Martha Matilda Harper, an inventive businesswoman

Having a possibility to go to the hairdresser salon, we owe today to Martha Matilda Harper. Martha gave the possibility to all women to have their hair cut outside of their homes. In addition, she was an inventor of a famous business model, that most of the retails around the USA use even today.

Up until the XIX century, women could not get a haircut outside of their home! That practice was considered indecent. Women would cut their hair by themselves or they would have it cut by their maids, which was, obviously, not the case of many women.

Martha Matilda Harper’s great invention

Martha Matilda Harper was born in a poor family in 1857 in Canada. She was obliged to start working at the age of 7. She had been a maid for 25 years before she managed to save enough money to make her dream come true. Despite her poverty, she was determined to become an independent woman and to own a business.

But before she managed to become a powerful woman, she worked for a doctor in Canada. He treated Martha Matilda Harper with great respect, taught her many valuable things about human body and gave her potions that she used for her hair. On his death bad he gave her the secret formula for that shampoo. This last event which was a trigger for her brilliant business idea. Since Martha was very close to the doctor, his death was very difficult for her. But, at the same time, these new circumstances pushed her to pursue her dreams of independence and become a businesswoman.

When did feminism start, you are wondering? You can read more about first wave feminism that has a lot to do with the period when Martha boldly started her own business.

Inspiring brave woman behind a great idea

Martha Matilda Harper decided to move to Rochester, USA, where the society was more advanced and tolerant. This meant that women had more freedom than elsewhere. At that time only 17% of women worked, but not many, not to say none, were owners of businesses. This was the time when women could not even vote! That is why Martha Matilda Harper thought that opening a hair salon for women in a more progressive environment would be easier for her.

martha harper

First hair salon for women

When she finally managed to move to Rochester, Martha had to work for additional 6 years in order to save 360 dollars. She needed that money to open the very first public hair salon for women.

However, having enough money was not enough. As a woman, Martha had to ask for an official permission from the local authorities. Unfortunately, her petition was refused only because of her gender.

Did this stop Martha? Of course it didn’t! She hired a lawyer and asked for the decision to be reversed. Martha managed to win the case and opened, what is known today as the very first hair salon for women in 1888 in Rochester USA.

Progressive marketing strategies

For advertising her hair salon, Martha Matilda Harper used a photo of herself, with hair down to her feet, in great health. She understood the importance of good marketing.

inventor of franchise

She tested all the products on herself. Martha used only the natural products, refused to die women’ hair and refused to do the chemical perms. Something like a today’s beauty, eco influencer.

martha matilda harper

Martha named her services the Harper method because it was not only about hair. She wanted to nourish her customers’ soul as well. Martha shared with her clients the idea that anyone could be spiritually whole and beautiful. We are at the end of the XIX century, hygiene was not as important as it is today. That is why her customers learned thanks to Martha how to properly take care of their hygiene, their breath, nourishment and physical health. She was a real preacher, a role model for so many.

She realized very quickly that she needed a comfortable and adaptable chair for her clients. Martha Matilda Harper invented the first reclining shampoo chair that we use even today.

On top of all this, she also supported women by giving them jobs. All the women that worked for her were just like her, formerly maids.

Very quickly she became very famous and many stars and important people came from all over the USA to have a haircut at her salon. Her method became so famous that they urged her to open the same salon in other cities across the USA.

Invention after invention

Not only that she revolutionized haircut, invented her own method, became one the very first businesswomen, understood how the marketing worked, along the way helped a lot of poor women, but she also did something that never existed before! She installed a hair salons all across the USA and let working class women run it. They only needed to use exactly the same products, the same philosophy, the same look inside of salons. That is when and where the idea of franchise was born! Martha’s goal was to empower other women by giving them a possibility to own and run their own salons.

harper method

These hair salons existed not only in the USA but also in Europe, Central America and Asia. Very shortly there were over 500 all around the world. She set a business model that will last up until today!

Martha Matilda Harper died in 1950. In 2003, 53 years after her death, she was included in the national women’s hall of fame for her achievement in business.

She empowered many women, allow them to have stability, independence, higher self-esteem. Martha proved that women can be inventive, hard-working, successful, owners of their own businesses. Her working model has been dominant around the world. Half of retails that operate in the USA today are based on this model.

Martha Matilda Harper’s story teaches us to follow our dreams, to be patient and to persistent. It is also an example of how we cannot allow the bureaucracy to crushed our hopes and plans. Or even worse! People that do not believe in us. We are the only ones that need to believe in ourselves and even better if we support other women along the way!


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