The turn of the century was an exciting time for women in the United States. As mentioned in an earlier post, women were gaining more rights and independence all the time. They were entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, further fueled by start of World War I. Women could be found in offices across the country, entering fields as diverse as one can imagine.
All of this independence and freedom meant that women were now controlling their own money, or at the very least, taking a significant interest in their financial futures. Life insurance companies were not unaware of this change, and stepped in to take advantage of this new market.
There are many newspaper articles from this time that speak directly to the idea of women and life insurance. Not surprisingly, there were significant barriers to this market, but companies and life insurance agents did their best to address these and to adjust for new information. For example, in an article published in the periodical The Independent in 1894, there is a discussion of the fact that the rates for women were higher than for men (based on rate tables that were 25 years old), meaning that the insurance companies expected women to die sooner than men. This was likely due to the hazards in that day of child birth. This idea, however, was changing. From that same article:
“All authorities seem agreed that a female, if thoroughly examined, is fully as good, if not a better risk than a male.” (The Independent, 1894)
Women also were believed to hold a “lingering prejudice against the insurance of their own husband’s life in their individual favor” (The Independent, 1908). Some writers at the time held that women believed that insuring their husband’s lives and listing themselves (or their children) as beneficiary was akin to wishing their husbands dead.
On the flip side, most articles encouraged women to take advantage of life insurance:
“Women nowadays enter into business pursuits, contract bills and write notes just as men do….there is scarcely a better way for the wage-earning woman to provide for her future than by means of life insurance” (Massachusetts Ploughman, 1900).
“If [life insurance] is a good thing for men and if it is approved and patronized by the wisest and best business men all over the country there is no possible reason why women should not enjoy its benefits if they so elect” (The Independent, 1908).
“Even wealthy women are adopting life insurance as the most desirable investment for their money, and one hears more and more of women of means who take out policies simply as investments” (Ladies Home Journal, 1900).
“The business or professional woman, in sheer self-defense, ought not to neglect the matter of life insurance. The money it signifies will be equally welcome whether she is married or single when the endowment matures” (The Independent, 1910).
WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS
It is around this time that we start to see more articles on women as life insurance agents. As more women moved into the workforce, it seemed to be a natural fit for them. The hours were flexible, the start-up capital minimal, and the nature of the sale was congruent with women’s desire to care and protect their friends and families.
Even back in 1894 there was a prediction of women’s entrance into this field:”…women are soon to bear an important part in life insurance as policy holders, solicitors and medical examiners.” An article from 1903 leads off in the opening paragraph with the statement “Life Insurance offers a most attractive field to a man or woman who is fitted for the business,” (The Independent, 1903, emphasis added), and later states:
“Many women entering into this field have found it exceedingly profitable, but women agents find that diplomacy is quite as essential, in so far as they are concerned, as it is with their brothers.”
And in my favorite article from this time period, a Mrs. M.T. Rodgers of Dallas, Texas, was interviewed regarding her career as a life insurance agent, which she happened into by chance. Her husband had passed away, leaving her with four children to raise on her own. After working in an office for a small weekly wage for seven years, and realizing her pay would never be great, she enlisted in business school. In the interview, she was asked if she felt it was harder for women to succeed in life insurance sales than men, and she states:
“No, I don’t think it is. A woman is as well adapted to solicit life insurance as a man, and the beauty of it is that in life insurance she gets the same pay as a man. This is not true of any other business in which women work. I always wonder why more women don’t go into it. I think it is one of the noblest professions, and that life insurance goes right along with a woman’s religion. She comes in contact with the best people; in fact, she can select those with whom she wants to deal. I have never met with insult or rebuff in the thirteen years I have been selling life insurance. I have always been treated courteously. That can’t be said of many businesses in which women engage for far less than they would receive in life insurance” (The Independent, 1913).
It is difficult to track down any numbers regarding how many women were selling life insurance around this time. The closest hint I found indicated that there were “thousands of women” selling at least some life insurance in 1913. What is clear, though, was that the women’s market was already an attractive target for the life insurance industry as far back as the 1890s.
As always, keep it positive and happy Thursday!
“Insurance for Women” (1894). The Independent, 46, 238. July 19. Accessed 6/13/18.
“Should Women Insure Their Lives?” (1900). The Ladies’ Home Journal, 17(3), 16. Accessed 6/13/18.
“Women and Life Insurance” (1900). Massachusetts Ploughman, 59(28), 4. Accessed 6/13/18.
“Diplomacy as an Equipment for the Life Insurance Agent” (1903). The Independent, 55, 2845. June 11. Accessed 6/13/18.
“Insurance for Women” (1908). The Independent, 64, 310. Accessed 6/13/18.
“How Women May Save” (1910). The Independent, 69, 3235. December 1. Accessed 6/13/18.