How Rochester’s Women’s Equality Movement Propelled Harper’s World-wide Franchise Network

July 20, 2017

business history

As we look back at history, what is clear is that networking, mobilizing and identifying clear goals are key elements needed to cause major societal change.  Rochester women and men were early leaders in the cause of women’s equality and it led to economic options for women.  New York State is celebrating its 100 years of giving its female residents the right to vote.  An exhibit entitled, “Because of Women Like Her” in Rochester’s  Rundel Historic Library,  showcases the amazing effort.  A Votilla is occurring from Seneca Falls to Rochester, NY this weekend July 21, 2017.  Of course, it will end in Rochester, NY where a major parade with women re-enacting Susan B. Anthony and Martha Matilda Harper will be on floats.  To honor  our amazing foremothers I am offering FREE the Kindle version of Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream July 21-23.  Here’s why Rochester, our foremothers, and especially Post, Anthony and Harper need to be remembered.

Far before Susan B. Anthony appeared in Rochester, NY , there were amazing women leading  the cause for women’s equality.   Amy Post, now largely forgotten, was essential.  She was part of a radical Hicksite Quaker group that had brought Frederick Douglass to Rochester to publish his North Star abolitionist paper. She helped form the NY Anti-Slavery Society in 1842, but more significantly, it was chaired by a woman, unheard of at that time!  Post mobilized an assortment of religious groups to back this effort and with her husband provided refuge for runaway slaves, especially women fleeing sexual abuse.  These efforts cultivated the direct push for women’s equality.

Many of us have heard of the August 2nd, 1848 historic Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in which the Declaration of Sentiments was issued. That declaration called for women to have the right to vote in addition to other steps towards equality. Of course, Amy Post was at that meeting. Few of us realized that a continuation of that meeting was then held two weeks later in Rochester, NY where Amy pushed for and succeeded in electing Abigail Bush as presiding officer. This move was even opposed by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Lady Stanton!

Mary Anthony, a school teacher, successfully insisted and succeeded in being paid equally if she took on the role of principal.  Of course, Susan B. Anthony, now a Rochester resident, was championing the suffrage cause with Elizabeth Lady Stanton and others.

In 1872, over fifty women registered to vote in Rochester, including Post, Susan B. Anthony and her sister Mary.  On election day, only sixteen women were allowed to vote (not Post). Susan B. Anthony was singled out and brought to trial for voting!  Legislative action pushed for women’s right to own and control property.  In 1883, Henry Morgan left to the University of Rochester $80,000 to educate women.  It would take twenty years before women were admitted, helped by Susan B. Anthony’s pledging her own insurance policy.

All of this and other efforts, combined to make Rochester a hotbed of equality.  It was a perfect community for Martha Matilda Harper to arrive in 1882 with a dream to break out of servitude.  By 1888, with the help of the attorney who co-defended Anthony, John Van Voorhis, Harper launched the  area’s first beauty salon for women in the poshest building in downtown Rochester.  Anthony and other supporters of equality flocked to her shop and encouraged out of town visitors to also come.  That caused buzz and demand for Harper shops elsewhere.   Harper launched modern franchising in 1891 and with Bertha Palmer’s insistence, by 1893 there was a shop in Chicago in time for the Chicago World Fair, at which Palmer presided over the Women’s Division.

Harper,  with the momentum of the suffrage movement, had launched modern franchising enabling poor women to become business owners and employees. Eventually there were 500 shops worldwide.  These Harper women gained the right to economic choice and empowerment and threw off the shackles of their servitude. Harper understood and put into action Anthony’s call, “Every women needs her own pocketbook.”  Now, as we look at the earnings gap, the inequitable distribution distribution of women leaders at the top of major organization including our government, the discriminatory legislation affecting women, it is up to us to continue that struggle for equality.



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