By Messenger Post Media Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream: How One Woman Changed the Face of Modern Business" features the little known story of Martha Matilda Harper, a pioneering entrepreneur who had a major impact on women around the world after launching a beauty shop back in 1888.
Even though the Rochester region birthed many successful entrepreneurs -- including George Eastman, who launched the Kodak camera in 1888 with $1 million in venture capital -- few remember Martha Matilda Harper.
She was a determined immigrant maid who, also in 1888, launched Rochester's first beauty shop for women with her lifetime savings of $360.
When Harper died in 1950, she was world famous as a path-blazing international entrepreneur. Yet today, few know that she invented the reclining shampoo chair or launched modern retail franchising. Harper pioneered social entrepreneurship by enabling poor women to own the first 100 of her 500 shops worldwide. She was inventive, compassionate and successful, but forgotten.
On June 19, the Rochester Museum and Science Center will display some of Harper's artifacts, such as the first reclining shampoo chair in America, plus an array of Harper organic products and boar bristle brushes.
At the event, "Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream: How One Woman Changed the Face of Modern Business" will be released in paperback.
The book, written by Jane Plitt, explains how Harper built her empire utilizing a support network that included U.S. Rep. John Van Voorhis and Susan B. Anthony.
Harper went on to serve world leaders, U.S. presidents and their first ladies, royalty, and luminaries like Danny Kaye, Helen Hayes and George Bernard Shaw as customers.
"She is my heroine," Plitt said. "I have devoted over 25 years researching and writing about this amazing Rochesterian." Plitt, a former Rochester business owner who was named Small Businessperson of the Year in 1987, stumbled on Harper's name while working on the grand opening for First National Bank in the Powers Building.
Harper's first shop was in Room 516 of that building, and the article she discovered suggested Harper was the first woman member of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. When Plitt contacted Chamber officials, they had no idea who she was.
Annoyed, Plitt dug to uncover Harper's obituary, which appeared in the New York Times in 1950 and cited Harper as a world business leader. Yet, no biography had been written about Harper. Plitt spent six years criss-crossing the U.S. and Canada tracking down family and former Harperites. She was able to secure Harper artifacts and records that are now preserved at RMSC. Plitt's research led to Harper being inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the American Business Hall of Fame.
The paperback biography includes the 1940 directory of Harper shops so curious folks could discover where her shops were located and who the owners were worldwide.
Plitt wrote two other books: "Martha's Magical Hair" is a children's book and "Martha the Hairpreneur," co-written with Sally Valentine, is for young adults. All three books share the same message about persevering in spite of obstacles and fulfilling dreams while helping others.