This post has nothing to do with any of my books. The subject simply caught my attention when mentioned on a TV show my husband was watching a few weeks ago.
Martha Matilda Harper was born in Canada in 1857. At the age of seven her father ‘farmed’ her out to relatives as a domestic servant. For the next 22 years she worked in that capacity, and then moved to New York, also working as a servant. Her last Canadian employer was a doctor who taught her ‘hair health’. Upon his death, he bequeathed her with his formula for hair tonic. While working as a servant in New York, Martha developed her own hair tonic and after three years, left being a domestic servant to open her first hair salon, The Harper Hair Parlour, mainly to have a way to market her tonic.
Her floor length hair was her best marketing tool. P.T Barnum tried several times to hire her for his circus in order to put her tremendous tresses on display.
Martha emphasized customer ‘pampering’ and comfort at her salon. Using scientific techniques and natural products, she promoted healthy skin, hair, and inner beauty by also offering massages. She invented the reclining ‘shampoo’ chair (several different styles) and was the first American business person to start a franchise. Upon training under her and with her regular visits to assure consistency and performance, she would allow others to open salons under the Harper name. (All franchises were owned and operated by women.) The salons also offered refreshments and child care to allow women the pampering they needed to reduce their every day stress. At the height of success there were over 500 Harper Salons operating across the United States. Over the years customers included Susan B. Anthony, Woodrow Wilson, Grace Coolidge, and Jacqueline Kennedy.
Martha died in 1950 at the age of 92. In 1956 her husband sold the business. Her original shop located in Rochester, NY was the longest running and the oldest beauty parlor in the United States. It closed in the early 2000’s.