Enterprising for Change

November 29, 2020

business history

Why would Martha Matilda Harper, an indentured servant for 25 years become a changemaker? Why would Jane Plitt, an award winning businesswoman, become a changemaker and shift careers? Insights to those determined women and over 200 women who have often been forgotten by history, are spotlighted at the recently opened exhibit “The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World.” https://rmsc.org/changemakers/meet-the-changemakers/

Martha and Jane came from very different backgrounds. Martha was poor, bound out into Canadian servitude at age seven, with little formal education and parental encouragement. It was a typical pattern for poor girls with little hope for escaping . Jane was born in the U. S. into a middle-class family with a strong entrepreneurial influence. A child of the sixties, she was used to fighting for causes to make the world more just. She went to Cornell University and only when she started to work in labor relations in Rochester, NY did she discover that as a woman, she , too, faced societal limitations and prejudice.

Rochester became a game changer for both Martha and Jane, a community willing to embrace the outsiders who thought and acted outside the box and challenged the status quo. Although separated by nearly 100 years, both women flourished in their business efforts, with Martha revolutionizing retailing by creating modern franchising., enabling Martha to enrich herself but also change the lives of the poor women she put into franchise ownership positions. Jane became a catalyst for women’s equality, breaking barriers by eliminating men’s only grills, forcing Gannett to end it sex-segregated help wanted advertisements and having service organizations admit women as full members.

When on a marketing assignment for First National Bank, Jane stumbled on the forgotten story of Martha Matilda Harper and decided to criss-cross the United States and Canada in search of Martha’s full story. The result was the biography Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream: How One Woman Change the Face of Modern Business , the young adult book co-written with Sally Valentine Martha the Hairpreneur, and the young children’s book Martha’s Magical Hair.

The exhibit is open until May 16, 2021. Be inspired and informed that women have always been and remain Changemakers. Join the spirit!


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