Martha Matilda Harper: The Pioneer of Modern Beauty Industry and Women Empowerment


Explore the life and legacy of Martha Matilda Harper, the 19th-century entrepreneur who revolutionized the beauty industry. From inventing the first reclining shampoo chair to creating a successful franchise model, Harper’s innovative ideas still influence today’s beauty practices. This article delves into her unique approach to beauty, business strategies, and how she empowered hundreds of women to become business owners.

The Pioneer of Modern Beauty Industry and Women Empowerment

Martha Matilda Harper

In the realm of beauty and entrepreneurship, one name stands out from the late 19th century – Martha Matilda Harper. Born in 1857, Harper emerged from humble beginnings to become a pioneer in the beauty industry, setting a new standard for salon practices and championing women’s empowerment. Her groundbreaking approach to business through the franchising model was far ahead of its time, and her belief in natural beauty methods defied the harmful practices of the Victorian era. This article explores the life of Martha Matilda Harper, her innovative business strategies, and her enduring impact on today’s beauty industry and beyond.

Expansion and Franchising

Martha Matilda Harper’s salons continued to grow in popularity, attracting clientele from high society, including the likes of Susan B. Anthony, Woodrow Wilson, and the British royal family. Her success was not only due to the unique hair treatments she offered but also her innovative approach to business. Harper understood the importance of creating a brand and providing a consistent experience to her clients. To grow her business, Harper began franchising her salons in the late 19th century, a concept that was revolutionary at that time.

Harper’s business model was not just about expanding her own success; it was also about empowering other women. She only sold franchises to women, many of whom were poor and working-class. By doing so, she provided them with the opportunity to own their own businesses, which was uncommon at that time. Through her franchising business, Harper empowered over 500 women to become business owners.

Harper Method and Beauty Standards

The Harper Method was the foundation of Harper’s beauty empire. She believed that healthy hair was a result of a healthy scalp, and she created natural hair products that catered to this belief. These included a hair tonic made from a family recipe, which she claimed promoted hair growth and health. Harper also pioneered the reclining shampoo chair and introduced more sanitary practices in her salons, setting a new standard in the beauty industry.

Harper’s natural and holistic approach to hair care contrasted with the prevailing beauty standards of the Victorian era. Women at the time were expected to have pale skin, a beauty standard often achieved through the use of harmful cosmetics that contained ingredients like lead and mercury. Harper rejected these harmful practices and advocated for natural beauty. She encouraged women to care for their hair and skin using natural products and methods, a concept that resonated with many women and contributed to her success.


Martha Matilda Harper’s impact on the beauty industry and women’s empowerment is undeniable. She revolutionized salon practices, created a successful franchise model, and advocated for natural beauty methods, all while empowering hundreds of women to become business owners. Her innovative business strategies and commitment to natural beauty set the stage for the modern beauty industry. Today, Harper’s legacy lives on, with many of her practices and ideals still being followed in salons worldwide.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *