Meet Martha Harper, The Social Entrepreneur Who Perfected The Franchise Business Model

A version of this article previously appeared Forbes.

Isaac Singer is credited with initiating the concept of franchise territories, as a means of selling his sewing machines in the mid-1800’s. Yet many people do not realize that one of the pioneers who helped perfect the franchise business model was a woman.

In addition to creating a franchise chain which exceeded 500 locations at its peak, Martha Harper was also one of the world’s first social entrepreneurs, helping thousands of middle-class women create their own businesses and control their destinies.

Martha was born into an impoverished household in Ontario, Canada. Her parents rented her out as a domestic servant when she was seven years old, launching her career as a maid, which she pursued for the next 24-years.

One of her domestic duties was washing and cutting the hair of the affluent ladies of the household. An inquisitive child, Martha had the good fortune of working in the home of a kind-hearted physician. Although she had little formal education, the doctor indulged her curiosity, opened his library to her and taught her basic chemistry.

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