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From servant to franchisor


Martha Matilda Harper was the only "servant-girl" to join the ranks of the pioneers of franchising, and more than 100 years later, she's still a rarity among franchisors who have developed medium to large chains—she’s a woman.

Harper was a servant for a Germanic doctor in the late 1800s. On his deathbed, her employer gave her his secret herbal formula for skin and hair tonics. Armed with her meger savings and the formula, she crossed the border from Canada to the U.S., looking for greener pastures. She continued to work as a servant for eight more years until she had saved the $360 needed to start Rochester, N.Y.'s first hair and skin care salon.

By 1920, Harper had 175 shops, which she franchised to other women who also had been servants. Harper's system gave women at that time a third choice in life—entrepreneurship. Prior to that, women's only two choices were being a servant or marriage, which In a biography about her by academic Jane Plitt, Harper said were pretty much the same choice.

Nine other early pioneers in franchising are highlighted in Franchise Times' latest SuperBook of Franchise Opportunities, polybagged to the March issue of Franchise Times. Included in the timeline by franchise consultant Michael Seid is the surprising fact that Ford Motor Co's cars were originally sold through pharmacies. 

You can also read the rest of the story by downloading a copy of the SuperBook at http://www.franchisetimes.com/Store/SuperBook-of-Franchise-Opportunities/index.php.


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About This Blog

The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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