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!