residents were Sylvia Plath, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Liza Minelli, Ali MacGraw, Cybill Shepherd and Joan Didion.
A writer, historian and professor, Paulina teaches International Studies, Women’s Studies, and Media Studies at Vassar College. Her previous books include the award winning The Greengrocer and His TV: The Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring. Paulina is also co-editor of a collection of essays entitled Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe.
She alternates her time between the Bronx, Poughkeepsie and MetroNorth. Paulina was born in the former Czechoslovakia and lived in the U.K. before moving to the United States. She received her B.A. from Wesleyan University, her M.A. from the Jackson School for International Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle and her PhD in Modern European History from New York University.
My conversation with award-winning author Paulina Bren:
- The Bell Jar and Sylvia Plath’s inspiration
- The building of a ‘safe haven’
- The many women
- The 30’s and restrictions on women
- Single women, hotels and no check-in after 6pm
- Ambitions and society
- Women, careers and goals
- Rich and poor
- The not-so glamorous modeling career
- Contests and summer internship
- The hidden stories, lost ambitions and suicides
- ‘The Women’ and standing their ground
- A timeline for the women’s movement
- The start of equality and the end of The Barbizon