Rochester Subway
Subscribe for Email UpdatesBecome a Facebook FanFollow Us on TwitterRSS Feed Rochester History + New Ideas. Fresh from the Rochester Subway.

Topics


Rochester Subway Gift Shop


¤ Visit the Gift Shop
¤ See Combo Deals & Offers


Modern Rochester Subway Map


Modern Rochester Subway Map

¤ View Details
¤ Buy at Reconnect Rochester


Modern Rochester Subway Map


City of Rochester, New York

¤ View Details

 | 

Add To Cart


Rochester Neighborhoods Map

Rochester Neighborhoods Map

¤ View Details

 | 

Add To Cart


Rochester Subway Map, 1928


1928 Rochester Subway Map

¤ View Details

 | 

Add To Cart


Rochester Subway DVD

The End of the Line - Rochester’s Subway (DVD)

¤ View Details

 | 

Add To Cart


Rochester Landmarks Poster

Rochester Landmarks Poster

¤ View Details

 | 

SOLD OUT


Work in Rochester

Work in Rochester

¤ View Details
¤ Buy from Amazon


Original Streetart by SPACEMAN

Original Streetart by SPACEMAN

¤ View All Spaceman Art


Old Rochester Photos<br>and Historical Views

Old Rochester Photos
and Historical Views

(Framed Reprints Available)

¤ View All Rochester Photos


Rochester Subway Cap

Embroidered Subway Cap

¤ View Details


Rochester Subway T-Shirt

Rochester Subway T-Shirt

¤ View Details


Rochester Subway Token T-Shirt

RTC Token T-Shirt

¤ View Details


Rochester RTC Token

RTC Token (1948)

¤ View Details

 | 

SOLD OUT


Roch. & Brighton Token

Roch. & Brighton Token
(1887-90)

¤ View Details

 | 

Add To Cart


Rochester Railway Co. Token

Rochester Railway Co. Token (1900-09)

¤ View Details

 | 

SOLD OUT


Rochester School Fare Token

School Fare Token (1948)

¤ View Details

 | 

Add To Cart


Rochester NYS Railways Token

NYS Railways Token (1909-38)

¤ View Details

 | 

Add To Cart


Rochester Subway Poster + DVD Combo

Rochester Subway
Poster + DVD Combo

¤ 

Add To Cart

 (Save 10%)


Rochester Subway Vintage Postcard

Vintage Postcard (1941),
Rochester Rail Equipment

¤ View Details

 | 

Order Reprint

¤ See All Vintage Postcards


Rochester Subway Vintage Postcard

Vintage Postcard (1938),
Subway & Broad Street

¤ View Details

 | 

Order Reprint

¤ See All Vintage Postcards


Rochester Subway Vintage Postcard

Vintage Postcard (1942),
Rochester City Hall & Subway

¤ View Details

 | 

Order Reprint

¤ See All Vintage Postcards


Rochester Subway Vintage Postcard

Vintage Postcard (c.1912),
Rochester’s Four Corners

¤ View Details

 | 

Order Reprint

¤ See All Vintage Postcards


Rochester Subway Vintage Postcard

Vintage Postcard (c.1905),
Erie Canal Aqueduct

¤ View Details

 | 

Order Reprint

¤ See All Vintage Postcards


Rochester Subway Vintage Postcard

Vintage Postcard (c.1928),
South Entrance to Subway

¤ View Details

 | 

Order Reprint

¤ See All Vintage Postcards


Rochester Subway + Trolley Transit Passes

Original Subway, Trolley,
and Bus Weekly Transit Passes

¤ View All Transit Passes





Martha Matilda Harper – Innovator in Beauty and Business

December 26th, 2015

The building at 1233 East Main St. It's between the old Beechnut Packaging plant and Greenovations. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
By Joanne Brokaw

Driving down East Main Street recently, I spotted the name “Martha Matilda Harper” engraved on a building near the old Beech Nut packaging plant. My interest was piqued, since the building at 1233 East Main Street external link currently houses Tire Trax sales and service. It turns out that the facility is the former laboratories for Martha Matilda Harper, Inc.

I can’t believe that I’d never heard of Martha Matilda Harper, but we can thank her for just about everything having to do with our modern salon experiences, as well as her groundbreaking business methods that pioneered modern retail franchising…

The engraved sign on the building is still visible, and this is what originally caught my eye. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
Born in Ontario, Canada in 1857, Harper was sent out as a domestic servant at the ripe old age of seven. She eventually went on to work for a physician who had developed a tonic that stimulated hair growth. He taught Harper how to increase blood flow to the scalp with robust hair brushing and scalp hygiene (for example, using a fine comb to clear way obstructions from the hair follicles and a stiff brush to help stimulate the scalp). On his deathbed, he shared with Harper the secret formula for his hair tonic. She brought that formula with her to Rochester when she emigrated here in 1882 to take another job as a domestic servant.

Mascaro Tonique. [PHOTO: www.hairraisingstories.com]
Harper began manufacturing her hair tonic in a backyard shed, likely behind the home at 717 East Main Street where she worked as a domestic servant.

Here’s an iconic image of Harper and her floor length, flowing hair…

Martha Matilda Harper with floor length hair. [PHOTO: Rochester Museum & Science Center]
She experimented with the tonic on her own hair, which cascaded in luxurious waves to the floor and became her trademark, and then started treating the hair of society women (friends of her employer). The women were hooked.

In 1888, using her lifetime savings of $360, Harper rented space in the Powers Building to open her first beauty shop. [PHOTO: Rochester Museum & Science Center]
In 1888, using her lifetime savings of $360, Harper rented space in the Powers Building to open her first beauty shop. In 1889, she was still boarding at the same address on East Main St., but now the city directory listed her occupation as “hair tonic, and shampooing rooms, 517 Powers bldgs”.

Ad from the back page of the 1889 Rochester City directory.
She resided at 717 East Main Street until 1901, when, according to the directory, she moved to 881 Main St.

Ad for Harper Method Mascaro Tonique. [IMAGE: www.vintageadbrowser.com]With her proven hair tonic and a loyal clientele, Harper drew customers from far and wide to her Rochester beauty shop, including Susan B. Anthony, Mabel Graham Bell (wife of Alexander Graham Bell) and future First Lady Grace Coolidge. Socialite and philanthropist Bertha Honore Palmer, whose husband owned Chicago’s Palmer House hotel, traveled to experience the Harper Method firsthand and convinced Martha Matilda Harper to open a shop in Chicago in time for the World’s Fair. It would be the start of a female-empowering franchising revolution.

From her beauty headquarters in Rochester and with the goal of helping women achieve business success, Harper started training poor women in her methods of beauty treatment. [PHOTO: Rochester Museum & Science Center]
From her beauty headquarters in Rochester and with the goal of helping women achieve business success, Harper started training poor women in her methods of beauty treatment, which included facial and scalp massages, healthy approaches to skin and hair care, and creating a calm environment for customers.

Harper Method Beauty School procedure book. Every step in the customer experience is spelled out. In the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
She created incentives for shop owners to encourage fair compensation for workers. She required Harper beauty shops to use only her organic, chemical-free products and beauty methods (which included diet and exercise in the beauty routine) and to conform to her precise business practices.

Tonique for oily hair. In the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

Suprewave, machineless permanent wave. In the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

One of Harper's fine toothed combs, used to clear way scales and obstructions from hair follicles. From the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

Harper brush, used in the robust brushing of the hair and scalp in order to stimulate hair growth. In the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

Facial oil. In the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

She even created a reclining salon chair as a way to shampoo hair without getting soap suds in the client’s face – a design she unfortunately failed to patent…

Prototype of the Harper shampooing chair. In the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

A shampooing chair from one of the Harper salons. In the collection at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

SIDE NOTE: Harper’s products have been touted as being organic and chemical free, so when I got to see some of the products that the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC) has in its collection, I was amused to see that the bottle of Tonique for oil hair lists the ingredients as “Cantharides, Sage, Salt, Quinine and Alcohol 50% by Volume.” According to sources online, a cantharide is an aphrodisiac. I wonder if that effect was part of the appeal of a Harper Method scalp massage!

That consistency in consistent training, high quality products and impeccable customer service was the key to her success – and the foundations of business franchising. At its peak in the 1920s, there were 500 Harper beauty shops worldwide, and, before the business closed, Martha Matilda Harper, Inc. boasted a full line of beauty products and clients including Jacqueline Kennedy, Danny Kaye, Helen Hayes, and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson.

Martha Matilda Harper later in life, as a successful entrepreneur. [IMAGE: From the book, 'Martha Matilda Harper and The American Dream: How One Woman Changed The Face of Modern Business' by Jane R. Plitt]
In 1920, at age 63, Harper married Robert MacBain, a man more than 20 years her junior who liked to be called The Captain. Martha Matilda Harper kept her maiden name.

An old photo showing Harper's laboratory that is now filled with tires. [IMAGE: From the book, 'Martha Matilda Harper and The American Dream: How One Woman Changed The Face of Modern Business' by Jane R. Plitt]
In 1921, the building at 1233 East Main St. was built as the headquarters and laboratories of Martha Matilda Harper, Inc.

An old photo showing Harper's laboratory that is now filled with tires. [PHOTO: Rochester Museum & Science Center]
Several artifacts including photos, beauty products, and even the trowel used to lay the cornerstone of the building can be found in the Martha Matilda Harper collection at Rochester Museum & Science Center.

This Paul, who owns the building. He's standing in that area in the other photo where you can see the skylights that were added. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
The building now houses Tire Trax external link, a retail tire warehouse. The owner Paul Palmer, took me on a tour recently and he warned me that the place was jam packed with tires.

This is in the back part of the building, which would have housed the laboratory. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
He wasn’t kidding. Every space on the first and third floors is crammed with tires; the only reason the second floor isn’t, he explained, is because the freight elevator doesn’t stop on that floor.

There are literally tires EVERYWHERE in this place. Every office, every room and packed to the rafters. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
There have been some renovations to the building since it was the Harper headquarters, but the stairwells are still there and the old elevator, which is original to the building, is still in use.

The original elevator is still in use. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

This is in the attic, or above the third floor, of the building. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]
It’s amazing to think that almost 100 years ago, students and beauty professionals walked these same halls, creating products and honing skills that would impact the beauty industry around the world.

Stairway to second floor. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

Front entryway of the building; tires are in what was the foyer. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

I just thought these windows were really cool, lol. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

On the roof, looking onto East Main towards Culver. [PHOTO: Joanne Brokaw]

When she became too old to run the company, Harper passed the reins on to her husband. She died in August 1950, a month shy of her 93rd birthday.

[ Find her grave at Riverside Cemetery external link ]

In 1956, MacBain sold the company. It was sold again and eventually acquired by the largest operator of trades schools in the country. That company closed down all the Harper training programs; the Harper franchises continued to operate independently until owners died or retired. The last remaining franchised salon, the Harper Method Founder’s Shop, was owned by Centa Sailer and located in The Temple Building. It closed in the early 2000s; Ms. Sailer passed away in 2014.

Martha Matilda Harper’s methods of beauty and business live on, despite the fact that most people have never heard of her. The former home of Martha Matilda Harper, Inc. Laboratories on East Main stands as a legacy to the woman who changed beauty and business around the world, from right here in Rochester, NY.

• • •

For an in-depth look at Martha Matilda Harper, check out Jane R. Plitt’s book, Martha Matilda Harper and The American Dream: How One Woman Changed The Face of Modern Business external link from Syracuse University Press.

• • •

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 26th, 2015 at 9:31 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

8 Responses to “Martha Matilda Harper – Innovator in Beauty and Business”

  1. Ivan says:

    great research! thank you… the property should officially be made a landmark!

  2. Powers says:

    I’m surprised you hadn’t heard of her before. But that’s some great research!

  3. Laura Viau says:

    I read the book. I had a facial by Centa in the late 1990s after reading the book. Delightful woman and experience. Like the type of woman who worked in department stores downtown in the day. I showed her how to use her answering machine!
    There was a movement to get Harper on a postage stamp in 2000 or so-I remember signing a petition for it-I was only at that job one year, so I remember it. I don’t think she ever got on the stamp. The building is across from the RTS garage, near Goodman/public mkt, next to the old VOA.

  4. John Zicari says:

    I read somewhere that the sink used to wash your hair at a salon or barber shop was invented in Rochester as well. It was referred to as a “Murphy Sink”. Trendsetters in every domain!

  5. Jason Haremza says:

    Great piece! I first stumbled upon the story of Martha Matilda Harper a few years ago. I’m still surprised that she is not a more widely celebrated historical figure in Rochester.

  6. jennifer taft says:

    Can Harper’s Hair Tonique be purchased anywhere anymore? Need it to rescue disappearing hair…

  7. The company went out of business decades ago, so unfortunately I don’t know that you’d actually find the products anywhere. :/

  8. Marianne says:

    Let’s save it! Too nice to be housing stacks of tires!




  Most Popular...
  1. Pot Holds Bowie in Rochester
    (views: 32,397)
  2. Inside Rochester’s Terrence Tower
    (views: 28,590)
  3. Inside Abandoned Medley Centre (a.k.a Irondequoit Mall)
    (views: 23,075)
  4. University of Rochester’s Lost Swimming Pool
    (views: 17,371)
  5. Deep Inside Rochester’s Big Old Sibley Building
    (views: 14,673)
  6. Inside Rochester’s Abandoned Walters Psychiatric Building
    (views: 14,000)
  7. Abandoned Glass House
    (views: 13,432)
  8. The Best Holiday Light Displays in Rochester v1.0
    (views: 12,252)
  9. Abandoned Girl Scout Camp Beech-Wood
    (views: 11,694)
  10. History of Seabreeze Amusement Park
    (views: 11,541)
  11. Durand Eastman Park and the Lady In White
    (views: 9,180)
  12. Inside the Abandoned Camp Haccamo, Penfield
    (views: 8,570)
  13. Exploring the Caves of Rochester, NY
    (views: 8,398)
  14. Abandoned Theme Park: Frontier Town
    (views: 8,215)
  15. Inside the Abandoned Vacuum Oil Refinery
    (views: 7,742)
  16. Rochester Mafia, the Banana King, and the Infamous “Barrel Murder”
    (views: 7,527)
  17. The Old Barber House
    (views: 6,897)
  18. Inside 65-67 Chestnut St. – Old Hotel Richford
    (views: 5,680)
  19. Inside RG&E Beebee Power Plant – Just Before (and during) Demolition
    (views: 5,442)
  20. Inside the Abandoned Sykes Datatronics Building
    (views: 4,716)

Topics

  • Architecture (63)
  • Art + Culture (117)
  • Events (99)
  • Freebies (9)
  • Interviews (32)
  • Opinion (107)
  • Other (1)
  • Reader Submitted Stories (126)
  • Rochester Apartments (4)
  • Rochester Destinations (97)
  • Rochester Gifts (18)
  • Rochester History (199)
  • Rochester Homes for Sale (6)
  • Rochester Images (207)
  • Rochester News (334)
  • Rochester Subway (51)
  • Rochester Subway Stories (17)
  • Subways Around the Globe (11)
  • Train/Railroad Stuff (47)
  • Transit + Infrastructure (200)
  • Uncategorized (15)
  • Urban Development (258)
  • Urban Exploration (60)

  • Rochester Subway Information

    Get Email Updates...
    Stay up-to-date on Rochester-related stories, artifacts, and ideas that you won't find in the mainstream news. Totally free, never spammy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.


    ¤ See Past Issues
    ¤ Our Privacy Policy

    Links

    Get Involved...

    ¤ Reconnect Rochester

    Related Blogs...

    ¤ A Town Square
    ¤ Moderate Urban Champ
    ¤ Our Tiny Earth
    ¤ The Rochesterian
    ¤ RocVille
    ¤ Rust Wire

    Resources...

    ¤ RochesterDowntown.com
    ¤ Rochester's Public Library
    ¤ ROCwiki



    Want to Advertise
    on RocSubway?
    Drop us a line.


    Other ways to follow RochesterSubway.com...

    Subscribe for Email Updates

    Email

    Become a Facebook Fan

    Facebook

    Follow Us on Twitter

    Twitter

    RSS Feed

    RSS

    Questions + Comments

    For questions about the Rochester Subway Poster or about your order, please email info@rochestersubway.com.

    Want to SAVE Shipping Costs?
    Buy the Subway Posters at these local shops...

    About the Rochester Subway Poster...

    ¤ Parkleigh [ ...map it ]
    ¤ Poster Art [ ...map it ]
    ¤ Rochester Public Library Store [ ...map it ]

    ¤ Rochester Subway Poster Press Release
    ¤ Article by Otto M. Vondrak
    ¤ Design by Mike Governale

    More About The Rochester Subway

    Help Support...

    ¤ Rochester Subway (Wikipedia)
    ¤ The End of the Line - Rochester's Subway, DVD
    ¤ Abandoned Subway Photos (Opacity.us)
    ¤ Walking the Rails (YouTube Video)

    ¤ Friends of RochesterSubway.com