In this week’s edition of “Between the Covers,” we feature multiple award-winning writer, Jane Plitt.
Jane Plitt has a fascinating backstory herself but Jane has uncovered a rather undiscovered figure in history that has a real significance in the women’s movement. This led Jane to write several highly-rated books about this little-known female powerhouse in the business world.
She was voted Rochester’s Small Businessperson of the Year, which resulted in her being the 1986 delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business. She was chosen by SAVVY magazine as one of 14 Outstanding Women in New York State. Jane was designated the area’s Small Business Advocate by the US Small Business Administration.
Jane is a contributing writer for many prestigious publications including the Chicago Sun-Times, Wall Street Journal, Bradenton Herald, Sarasota Herald, Rochester Beacon, and was featured as the cover story of Franchising World as well as appearing in her own business column in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
She has an extensive backlist of articles and is an internationally-known lecturer. Her expertise extends beyond but includes; creative marketing, economic development, entrepreneurship, and women’s rights issues. She is a frequent speaker both corporately and to Fortune 500 groups.
A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations, Plitt is recognized in Who’s Who in the United States and the World.
In perusing Jane’s website, which is dedicated to this historical feminist she writes about, I became enveloped in a story that has been omitted from the history books. Jane’s blog is full of interesting information about a woman named Martha Matilda. I encourage you to read her entries here: http://marthamatildaharper.org/
Martha’s Timeline in Jane’s Life
In 1996, Jane was appointed a Visiting Scholar to the University of Rochester to pursue her research about Martha. She gathered so much information that she turned it into a book entitled, Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream: How One Woman Changed the Face of Modern Business.
It was released May 2000 by Syracuse University Press. Harper was then inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame along with the American Business Hall of Fame, as a result of Jane’s research.
In 2017, Plitt’s publisher, Jade Publishing, released a young children’s book entitled, Martha’s Magical Hair.
In 2018, Plitt co-wrote a young adult version of the Harper story, Martha the Hairpreneur, with Sally Valentine.
In 2019, a paperback version of the Harper biography was released.
How the Idea Came to Jane
Known as a curious and determined entrepreneur, she stumbled across a brief clipping about Martha Matilda Harper. Plitt spent six years uncovering Martha’s life story. This led Jane to travel across the United States and Canada to do more research. She found herself embraced by Martha’s relatives, as well as former and active Harper shop trainees and owners. Even though she died in 1950, Jane feels a strong connection to the positive and powerful influence Martha had on the business world. As someone who was a tour-de-force as a female entrepreneur, Jane felt an instant connection to Martha.
The most important theme in Martha’s story was being an overcomer. After Martha was forced into servitude, she persevered and came out a businesswoman whose mission was helping other women franchise so they too could get out of poverty. This is a true underdog story that is timely, even almost 70 years after Martha’s death.
Highlights about Martha
- Harper emigrated from Canada in 1882 as a servant.
- She opened her shop in the Powers Building in 1888.
- Harper is buried in Riverside cemetery and her manufacturing headquarters still stand at 1233 East Main with her name inscribed on the building.
- At its peak, the Harper Method Empire had 500 franchises worldwide.
- Delighted customers included Susan B. Anthony who encouraged suffragists to support Harper, the Kennedy clan, British and German royalty, Sir Anthony Eden, Presidents Wilson and Coolidge, George Bernard Shaw, Helen Hayes.
- Harper was the first female member of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce
- When Harper died in 1950, a two-column obituary appeared in the NY Times, besides being recognized around the world.
- Harper has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the American Business Hall of Fame.
- Sir Harold Evan in They Made America cites Harper as one of sixty entrepreneurs who shaped America. Harper’s biography inspires readers with the true story of a business path blazer/heroine who changed American business and helped poor women.
- The paperback includes the complete 1940 directory of Harper shops.
To learn more about Jane, please check out the links below: