Known as the “Grand Old Lady of Johnstown,” Rose Markward was born on November 18, 1857 in Mansfield, Ohio. She came to Gloversville in the 1870s. Like many men and women in the area, she worked in the glove industry.
Rose met Charles Knox at a dance and they were married on February 15, 1883. The couple went to New York City for their honeymoon. Later on in life, Rose explained: “the reason we went to New York was to get some expense money, for all Mr. Knox had in his pockets when we were married was $11 and our train tickets.” They settled in Newark, New Jersey, and Charles became a very successful salesmen. He was so successful that he was part of the “Big Four,” a group of four leading salesmen selling knit goods around the country.
Rose and Charles’ marriage was an equal partnership, which was unique in the 1800s. They discussed Charles’ business and Rose ran their household like a business, too: she was given a weekly allowance for household items, and what she didn’t spend, she could save for herself. Her thriftiness and careful spending allowed her to save up $5,000. The couple decided to use Rose’s money to buy an old gelatin business in Johnstown. Making gelatin was a long process involving boiling beef bones, so the very popular molded jelly dishes were reserved only for special occasions (except for the wealthy, who had personal cooks working for them). By creating a powdered formula, the Knox family made gelatin more accessible to all households.
In the early years of the business, Rose worked to create recipes that used gelatin in order to support and promote the business. She wrote several cookbooks. After Charles’ sudden death in 1908, it was expected that she would sell the business or hire a manager to run it. But Rose feared hiring a manager would keep her sons from taking over when they were old enough, so she took on the job herself. One of her first acts was to permanently close the back door to the factory, which was reserved for women employees. She would not stand for any inequality in her business, and men and women would both enter through the front door. She also requested the resignation of one of her husband’s top administrative executives when she overheard him say he would not work for a woman.
Rose was a revolutionary businesswoman who treated her employees well. She established a 5-day work week and gave her employees two weeks’ paid vacation and paid sick time, all things that were very uncommon in the early 20th century. During the Great Depression, Rose managed to cut costs at the factory and never had to lay off a single employee during that time.
Rose revamped their advertising campaign to focus on quick, affordable, and nutritious recipes for the whole family. Rose also established test kitchens; the kitchens not only tried out new recipes, but made advancements in the medical field with the development of the gel capsule for pills and a blood plasma replacement, which was used during WWII.
Johnstown has much to thank Mrs. Knox for, as she was a caring philanthropist as well as a wonderful businesswoman. One of her contributions to the community was the Knox Athletic Field and the library inside the new junior high school, named in her honor. She also established a home for elderly women, helped with the restoration of Johnson Hall, and donated money to several local churches, regardless of denomination. Rose eventually handed over the business to her son in 1947, but she served as Chairman of the Board of Directors until her death in 1950. She was 92 years old.