The 1960s were a turbulent time for the US. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was elected President, the youngest person at that time to be elected to the position. The remainder of the decade was overshadowed by the assassinations of President Kennedy (1963) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), the Vietnam War, the on-going Cold War with Russia including the Cuban missile crisis, and the Civil Rights Movement.
As part of his larger legislative agenda, President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This legislation made it illegal for employers to discriminate job wages by sex for jobs requiring the same level of skill, effort, and responsibility. Congress stated the following in passing the bill (Sec. 2 of the Act):
The Congress hereby finds that the existence in industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce of wage differentials based on sex:
(1) depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;
(2) prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources; (3) tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;
(4) burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and
(5) constitutes an unfair method of competition.
It is hereby declared to be the policy of this Act, through exercise by Congress of its power to regulate commerce among the several States and with foreign nations, to correct the conditions above referred to in such industries.
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. This put an end to legal segregation in schools, theaters, restaurants, movie theaters, and in any action by state or federal governments. It also banned employment discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. It was a victory hard won after many protests, some of which had turned violent. There is an interesting debate over how “sex” became included in this bill. There are a number of stories suggesting that the senator who added this particular amendment did so in order to convince others not to vote in favor of the legislation. Regardless, it passed both the Senate and the House in 1964.
Throughout the decade the war in Vietnam divided the country. Riots, protests, and sit-ins took place across the nation. At the same time, the country was dealing with the escalation of the communist regime with the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 set off a number of riots and protests across the country.
Despite all of this chaos and violence, the decade closed out with the concert at Woodstock, where on a rainy weekend in August, over 400,000 people gathered to share peace, music, and love.
LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S
During the 1960s, the intense competition that had begun in the 1950s continued. Companies escalated their endeavors to introduce new products and new features.
In the early 1960s, the industry was facing competition from stocks and mutual fund investments, slowing the significant growth of the previous decade. This was reasoned to be due to growing sales in group insurance and continued inflation that might have reduced the real value of the life insurance. New life insurance sales (ordinary and industrial) totaled $59.8 billion in face amount that year. This brought the total amount of insurance in force to $585 billion, $175 billion of which was group life.
In 1966, life insurance in force crossed the trillion dollars mark for the first time, reaching $1,045 billion. New sales for that year were $122.5 billion, one of the largest gains in the history of the industry to date.
Face amounts of life insurance policies were growing. Massachusetts Mutual reported in 1960 that it had 40 policy holders with more than $1 million in coverage, three of which were women. Of the 40, seven individuals had greater than $2 million in coverage. In 1962, the company reported its largest benefit payment in its history, a $2 million benefit paid out on a business man. In 1960 New York Life reported 34 sales over the million dollar mark, three of which were women, and Equitable Life Assurance Society reported 14 sales over the same amount, three, again, which were women. At the time, the average size policy on an adult male was $11,300 and on an adult female was $3,000.
Credit insurance became one of the fastest growing segments of the life insurance industry. In 1966 over 70 million policies were issued for over $62 billion in coverage.
In the 1960s, the most successful black-owned companies were the life insurance companies. Surveys showed that 80% of black families held life insurance. One company at the time was fully integrated, that being Progressive Life Insurance Company, based in Red Bank, New Jersey. The company had several black executives (all male) serving in many areas of the company, although in 1964 the company as yet had not elected a black member to the board of directors.
WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S
The number of women in the US workforce continued to grow throughout the decade much as it had over the last several years. By 1964, the number reached 22 million women workers, and by 1969, had reached 27 million. In 1963, white-collared women outnumbered white-collared men. These women largely filled clerical and lower paid jobs, but slowly but surely they were rising in the ranks. Already in 1960, the Census Bureau classified just over one million women as ‘managers, officials and proprietors’, up from 450,000 in 1940. Also, Harvard Business School opened its MBA program to women for the first time in 1963 to help train women for the higher ranking positions.
In the 1960s, the life insurance industry employed approximately 500,000 people, 1/3 of which were women. These women primarily filled clerical roles within the home offices. In 1963, 25 of the 1,325 fellows of the Society of Actuaries were women. By 1966, this number had only risen to 26.
Leadership and management were still largely a man’s world. Many times women were held back by the fear that they would soon leave the workforce to raise a family. Other times, it seems that women held themselves back, lacking the full confidence to deal with the struggles of getting ahead.
Women reported having to work harder than men to get ahead, and had to be better than men to retain the same rank. Some women clearly believed that to become an executive, a woman had to dedicate herself fully to her career, foregoing a husband and children. A Wall Street Journal article from 1963 quoted a female executive saying, “Men doing the same sort of work advanced more rapidly. They would climb two rungs up the ladder while I climbed one.” A Harvard Business School survey from 1965 found that 41% of business men “viewed female executives with undisguised misgivings” (Newsweek 1966).
Still, women did succeed. One woman, Margaret Brand Smith, a lawyer from Dallas, formed and sold a number of life insurance companies, finally, due to a merger, becoming president of Union Bankers Insurance Co. of Dallas. One employee paid her the compliment (?), “Talking to Margaret is just like talking to a man.”
Much like the 1950s ended, the 1960s began with a number of “first women.” Mrs. Viola G. Turner became the first women elected to the board of directors for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. She was elected vice president and treasurer of the company at the same time. Lillian Hogue, an agent for New York Life, was elected the first woman president of the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters. In 1968, Mrs. Amelia Reichert was the first woman elected to the level of vice president at New York Life.
In addition, there were regular updates in the press regarding the formation of the first woman’s life insurance company, Woman’s Life Insurance Co. of America, headquartered in Bethesda MD. The company was formed in order to address the fact that, according to a study conducted by the founders, “women would seem to be the most natural prospects for the life insurance product, yet only 13 percent of the $493 billions of life insurance in 1958 was owned by women.” The company began writing policies on January 1st, 1962.
The company was headed by Phyllis R. Biondi, a 36-year old woman who had worked as assistant to the general agent for another insurance company. Press releases indicated that while policies would only be sold to women, men would be represented in management and in the field force. In 1965, the company secured additional necessary funding. The president of the investor company, Inter-Ocean Insurance Company of Cincinnati, was quoted as saying, “We believe enough women will prefer to select their life insurance from a company managed by women and dedicated to serving only their financial problems enough to give this company every chance of success.”
In the industry, new mortality tables were developed that showed that women were living longer. In one article, this was described as a way to “flatter” women while saving her money. The article (Washington Post, Times Herald, 22 Mar 1960) reads:
New mortality tables developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners show that women live an average of six to seven years longer than men. The Insurance Commissioners decided that three years was a nice, safe – and, it might be added, still flattering – bonus for the ladies.
Companies were aiming their advertising more and more toward women. One example given in a Wall Street Journal article from Travelers Insurance shows a woman, Laura, who once shuddered at the idea of life insurance but now realizes that it is her husband’s way of protecting her and her son. In another ad featuring a women’s consultant, it reads “insurance is as much a woman’s business as shopping for tonight’s dinner” (Printers Ink, 1962).
Throughout the decade there were acknowledgments of the women’s market, sometimes referring to it as a “new market,” and sometimes as a “growing market.” One headline from Printers Ink (1962) read “New Ways to Reach The Women’s Market,” and opened saying “American women today represent a colossal market – one so large that a marketing executive recently described it as ‘a whole new country’ for many advertisers.” Later in the article the author addresses life insurance directly:
Portions of the life insurance industry have also discovered women and are engaged in an education program for women policyholders, both actual and potential…Insurance companies have become aware, too, that women can have an important influence on the purchase or nonpurchase of policies.
An article from the New York Times was headlined “Growing Market Noted Among Working Women.” Another headline shared the news, “Brochures on Insurance Are Written for Women.” This particular article pointed out that “women know more about family finances than they did twenty years ago and, as a result, are demanding answers to questions about insurance.” One article from the Wall Street Journal was titled “She’s the Boss; More Women Conquer Business World’s Bias, Fill Management Roles.”
The Atlanta Daily World printed an article in 1963 titled “Girls! Career In Life Insurance Beckons To You,” that talked about the wide variety of careers available to women in the insurance field. From high-schoolers to college graduates, from single to married women, from urban to rural dwellers, there was a job in the insurance industry for any “girl” or woman. The types of jobs suggested included electronic data processing, accounting, advertising, and others, but did not include any mention of management or executive opportunities.
At the end of 1965, women owned more than $130 billion in life insurance and were expected to reach $140 billion by year end 1966.
WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE SALES AGENTS DURING THE 1960S
Just as insurance companies were recognizing women as home office associates and sales targets, they were looking at women as sales agents as well. An article in National Business Woman from 1963 was titled “Life Insurance Welcomes Women.” The article begins:
As more and more women are awakening to the opportunities available in life insurance selling, life insurance companies are awakening to the fact that women can do the job.
In 1960, it was estimated that there were 200,000 full-time agents selling life insurance in the US, only 5,000, or 2.5% of which were women. Only 1% of these women were agency managers and assistants. This was a reduction from 1945, during the war, when women made up 5% of the total agents. By 1968, the number of female agents had risen to 11,000. An article in the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper from December 16, 1961 stated:
Although life underwriting [selling] is an occupation well suited to women, traditionally, very few have been in this area of work. Why this situation prevails is not clear. Women in the field are enthusiastic about life underwriting as a career…Insurance selling is a field of work in which women consistently earn at the same rate as men. Compensation schedules are fixed by each company. They appear in the contract and apply equally to both sexes.
A question and answer column in The Los Angeles Times (Nov 12, 1960) shows the rising consciousness of the women in this industry:
Question: It is indeed a pleasure to see life insurance problems discussed objectively in my favorite newspaper.
May I, please, however, make one suggestion. Several thousand women in the United States are now selling life insurance. I am one of them, and I believe I speak for the others when I say we will appreciate it if, in answering questions, you will find some way to avoid implying that life insurance information, advice and service can be obtained only from men.
Instead of “talk this over with a life insurance man,” couldn’t you suggest that the reader discuss the problem with an “underwriter” or an “agent?”
John Hancock formed an experimental training program in 1961 to train female agents. The intent was to provide additional access to the women’s market, believing that women would be more likely to purchase life insurance from other women. Metropolitan also launched an initiative in 1963 to recruit more women as agents. New York Life claimed to not have a specific program for hiring women, but boasted the highest number of women who qualified for the Women Leaders Round Table (sales exceeding $250,000) in 1962, and for the 18 years before that.
While women were certainly making strides forward during this decade, it is clear that the workforce was not yet welcoming them with open arms. A handful of women were successfully navigating the career ladders, but the path was difficult and certainly not clear. The language used around women, often referring to them as “girls” or “gals” as well as the tendency to see successful women as an aberration or singular situation continued, unfortunately, beyond the end of this decade.
Up next, the 1970s.
Anonymous (1965). “$300,000 Invested in Woman’s Life.” The Baltimore Sun, Jan 24, pg. D14.
Anonymous (1960). “All Life Insurance Agents Aren’t Men.” Los Angeles Times, Nov 13, pg. E14.
Anonymous (1962). “Brochures on Insurance Are Written for Women.” New York Times, Jan 30, pg. 33.
Anonymous (1967). “Credit Life Insurance One of Fastest Growing Kinds.” Chicago Tribune, Nov 13, pg. E7.
Anonymous (1963). ” Girls! Career In Life Insurance Beckons To You.” Atlanta Daily World, Feb 5, pg. 2.
Anonymous (1962). “Growing Market Noted Among Working Women.” New York Times, Sep 23, pg. 167.
Anonymous (1962). “Life Insurance Firms Pays Biggest Claim: $2 million.” Wall Street Journal, Nov 13, pg. 12.
Anonymous (1961). “Men Too Risky, Insurance Firm Issues Policies for Women Only.” Boston Globe, Dec 23, pg. 12.
Anonymous (1960). “More People Buying Million Dollar Life Policies, Firms Say.” Wall Street Journal, Dec 12, pg. 8.
Anonymous (1962). “New Ways to Reach The Women’s Market.” Management Review, 51(6), pg. 20.
Anonymous (1968). “New York Life Names Woman Vice President.” The New York Times, Jun 5, pg. 68.
Anonymous (1960). “N.C. Mutual Life Insurance elects first woman to board.” The Baltimore Afro-American, Jan 30, pg. 19.
Anonymous (1963). “She’s the Boss; More Women Conquer Business World’s Bias, Fill Management Jobs.” Wall Street Journal, Feb 19, pg. 1.
Anonymous (1966). “Women at the Top.” Newsweek, Jun 27, pg. 70-73.
Anonymous (1961). “Women’s World: Life insurance underwriting open to mature, young women.” The Baltimore Afro-American, Dec 16, pg. 12.
Bromage, William (1967). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Tribune, Aug 14, pg. 6.
Equal Opportunity Employment Commission: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm
Goodman, Oliver (1960). “First Woman’s Life Insurance Firm Set.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, May 8, pg. C12.
Haitch, Richard (1968). “Private Flying: Woman Finds Exciting Way to Sell.” New York Times, Mar 3, pg. 90.
McVicker, Vinton (1961). “Life Insurance Push: Sales Efforts Intensify As Growth in Individual Policy Business Slows.” Wall Street Journal, Sep 18, pg. 1.
Nichols, Edwin (1962). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jul 9, pg. C10.
Reichert, Amelia E. (1963). “Life Insurance Welcomes Women.” National Business Woman, July, pg. 20-21.
Segre, Claudio (1963). “Life Insurers Hire Women Agents to Tap Large Distaff Market.” Wall Street Journal, May 9, pg. 1.
Todd, George (1964). “Progressive Life Insurance No Newcomer to Integration.” New York Amsterdam News, Feb 22, pg. 9.