Martha in Rochester, NY

Serendipity struck when Harper chose Rochester, N.Y., a dynamic community, made up of a cross-section of people many who thought differently. The community welcomed:

  • suffragists (i.e. Susan B. Anthony made it her home)
  • social activists (i.e. locals recruited Frederick Douglass )
  • entrepreneurs/inventors (who created Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, and many other major corporations)
  • out-of-the mainstream religions (Quakers, Christian Scientists, Jews)

Susan B. Anthony mobilized women to support both the vote and the effort to economically empower women. “A condition of dependency, pecuniary or political, can not [sic] bring about the best development of any individual or any class.” Anthony was a customer and friend of Harper’s, encouraging others to follow her, which they did in droves.

When Harper introduced the first reclining shampoo chair in the nation, it was championed by Rochesterians and became a reason to bring other famous out-of-town visitors such as Mabel Graham Bell (Alexander’s wife), Bertha Palmer (from Chicago and Sarasota), and Grace Coolidge (soon to be First Lady). Palmer was so struck with the experience,  she demanded that Harper open a shop in Chicago in time for the 1893. (See Harper and franchising). Ultimately, Harper did.

Photo courtesy of Jane Plitt.

When Harper needed help to get her  first shop into the city’s most fashionable building in Rochester, NY,  it was former Congressman John Van Voorhis, the man who co-defended Anthony in her right to vote case, who helped.   Money for entrepreneurial men was available.  In 1888, George Eastman introduced his camera and the KODAK name with $1 million of venture capital.  In the same year, Harper used her lifetime savings of $360 to launch her enterprise.  Later, Rochester became headquarters for Harper’s worldwide franchise system, along with her training schools, and manufacturing center. Harper is buried in Rochester’s Riverside Cemetery.

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