From Women Getting the Vote to Women Getting Their Own Pocketbooks

The celebrations have started  for the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment  which passed on June 4, 1919,.  That constitutional action gave women the right to vote as of Aug. 26, 1920 . Discussing women’s suffrage brings up Martha Matilda Harper.

Susan B. Anthony and other suffragists understood that women gaining the right to vote was the first step towards women achieving equality.  Next was economic empowerment.  As Anthony declared, “Every woman needs her own pocketbook.”  (Of course, Anthony had her famous alligator pocketbook!)

That’s where Martha Matilda Harper came in.  Anthony was not only Harper’s customer at her Rochester Harper Method beauty shop, she was her advocate as  Harper’s NY Times’ 1950 obituary  described.  In 1888, Harper started Rochester’s first beauty salon for women and by 1891 she was expanding due to the support of  Anthony, other suffragists and society ladies,  key men, along with Bertha Palmer.  Brilliantly, Harper created this new method of doing business which today we call retail franchising.  However, unlike other business leaders, Harper decided to pioneer social entrepreneurship by giving the first 100 of the 500 franchises to poor women.

In 1914, columnist MacMurchy from The Toronto wrote, “Desire for monopoly is entirely foreign to her character.  It is a gret happiness to her to have furnished so many women with a good employment, a good business into which they can put their own savings, and the profit of which is theirs…Truly, Miss Harper is a remarkable woman; and she added to modern business a grace, justice and freedom of her own.”

Those  Harper workers and shop owners  had their lives changed because of Martha.  They could decide whether to marry or not, whether to buys themselves a peal necklace, or  even educate themselves or their children.  Decisions and options women still strive for.

Today as the gap of women’s earnings to men continues, we surely need more of Martha Matilda Harper’s entrepreneurial  creativity to empower women as workers, business owners and equal citizens. To start, read the story of Martha Matilda Harper, pass it on to others, including children, and lobby that her story and other achieving women’s stories belong in the history books so that their achievements are recognized by all .  Perhaps their innovative accomplishments and values can inspire us to carry the mantle for full equality.

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