Rose Blumkin: The Business Woman with a Big Heart
Research compiled by: Jordan H., Josselyn T., Kaleb W.
This document is a passenger manifest, or list of travelers, from the ship that Rose Blumkin took from Japan to the United States in 1917 as an immigrant. At the time, World War I was being fought in Europe. It was also a difficult time for European Jews, who faced pogroms in Russia and elsewhere and fled as a result. Most white ethnic immigrants from Europe traveled west toward the Atlantic Ocean; however, Mrs. Blumkin traveled east across Russia, where she bribed a border guard to cross into China, traveled to Japan, and boarded a peanut cargo ship destined for Seattle, Washington. In this way, she became a part of the largest wave of immigrants entering the U.S. from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Jewish immigrants like Rose relied on the support of existing Jewish communities, so the primary destinations of Jews coming to Nebraska were Omaha and Lincoln, with resettlement programs for Jews in smaller towns usually turning out unsuccessful because of a lack of existing Jewish communities. Omaha also had a sizeable Russian community, with roughly 3,800 Russian-born residents in 1920. (Artifact courtesy of Nebraska Jewish Historical Society)
This is a photograph of Rose Blumkin, also known as Mrs. B, sitting in her store, the Nebraska Furniture Mart. Like her mother, who ran a grocery store in Belarus, in 1937, Rose started Nebraska Furniture Mart in the basement of the family’s store. While most furniture stores marked up their products 40 to 50 percent, she marked her furniture up 10 percent in order to allow her customers access to affordable furniture and carpet. Her motto, “Sell cheap, tell the truth, don’t cheat nobody,” became the foundation of her success and her desire to give back to the community. Despite accusations of being a “furniture bootlegger” and engaging in unfair competition with such a low markup, Rose was vindicated in court and argued that her competitors were unfair for charging higher-than-necessary markups. Many local furniture wholesalers refused to sell to Mrs. Blumkin, so she had to purchase her inventory from Chicago and New York. Today, Nebraska Furniture Mart is found in four cities: Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Mrs. B was a very hardworking and determined person. She never let anything or anyone get in her way. Mrs. B was faced with many challenges as an entrepreneur. She was a Jewish woman in a man’s world. At 4’10”, she was very small in size but never let any obstacles stop her from succeeding. (Photograph courtesy of Nebraska Jewish Historical Society)
By the time Nebraska Furniture Mart was up and running, Rose Blumkin had already made many other contributions to Omaha. Mrs. Blumkin was always big on giving; she made it a priority to give back to those in need just as others helped her when she first arrived in America. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of respect and care for the elderly, Mrs. Blumkin funded an assisted living facility: the Rose Blumkin Home. This photograph shows Rose Blumkin standing in front of the home that bears her name. In addition, she also saved the historic Astro Theater from demolition. It was renamed the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center and was home to the Omaha Theater Company for Young People. Today, it is known as the Rose Theater. Even with her many public philanthropic acts, many examples of her generosity remain private and lesser known. From helping people after natural disasters with discounted carpet and furniture to giving jobs to Holocaust survivors, she always aimed to help. Rose Blumkin was not just a businessperson, she was a generous person, and that is how she is still remembered to this day. (Photograph courtesy of Nebraska Jewish Historical Society)
The best part of this experience was the food and learning about Omaha history. I loved learning about how exciting North Omaha used to be, especially the musical aspect. I loved the cultural food, such as Big Mama’s in North Omaha and El Alamo in South Omaha.