Read about an inspirational woman and hairdresser, Martha Matilda Harper(1857-1950)! Martha Matilda Harper was an immigrant, innovator, entrepreneur, and shrewd businesswoman. She boast many achievements; developed and marketed a hair tonic, pioneered the beauty industry to new heights, became the first franchiser by sharing her Harper Methods, followed by a multitude of disciples called Harperites and eventually responsible for 500 salons across the world – decades before Ray Kroc franchised McDonalds. (She was a cougar, too- marrying a man 20 years younger!) Yet, Martha Matilda Harper was swept away, buried deep underneath America’s history. How did one single woman persuade so many Harperites to assembly and adhere to her codes, to soar to their own identity by influencing them and the public that women could be independent and successful. Read the article in PBA Progress at http://www.probeauty.org
Martha Matilda Harper-meet one incredible woman!
I discovered Martha Matilda Harper while taking a Women in United States History course at York College. My assignment was to find an American woman that was little known and worthy of a place in the history books. Being a hair salon owner and Cosmetologist for over 25 years, I have questioned who opened and where was the first beauty salon in America? No textbook in the beauty industry, historian or professional has been able to answer the question. Miraculously, (I say miraculously because the only known book about Martha is Jane Plitt’s, published in 2000, Martha Matilda and the American Dream.) I dusted off this sleeping woman whose chestnut hair touched the floor. Martha Matilda Harper was an immigrant, innovator, entrepreneur, and shrewd businesswoman. She boast many achievements; developed and marketed a hair tonic, pioneered the beauty industry to new heights, became the first franchiser by sharing her Harper Methods, followed by a multitude of disciples called Harperites and eventually responsible for 500 salons across the world – decades before Ray Kroc franchised MacDonalds.
If the study of history is about uncovering voices we must study beyond male dominated accounts. It is our job to discover these voices even when academia appears to frown on the creative trades and industries such as cosmetology. The beauty industry is one of those areas most influential in creating women’s independence in history-even still today. Martha secures her place and should be acknowledged in not only the Cosmetology history books but in both history and financial studies (her place in history way be for Mr. Kroc). How one woman attracted and cultivated a franchising dynasty with diplomacy and persuasion deserves attention! According to Jane Plitt in the year 2000, American franchising, “the business vehicle Martha created, had become the dominate form of retail. . .” (pg 162). Also, women owned business are the “fastest growing segment of business ownership” (pg 162). Thanks to Jane Plitt for taking the first steps! I insist all Cosmetologists read her book! I personally know the effort both physically and mentally it takes to employ women and service clients. I will leave you with an example of Harper’s ability of rhetorical strategy. A young girl wanted to postpone opening a shop after the 1908 fire that leveled the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Miss Harper replied, “ No, now is the time to do it: the city is flattened and confused. Grow up with it, and about in this spot is the place to do it (Plitt pg 80).” This formula was her prescription for business- slightly vicious, totally determined, yet motivating and inspiring. Like every successful stylist I know!
“I think that the most important thing a woman can have- next to talent, of course- is her hairdresser.”
― Joan Crawford
This has been my point all along! The hairdresser has a mission so deep only a woman can understand.