Martha Matilda Harper

(1857–1950) Martha was born in Canada and immigrated to the US as a domestic servant. Though not well educated and without wealth, Martha became a successful entrepreneur and created the first business franchise system in the United States. With a "secret" hair tonic recipe she most likely obtained from her late Canadian employer, a doctor and herbalist, Martha opened the Harper Method Shop in the Powers Building in downtown Rochester. Susan B. Anthony was a customer of Harper's.

Susan B. Anthony was known to praise Martha as an example of women's success in business. Martha offered her beauty shop model to help poor women rise up and become entrepreneurs. In time, there were 350 sites worldwide, including hair dressing schools, laboratories, factories for hair products and make up, as well as hair salons. Both Calvin Coolidge and Woodrow Wilson were customers. In the 1920s, Martha married James McBain and joined in a partnership with him. Martha retained the name of her business and her position as president.

In the 1940s, Martha was a generous donor to the Susan B. Anthony House project.

Riverside Cemetery

2650 Lake Avenue, Rochester, NY 14612

Monroe County

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This program was funded in part by Humanities New York with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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The Sea Stone Foundation

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