Martha Matilda Harper
“She was bound out from the time she was seven years old, yet she was determined to have a different future than being a servant girl. Martha Matilda Harper spent twenty-five years as a domestic until 1888 when she launched Rochester, NY’s first public beauty salon. Her shop was dedicated to the premise that all people are inherently beautiful and simply needed their inner beauty released. She also invented the first reclining shampoo chair. Out-of-town visitors like Mrs. Alexander Graham-Bell and Bertha Palmer of the Palmer House fame were charmed and created much buzz about this extraordinary experience. They wanted her to open Harper shops in their cities. Ultimately, Harper in 1891 launched modern franchising with her Harper shops located around the world. At its peak, there were 500 salons and world famous dignitaries such as British Minister Anthony Eden, presidents of the U.S. (Coolidge and Wilson), George Bernard Shaw, as well as suffragists including Susan B. Anthony and First Ladies Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson were her delighted customers. Harper demonstrated through word and deed that “the great achievement of the Harper Method is the women it has made.” The first hundred shops were owned by former servant women. Harper understood what Anthony told her, “Every woman needs her own pocketbook.”
With business ownership, poor women could and did transform their futures. Harper, who manufactured only organic products, and prohibited hair dyes and permanents from her salons, was a determined, principled woman who showed how business could be used for social change.
Her achievement was forgotten until Jane Plitt’s recent biography of Harper “Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream: How One Woman Changed the Face of Modern Business” was published by Syracuse University Press. Now a move is afoot to get Harper onto a postage stamp. There are less than 8% of all commemorative stamps recognize women or their achievements, but twenty stamps recognize spiders and insects and all the Looney Tunes cartoon characters such as Daffy Duck have their own stamps.
You can find more information out about Harper, the book, and how you can support the stamp campaign by going to www.marthamatildaharper.com
Help make women’s achievement visible!