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RMSC to celebrate 19th century Rochester entrepreneur Martha Matilda Harper on Saturday, June 23

    Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) is pleased to present a one-day program, Discover Martha’s Magic, celebrating 19th-century inventor, immigrant, and entrepreneur Martha Matilda Harper and her success building a haircare franchise. Discover Martha’s Magic will be held between 10am-3pm, Saturday, June 23, 2018. 

    Harper was a Canadian businesswoman who came from humble beginnings. After working as a servant in Ontario, Canada, Harper saved enough money over 25 years to move to Rochester in 1882. Once settled in Rochester, she started her own business in the Powers Building, selling a hair tonic she invented, using her own mane of luxuriously long hair to advertise it. That tonic, and the method by which it was used—called the Harper Method—led Harper to operate a string of successful hair salons. Harper also invented the first reclining shampoo chair and cut-out sink and is said to be the first woman to start a franchise in the United States, and each franchised Harper Hair Parlor was woman-owned, allowing other women to become economically independent. 

    RMSC’s Discover Martha’s Magic event will feature activities for all ages, including an afternoon lecture for adults and older children. Visitors will learn how to keep their hair healthy, get hands-on creating beauty products, share ideas for their own businesses, and meet authors Jane Plitt and Sally Valentine, who wrote Martha’s Magical Hair (Plitt) and Martha the Hairpreneur (Plitt/Valentine). All three Harper books, available at the RMSC gift shop, may be autographed.

    Visitors will also be able to explore items that once belonged to Harper and her business from RMSC’s 1.2 million collection items, including Harper’s shampoo chair prototype.. 

    In addition, beginning Friday, June 8, RMSC invites the community to submit entries to its Longest Hair Contest (contest rules and registration information at The winner(s) will be announced at RMSC during the Discover Martha’s Magic event, and will receive a free copy of each book.

    Discover Martha’s Magic event schedule 

    • 10-11am, Martha’s Magical HairStory time with author Jane Plitt and Longest Hair Contest winner announcement
    • 11am-12:30pm:  Meet authors Jane Plitt and Sally Valentine and purchase signed copies of their books; discover items that belonged to Martha Matilda Harper and her business from RMSC’s collections
    • 1pm-2pm “Rochester’s Impact on Martha Matilda Harper’s Success”:  A presentation geared to adults about the story and successes of Martha Matilda Harper and how Rochesterians played key roles in her success
    • 2-3pm:  Meet authors Jane Plitt and Sally Valentine and purchase signed copies of their books; discover items that belonged to Martha Matilda Harper and her business from RMSC’s collections

    Discover Martha’s Magic and related programming is free with regular museum admission: $15 adults, $14 seniors and college students with ID, $13 ages 3 to 18, free for children under 3 and RMSC members. For group reservations and rates, call 585.697.1942.

    For additional information, contact Mare Millow, Marketing Communications Manager, RMSC, 585.697.1944,, or visit

    Fun Facts about Martha Matilda Harper (courtesy of author Sally Valentine)

    • Harper opened her first salon at the same time that George Eastman launched Kodak. He had $1,000,000 in start-up money; she had $360.
    • Harper met her husband Robert MacBain in Yellowstone National Park while on her first real vacation. They married in 1920 when he was 39 years old and she was 63.
    • Harper would not allow hair coloring or permanent waves in her salons because she thought chemicals were unhealthy for the body.
    • Harper used her own floor-length hair as an advertisement for her business when she opened her first shop in the Powers Building.
    • Harper invented the reclining shampoo chair that is still used in beauty salons today.
    • Harper created a franchise system of both products and procedures that she named the Harper Method after Bertha Palmer of Chicago urged her to expand her business in time for the 1893 World Exposition being held in Palmer’s city.
    • Harper wrote a textbook and had five beauty schools in Canada and the United States.
    • There were 500 Harper Method franchises all over the world and the first 100 purposely only went to poor women, making Harper an original adopter of social entrepreneurship.

    Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) includes the Science Museum, Strasenburgh Planetarium and Cumming Nature Center. Offering experiences at the Museum with more than 200 interactive exhibits, Planetarium with a 65-foot dome and Nature Center on 900 acres, the RMSC stimulates community interest in exploration. In addition, the more than 1.2 million RMSC collection items tell the story of Rochester’s past and present, including its rich history of innovation and invention. RMSC receives major funding from Monroe County, where it is one of the top three most visited attractions serving children and families. For more information about RMSC, visit Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.