Knox, Rose Markward (1857–1950)

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Knox, Rose Markward (1857–1950)

American businesswoman. Born Rose Markward on November 18, 1857, in Mansfield, Ohio; died on September 27, 1950, in Johnstown, New York; youngest of three daughters of David Markward (a druggist) and Amanda (Foreman) Markward; attended public schools in Mansfield; married Charles Briggs Knox (a glove salesman), on February 15, 1883 (died 1908); children: Charles; James; Helen (died in infancy).

Businesswoman Rose Markward Knox was born in 1857 in Mansfield, Ohio, and received a public school education. In her 20s, she moved with her family to Cloversville, New York, where she found work in the glove factory which also employed her future husband Charles Briggs Knox, a salesman. The couple married in 1883 and had two sons, Charles and James, and a daughter Helen who died in infancy. In 1890, the Knoxes took their savings of $5,000 and invested in a gelatin business in Johnstown, New York. At the time, gelatin was still thought of as a dietary supplement for convalescents, so the Knoxes set out to bring their product into the mainstream. While her husband promoted the new product with a stable of race horses (the Gelatine String) and branched out into other enterprises, Rose concentrated on selling gelatin to the American housewife. From her home, she tested recipes, and in 1896, published the booklet "Dainty Dessert."

When Charles Knox died in 1908, Rose took over the business, although friends advised her to sell. Reluctant at first, she began by selling off the peripheral ventures and turning her attention to the sale of gelatin. She invested heavily in research, conducted in her own experimental kitchen and at the laboratories of Melon Institute. Directing her advertising to women, she prepared a second booklet, Food Economy (1917), and began a newspaper column of recipes and household hints, "Mrs. Knox Says." By 1915, the business was incorporated for $300,000 and ten years later was capitalized at $1 million. In the meantime, Knox purchased a half-interest in a plant in Camden, New Jersey, from which she had been buying gelatin, and in 1930, she became vice president of the newly organized Kind and Knox. She built a new plant in Camden for the production of flavored gelatin in 1936; the Johnstown plant was thereafter used for packaging and distribution. The Knox Company became the nation's top producer and distributor of gelatin, selling 60% for food and 40% for industry (photography in particular) and medicine. Knox remained modest about her success. "I just used common sense—a man would call it horse sense—in running my business," she said in an interview with The New York Times (May 23, 1937). "But from the first I determined to run it in what I called a woman's way."

In addition to her business acumen, Knox was a brisk but enlightened manager. Upon taking over the company in 1908, she had ordered the back door of the factory closed, saying to her employees, "We are all ladies and gentlemen working together here, and we'll all come in through the front door." In 1913, she instituted a five-day work week and later provided a two-week paid vacation and sick-leave policies. Her employees were reportedly "terrified of crossing her will," but the majority of them remained with the firm for 25 years or more. During the Great Depression, Knox was one of the few American companies that did not lay off a single employee.

Through the years, Rose Knox became known as one of the nation's outstanding businesswomen. A long-time member of the American Grocery Manufacturers' Association, in 1929 she became the first woman elected to its board of directors. She was also active in many civic and philanthropic activities in Johnstown. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, she distributed $50,000 among local institutions. She was the founder and first president of the Federation of Women's Clubs for Civic Improvement of Johnstown, and the founder of a home for women.

Knox continued to come to the office daily until the age of 88, when arthritis forced her to work from home. It was not until she was 90 that she agreed to let her son James assume the presidency of the company, although she stayed on as chair of the board. In 1949, James said of his mother, "She still runs things … She comes up with more bright ideas in a day than the rest of us produce in a month." Rose Markward Knox died at her home in Johnstown on September 27, 1950, just shy of her 93rd birthday.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Knox, Rose Markward (1857–1950)

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