Interview: Former NOW Executive Shares Untold Story Of Entrepreneur

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Jane R. Plitt is a feminist and businesswoman who fights for women’s equality, which is probably why she loves sharing about another strong feminist leader.

Martha Matilda Harper was a woman who created the first hair salon in 1888 and opened 500 franchises, yet her accomplishments were overlooked. Because of this, Jane Plitt decided to write THREE BOOKS about this hairpreneur. There is one for adults, young adults and little children. (See photos below.)

This author is so inspiring because she decided to make a change when she thought something wasn’t right. She went through so much difficulty to find out about this hairpreneur, and she was annoyed that she was practically the first person to ever really wonder about Miss Harper.

Jane R. Plitt has done a lot for the women’s movement. She is one of the co-founders of New York’s Rochester Women’s Network and a former national executive director for the National Organization for Women. She said she was also was the first woman in labor relations in Rochester and helped paved a path for women to have that role.

She has won lots of awards and there also is scholarship named after her at the University of Rochester! Here is our interview:

Question: What inspired you to write three books about this extraordinary woman?

Answer: As a businesswoman myself, I was deeply annoyed that the Rochester Chamber of Commerce did not know anything about Martha Matilda Harper, the first female member of the Chamber.  As a woman deeply involved with the second wave of women’s rights, it annoyed me that Harper could be so overlooked, as though her unique path blazing role meant nothing to the Chamber.

I was both curious and determined to find out a bit more.  That was far more difficult than expected.  She was not listed under Who’s Who, significant women, businesswoman, etc.  Finally, a librarian at the Library of Congress found a 1950 NY Times obituary on Harper that cited her a world entrepreneur, supported by Susan B Anthony and patronized by luminaries.

Given the difficulty of just finding that much, I realized if I didn’t write her story, no one would ever discover her.  

Q: Are you planning on sharing any more stories about Martha Matilda Harper?

A: Yes, I have written a script entitled The Marvelous Martha, which captures Harper’s story in video.  Business, foundation, and community leaders ( 26 of them) have volunteered to give voice to Harper’s supporters and opponents. (It will likely premiere next year at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton, Fl.) The film is portable so look forward to its message reaching across the country, and the world.

Q: If could meet Ms. Harper, what three things would you ask her?

A: I would ask her more than three things, but the big questions I have are:
-Why did you not assure a female succession leadership to your business ?
-Was I right, that the  Christian Science model of operation inspired your model of franchising?
-Where did you get the idea to give the first 100 franchises to only poor women?

Q: Why do you love to write?

A: I am a passionate advocate for causes I believe in.  Writing is a means to share my passion and encourage others to better discover  people  and values they may never have known.

Q: What is your best tip for curing writer’s block?

A: Take a break.  Go for a walk along the beach, feel the wind blow your hair, bike, do something totally different.  Then return and just start writing.  Don’t stop.  Let it just flow, even if you make grammar errors, keep the expression going.  Somehow you will regain the write voice.

Q: What writers inspire you the most?

A: Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger and Betty Friedan, author of The Feminist Mystique. Both have given voice to the psychological and historical control of women and their potential.

Q: How did you find the company that published your book?

A: My first publisher was Syracuse University Press.  I had been rejected by 52 other publishers when I got their acceptance.

Q: How did you feel when you finally got a YES?

A: Like that dream came true!  I was flying high, although it was full of practicalities.  Negotiating the contract, assuring I retained the copyright. All new essentials in the world of publishing.  But, it was a fabulous affirmation that my book was worthy of publishing and important to be published.

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