Women in Insurance – A History – the 1970s

prudential 1970sIf the 1960s were a tumultuous decade in the US, the 1970s were simply a continuation of the chaos. With the protests against the war in Vietnam, the continued push for the Equal Rights Amendment, the fervent backlash to that legislation, and the resignation of a President under the threat of impeachment, the decade was full of controversy.

In 1972, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to go directly to court to enforce the civil rights legislation. This resulted in significant litigation and settlements with companies reaching hundreds of millions of dollars. Many companies worked hard to comply, but sometimes the discrimination was so ingrained in a company’s culture, it was not easy to fix.

This increased litigation led to significant push-back on the EEOC and the aims of the agency. The criticism came from many directions. On one hand, the complaints coming in from employees who were reporting discrimination were so great in number, a backlog of 130,000 had amassed by 1977. This meant that most employees never saw their complaints addressed. On the other, corporations certainly did not want to face settlements or judgments that would cost them significant amounts of money.

In one instance that caused significant disturbance in the press, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. made what the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “surprise move” in 1978, and refused a request from the EEOC for personnel recorders for an examination of compliance with the anti-discrimination legislation. A government official is quoted as saying, “John Hancock…fears what the records will reveal. Historically, insurance has been a white male profession at the managerial level, a white female profession at the clerk level.” Meanwhile, John Hancock maintained that the government was overstepping it’s authority, and had not followed its own rules in making the request. Additionally, an official from the company stated the dispute was just another instance of “additional, continuing, increasingly oppressive…government intrusion that is counterproductive” (Wall Street Journal, 17 Feb 1978).

If women and minorities fought at the highest levels (legislation, etc) to reach equality during the 1960s, it was the 1970s when they began to insist and truly fight for those rights on the ground.

INSURANCE DURING THE 1970S

The growing inflation during the 1970s was a significant issue for the life insurance industry, now comprised of over 1,700 firms. Rising from 4% in 1971 to over 13% by 1980, policy owners saw the value of their insurance eroding as the cost of living grew. Insurance companies and their agents had to find new and innovative ways to sell their products. Because of the rising interest rates, loan and surrender activity grew significantly. Policy owners found that they could withdraw their money and reinvest it elsewhere for greater returns. Tax laws were undergoing significant changes, and insurance company investment strategies had to be restructured to meet this new economic environment.

In the middle of the decade, the amount of life insurance in force had reached over the $2 trillion mark. This continued to climb as the face amounts of policies increased, largely due to inflation. By the end of the decade, it had climbed to over $3 trillion. By 1974 and through the end of the decade, it was estimated that over 90% of all husband-wife families carried some amount of life insurance. Average amounts of coverage for this group were $25,200 per family, where the family had a mean disposable income of $11,200. The number of policies in force reached a plateau in the middle of the decade, climbing only slightly by the end of the decade. This slow-down in growth of policy numbers foreshadowed a decline in the number of policies in force in the 1980s.

The life insurance industry now found itself in considerable competition for household savings, given the higher yields investors could reap in alternative investments. Whole life insurance was no longer the attractive investment it had been for the last many decades. It is precisely this environment that gave birth to a new type of policy, the Universal Life Insurance policy. It was also this environment that gave fuel to the debate over whether an individual should buy an “ordinary life” (or whole life) policy or a “term life” policy and invest the difference.

The number of insurance agents during the decade was estimated at 135,000 at the beginning of the decade, growing by almost 100,000 by the end of the decade. The retention rates for these agents were, however, dangerously low. One study found that two year retention rates were at 39%, dipping to a very low 13% by year five of the agent-company relationship. Many reasons were given for this very low rate, including a lack of training offered to new recruits, a lack of continuing education for those already hired, and the unstable income of agents when they first began their careers.

New types of employment opportunities began to develop in the industry. With advances in technology, companies were now looking for computer operators, programmers, and system analysts instead of the file clerks and assemblers of the past. Overwhelmingly, these new positions were filled by men while the clerical and administrative work was nearly 100% handled by women. Overall, there were approximately 1.5 million insurance company employees nationwide.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1970S

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In the 1970s, women were graduating from college and joining the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. Because of the limited number of possible occupations for women, this led to a significant issue. A Labor Department report from 1970 cautioned that if women did not expand the range of careers for which they prepared, strong competition would develop in the female labor market. The same report spoke to a coming shortage of chemists, dentists and physicians, careers typically filled by men.

By 1973, more than 19.8 million married women were a part of the workforce, and from 1961 to 1973, there was an 86% increase in the number of married women who had both children and a job. In 1976, there were nearly 35 million women in the workforce, and 60% of them were married.

At the same time, businesses were beginning to understand the importance of a diverse workforce. In one article in The Baltimore Sun, the CEO of a mid-west mutual fund company was quoted as saying “It makes good business sense to bring interested and motivated women into the financial services industry. After all, our products such as life insurance and mutual funds represent security to millions of Americans. Who knows more about security than a woman?”

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Companies that were not as successful in understanding the need to employ minorities faced major lawsuits. A landmark settlement in 1973 with AT&T called for an immediate payment of $15 million in back pay to women and minority employees, and an additional $23 million budgeted for future wages and promotions. Overnight, recruitment for women and minorities went up dramatically across all industries. A year later, however, women were still not making it to the executive suite, in most cases seeing their careers stall out at the middle management level. In 1974, there were 268 seats on the boards of directors for the largest insurance companies. Of those, not a single one was filled by a woman. In 1976, 97% of the individuals earning a salary over $15,000 were white males. In 1978, the EEOC settled a sex and race discrimination suit against Farmers Insurance Group for $1.5 million. One of the issues holding women back from the executive suite: in 1974, only 5.5% of all graduate and doctoral business students were women.

In 1970, the Institute of Life Insurance put out a publication entitled, “Your Financial Worksheet, a Guide for Women Returning to the Job,” with the purpose of helping women determine whether they could afford to work. The guide suggested a woman take into account taxes, child care, lunches, additional wardrobe, grooming, transportation, among other things, before she decides to return to work. While certainly meant to be helpful, a contemporary perspective shows this to be counter to efforts toward equality for women, encouraging them to stay home.

In decades past, the life insurance industry seemed to stay out of the social and political drama of the times. In the 1970s, this changed. The Equal Rights Amendment affected the industry directly and the industry was forced to react. In 1971, the largest companies operating in New York made a joint announcement that they were committed to at a minimum ‘doubling the number of minority group members and women in technical, sales, professional and executive jobs in two years.’

Some companies reported having already begun addressing the inequality of minorities in hiring and promotion activities. Equitable claimed that in 1971, 40% of new hires came from minority groups and of those, 13% were in executive training programs. Equitable found particular value in hiring black women, and worked to recruit and promote them. Metropolitan Life reported efforts to visit black college campuses in order to recruit minorities to that company. In 1977, they launched a major campaign to recruit minorities, especially women, into their sales force.

Regarding the purchase of life insurance, an interesting article in the New York Times reported that while young business men were typically receiving a call from an insurance salesman once every month, young business women, whether married or single, were never approached. It is not surprising then that in 1972 women carried on average $9,700 in insurance while men carried an average of $20,000 in insurance. The article makes the following statement: “…It gives the insurance man a new approach – selling insurance to the wife for her own benefit,” as if it were a new and novel concept. Another article from 1974 states, “…Very little attempt is made to sell insurance to women. The industry admits that agents (who are predominantly male) often do not take women seriously about insurance and will make their presentations only when the husband is at home.”

Thelma 1971

By 1978, the situation may have been changing. Insurance companies seemed to be awakening to “The Female Market.” Single women were now reporting more calls from agents, and some agents were beginning to understand the value of selling to working married women. Awareness of the fact that it would take more than a new marketing campaign or new product was growing. It would, however, take a major attitude shift to reach the women’s market.

In 1978, Monumental Life Insurance Company released a kit to help agents sell to the female market. Among the helpful hints the company urged agents, “If [the prospect] is single, don’t imply she will not marry…Expect many questions – Generally a woman will ask more questions than a man since she has had less opportunity to discuss life insurance.” These comments certainly seem funny from today’s perspective.

Throughout the decade, however, the amount of insurance carried by women was still significantly below that of men. In 1976, the amount of insurance carried by single women had increased to $28,400, but single men had also increased the amount of insurance they carried, up to an average of $31,000. At the beginning of that year, women owned $325 billion of life insurance, a new record, and a 150% increase from a decade earlier.

In addition, an old debate continued. Should a married woman carry insurance? In a column of the New York Times, Personal Finance, the reporter shared arguments from both sides, two years apart. In 1971, she discussed the need for “wife insurance,” arguing that the value of a wife had increased to a point where it should be insured.

In 1973, she shared that in many families, the money that would be spent on insurance was instead being spent on training and educating the wife for a career. Other reporters throughout the decade shared other opinions on the difficulty in the determination of whether to insure a wife. One life insurance agent explained, “It is fine for a woman to have full coverage, but, generally, if a working woman dies, her husband can get along okay as long as he can work…If he needs a loan, it’s easier for him to get one than it is for a woman.”

Mary Roberston 1972

In 1975, due to the increased attention on sales to women, insurance companies began to examine the life expectancy of insured women. At this point many of them decided to increase the set-back from men’s policies to 4 or 5 years, from 3 years as they had done in the past. This meant premiums became even lower for women. By 1978, separate mortality tables were being developed for women.

The data indicates that more women were purchasing more term insurance than ever before; over 4.3 million women took out term policies in 1972, a 20% increase from a decade earlier.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS IN THE 1970S

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The number of women selling life insurance in the 1970s had not shown marked increases from decades past. In 1977, there were approximately 4,000 women selling life insurance out of a total of 135,000 agents. The women who did choose the profession, however, seemed to do well.

In 1975, the “Top Salesman” for Prudential Life Insurance company was a woman, Mrs. Estelle Holzer. That year, she sold $2.4 million of life insurance and garnered the prizes that came along with the award. In an amusing article in the Los Angeles Time, a company official explained that the award consisted of a silver trophy in the shape of a man carrying a briefcase, a men’s suit with three tie tacks and a pair of cufflinks, among other ‘male-oriented’ items. Clearly, they were not expecting a woman to win. Mrs. Holzer was quoted as saying:

Men, both co-workers and clients, don’t think we women are in this seriously…Men assume that because you are not the breadwinner in your family, you are working because you have nothing better to do or because you’d simply like a little extra spending money. Therefore, a woman has to work much harder to prove her worth and ability.

In 1975, only three women in Maryland held the CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter) designation. By 1977 nationwide approximately 770 women had earned the CLU, with approximately 125 new women qualifying each year. In 1972, 490 women qualified for the Women Leadership Round Table ($350,000 in sales or higher), 38 of whom qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table. In 1976, these numbers had jumped to 985 for the Women Leadership Round Table and 78 who qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table.

A New York Times article from 1975 (Aug 24, pg 78), reminiscent of similar articles from decades past opens:

Steady, men. That friendly woman’s voice on the telephone may not be the life insurance agent’s secretary. It may well be the life insurance agent herself.

Slowly – and activists in the field contend, far too slowly – life insurance companies are awakening to the marketing potential of women agents.

A similar argument for women entering the field was presented several times throughout the decade. In 1978, an article in the Chicago Tribune read:

The advantages of a career in insurance sales for women is that it lacks discrimination in both earning potential and public acceptance…In insurance sales, a woman can enjoy unlimited earning potential – agents are paid on the basis of results, not seniority or sex.

Sources:

Anonymous (1978). “An Insurer Accepts $1.5 Million Accord In Job-Bias Dispute.” The New York Times, 4 Jan, B4.

Anonymous (1972). “Black Woman Appointed to John Hancock Board.” Wall Street Journal, 9 May, 32.

Anonymous (1970). “Chasing Women Viewed as Good for Business.” The Baltimore Sun, 11 Dec, C13.

Anonymous (1976). “Insurance Can Mean Happily Ever After.” Atlanta Daily World, 1 Jul, 16.

Anonymous (1971). “Insurance firms agree to fair promotion policy.” The Baltimore Afro-American, 25 Dec, 3.

Anonymous (1974). “Marriage or Career? ‘Both’ Cry Women.” Atlanta Daily World, 11 Oct, 5.

Anonymous (1973). “More Women Buying Term Life Insurance.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Aug, C2.

Anonymous (1975). “Mrs. Tall, first woman in state to hold CLU.” The Baltimore Sun, 13 Sep, A13.

Anonymous (1971). “United Mutual Names First Woman Director.” New York Amsterdam News, 3 Jul, C16.

Anonymous (1970). “Women’s Career Market.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, 6 Dec, F3.

Anthony, Toni (1971). “A woman’s niche in a growing field.” Chicago Daily Defender, 29 Jun, 18.

Auerback, Alexander (1974). “Women Aim Sights at ‘Chauvinist’ Insurers.” Los Angeles Times, 3 Feb, H1.

Bralove, Mary (1974). “Where the Boys Are.” Wall Street Journal, 18 Apr, 1.

Brookins, Portia S. (1977). “Metropolitan Recruits Minorities In Sales.” Atlanta Daily World, 30 Jan, 2.

Caralmela, Edward J. (1973). Staffing and Pay Changes in Life Insurance Companies. Monthly Labor Reivew, Aug, 66-68.

Carmichael, Carole A. (1978). “Diverse groups find opportunity in insurance.” Chicago Tribune, 17 Dec, ND1.

Cray, Douglas W. (1977). “Life Insurers Putting Premium on Women.” New York Times, 24 Aug, 78.

Curry, Timothy, Warshawsky, Mark (1986). “Life Insurance Companies in a Changing Environment.” Federal Reserve Bulletin; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, July, 449-460.

Fowler, Elizabeth M. (1973). “Women May Find Numerous Benefits Are Possible Through Life Insurance.” New York Times, 8 Mar, 55.

Johnson, Thomas A. (1971). “Rights Accord Set on Insurance Jobs.” New York Times, 11 Dec, 1.

Kleiman, Carol (1970). “Does it Cost You to Work?” Chicago Tribune, 26 Apr, F15.

Maynes, E. Scott, Geistfeld, Loren V. (1974). The Life Insurance Deficit of American Families: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Summer, 66-81.

McElheny, Marge (1975). “Top Saleswoman in ‘Man of the Year.'” Los Angeles Times, 23 May, F16.

Mills, Kay. (1976). “Single Women Found Underinsured.” Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar, F19.

Rousmaniere, James A. Jr. (1978). “Women’s Insurance Gains New Status.” The Baltimore Sun, 19 Feb, K7.

Stuart, Reginald (1975). “Personal Finance: Women’s Policies.” New York Times, 4 Sep, 48.

Taylor, Angela (1974). “To Women, Insurance Companies Are at Fault on Many Things.” New York Times, 9 Feb, 35.

Umble, M. Michael, York, Paul F., Leverett Jr., E.J. (1976). Agent Retention Rates in the Independent Agency System. The Journal of Risk and Insurance, 481-486.

Women in Insurance – A History – The 1950s

1950s

Following the end of World War II, the US experienced a post-war economic boom. Having dealt with rationing for several years, Americans were ready to spend. Consumerism expanded rapidly, as did the suburbs. Many women, having entered the workforce during the war, now found that they wanted to stay. This allowed families, now with two incomes instead of one, to increase their standard of living.

In 1950, the Korean Conflict broke out, and throughout the 50s the Cold War and McCarthyism continued to develop. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a WWII hero, was elected president in 1952 and reelected in 1956. The space race began in 1957 with the Soviet Launch of the Sputnik satellite, followed three months later by the launch of the US satellite Explorer 1.

The civil rights movement continued its march forward. With the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, “separate but equal” laws were struck down, paving the way for integration and the major civil rights movement activities of the 1960s. The role of women in business expanded. As the decade moved along, women’s roles in the working world became hotly debated in the public press. In addition, the beginnings of the “equal pay” rallying cry from the women began in this decade.

LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1950S

The life insurance industry experienced strong growth during the 1950s, benefiting from the economic boom as much or more than any other industry. In 1951 there were 609 legal reserve life insurance companies. By 1955 there were approximately 800 life insurance firms in the US, and by the end of the decade, there were well over 1,000 life insurance companies.

In 1950, US legal reserve life insurance companies had approximately $235 billion of insurance in force. The new sales in 1950 were estimated at $30.8 billion and included ordinary, industrial and group life insurance. The payments made to beneficiaries totaled $4.25 billion, 63% of which were paid to living beneficiaries. In 1955, new sales reached approximately $47.4 billion, resulting in $373 billion in force. In that year, it is estimated that 80% of US men and 62% of US women held some amount of life insurance. By the close of the decade, the industry had approximately $580 billion in force.

In 1957, the second largest company in the US and the world was Metropolitan Life Insurance Company with $14.8 billion in assets followed by Prudential Life Insurance Company with $13.3 billion in assets. They both followed the biggest company, American Telephone and Telegraph Company with $18.4 billion in assets. Quite literally, life insurance ruled the world.

While sales were growing, mortality was also improving. Advances in the medical field continued throughout the decade, helping insurance companies to price ever-more competitively and to realize greater returns on mortality.The National Service Life Insurance continued to manage an enormous block of business; approximately 6,000,000 policies, representing $36 billion in protection.

With the military action in Korea, the war clause again became a matter of concern for the industry. Competitive action, and legislative action by certain states resulted in many different responses ranging all the way from shutting down sales to members of the armed forces to simply restricting aviation coverage. Early on in the Conflict, a large group of insurance companies came together in an effort to negotiate the pooling of the war risk, but no such deal was ever realized.

Regulation continued to be an issue for the industry. Early in the decade, the salary stabilization legislation was still in effect, not ending until 1953. Tax laws continued to change with two different formulae in the first three years of the decade. Social Security continued to be seen as a threat, especially as benefits were increased and more people qualified for this coverage.

An important advancement in life insurance was the introduction of automation. The potential effects of the ‘electronic machines’ was debated in the newspapers beginning in 1954. In 1955 it was reported that LOMA (Life Office Management Association) had formed an Electronics Committee that worked with a similar committee of the Society of Actuaries. The intent of these groups was to study the impact this ‘potentially revolutionary’ technology could have on the industry.

The industry, continuing the trend that began in the 1940s, was highly concerned with the quality of the Insurance Agent selling their products. A significant amount of energy was expended in developing exams that could determine the likelihood of success of a particular recruit, and robust training programs were made for those agents already in the field.

Competition in the industry grew significantly during the decade. In a 1955 article in Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly, John C. Perham discussed new policies introduced that year that charged less for higher face amounts, calling them ‘special’ or ‘cut-rate’ policies. Other new policy innovations were introduced including the ‘family policy,’ a policy intended to cover an entire family at a lower rate than the individual rates, the ‘business women’s policy’, intended to offer disability coverage to the working woman, ‘family income plans,’ where the amount of the coverage decreased as the family’s children grow up, and the ‘guaranteed insurability rider’ that insured a client can purchase additional coverage in the future. In 1959, Northwestern Mutual Life introduced lower rates for women, stating:

Northwestern Life Mutual has felt that it is every woman’s right to be considered younger than her age – years younger than a man who has lived the same length of time. Recent mortality statistics now validate this view, and the new rates reflect it! N.M.L. is the largest life firm to recognize lower female mortality rates by reducing gross premiums on female policies, and we are the first company in the United States to give special recognition to present women policy holders thru dividends.

(Investors Guide, Chicago Daily Tribune, 12 Jan 1959)

The Negro companies also continued to grow. Although they were started and initially grew serving only Negro customers (not by choice, but due to segregation), they were now becoming big enough to attract the attention of white customers. The largest companies included North Carolina Mutual, Southern Aid, Atlanta Life, and Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. In 1954, North Carolina Mutual hit a major milestone surpassing $200,000,000 in force by the end of the year. This put the company at #136 of all insurance companies in the US based on insurance in force, and #124 based on admitted assets. The company was #1 among the 66 Negro life insurance companies in operation in 1954.

An important study came out in 1950 showing that, despite years of thinking otherwise, race had no bearing on length of life. The insurance industry argued otherwise, stating that the mortality of blacks was 50% higher, and therefore a poor insurance risk. This debate was not settled until much later.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1950s

Following the end of the War, the question of women in the workplace was a confusing matter. Many Americans expected women to go back home when the men returned to the workforce. The reality proved to be more complicated. In many cases, the need for workers had expanded to the point where women were necessary to fill all of the positions. And in many cases, women found that either their income was required to feed their children, or that they enjoyed work outside the home, and enjoyed the additional comforts for their families that were now possible with two incomes. This led to the question of what positions the women should and/or were capable of filling and how much the women should be paid, among other things.

The place of women in the workplace was debated in the press, most especially around the end of the decade. Headlines such as “Women Just Are NOT Good Bosses – Says a Man” (Chicago Daily Tribune, 27 Jan 1957), “Can Women Get Along Without Men?” (Los Angeles Times, 13 Oct 1957), and “Women in Business Advised Against Being Feminists” (Daily Boston Globe, 25 May 1958) show the contention that was beginning to surface in society.

Of great interest to the people of the times (based on the number of newspaper articles on the subject) was a dramatic shift in the number of married women, generally over the age of 35, working outside the home. In 1950, married women made up more than half of the female working population. One personnel manager suggested that this was in part due to the fact that the employers could pay married women less than single women (and single women less than men) because they had a husband bringing home his pay. Another shift saw more women working clerical office jobs than any other profession.

And yet, at the beginning of the decade, companies still were less inclined to hire married women, if they could avoid it. Some companies even had specific policies against hiring married women. The personnel director at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. was quoted as saying, “It’s always been our general policy not to hire women who are married. But if they come to us single and get married later we’ll keep them as long as they want to stay.” The general reason given for these policies was that married women tended to miss more work than others due to their need to care for their children.

By the middle of the decade, opinions had changed. Companies were short on workers, and were willing to try new tactics to attract more. In 1956, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and Aetna hired mothers for shorter shifts between 9am and 3pm so that the mothers could be home in time for their children to return from school. Prudential Insurance Company offered employees a paid day of vacation for recruiting their friends, and other insurance companies were paying bonuses for recruiting qualified candidates.

The total number of women in the workforce in the US rose to over 18 million in 1950. By 1955, estimates showed 20 million women in the workforce, and the number continued to climb throughout the decade.

In 1949, women doubled the amount of insurance they had purchased in 1940, reaching $39 billion in force, approximately 1/5 of all life insurance in the US. By 1952 it exceeded $45 billion. By 1957, the amount women held in life insurance exceeded $60 billion. Reasons given for this increase include the growing employment of women, their increasing understanding of their need to protect their families, and a desire for retirement income.

In 1954, Northeastern Life Insurance Company of New York introduced a special policy marketed as a special policy exclusively for women. Of particular interest is the statement in the press release that reads “the policy contains the same provisions and benefits as the company’s principle policy for men, a preferred life contract.” Not many companies at the time were advertising “men only” policies, so this is curious indeed.

An article from the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1955 emphasizes the need to treat women differently when selling to them. One agent “urges attempts to create appeals that acknowledge woman’s real importance and indispensability.” He states that “this would involve new advertising techniques based on a truer understanding of woman’s nature.”

A number of women were elected or appointed to important, high-level positions in the life insurance industry. Each one of the women highlighted below was a “first,” and their nominations were well publicized.

Miss Lucinda B. Mackrey served as Secretary and Director of the Provident Home Industrial Mutual Life Insurance Company, and was one of the very few African-American women to hold an officer position in a large life insurance company at this time. Mrs. Mae Street-Kidd held the position of public relations director for Mammoth Life, and Mrs. Bertha Nickerson was a member of the board of directors of Golden State Life Insurance Company.

In 1950, Mrs. Millicent Carey McIntosh was elected the first woman director of the Home Life Insurance Company of New York. The president of the company explained that this appointment was indicative of the fact that women now had an important place in American business, and that a great number of the personnel in life insurance companies are female.

In 1951, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company elected its first female officer, Sophie Nelson, assistant secretary; Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company appointed its first female officer, Mary Foster Barber as assistant vice president; Connecticut General Life Insurance Company promoted Mrs. Charlotte Cowan as the assistant comptroller and Leila Thompson as head of the legal department.

In 1953, Bernice Sanders became the Vice President and Controller of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, and also handled all company training. She held a bachelors degree from Wilberforce University and did graduate work in mathematics and physics at Radcliffe College and Ohio State University. Quoting from an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune (10 July 1955), “Today she is mainly concerned with the challenges racial integration has brought both to her company and her race. She feels a new process of education is necessary for preparation for the new era dawning.”

In 1955, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company appointed its first woman to the company’s board of trustees, Miss Catherine B. Cleary, a vice president of the First Wisconsin Trust company and former assistant treasurer of the United States. In the same announcement, the company shared that a woman, Mrs. Marie A. Stumb, placed second among 3,500 agents for sales in April.

In 1956, The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York elected its first female member of the board of trustees, Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby. She had served as the first director of the Women’s Army Corps, and the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. At the time of her appointment, she was the president and editor of The Houston Press.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS IN THE 1950s

Women were selling as much as ever. One estimate said that in 1950, there were approximately 5000 women selling life insurance. By 1954, three women (and 1237 men) had reached the life membership of the Million Dollar Round Table, selling over $1 million for three years in a row. Mrs. Grace Chow of Los Angeles was one, selling almost exclusively to the Chinese population in LA.

In 1957, the estimated number of women in the field had risen to 6,000 full time female agents with more than 275 women qualifying for the Quarter Million Dollar Round Table, and 13 women qualifying for the Million Dollar Round Table.

As with the executives in the home office, the success stories out in the field were often celebrated in the press, a testament to the singularity of the events. This decade certainly showcased more women than in decades past, but it was clear that successful woman were still a curiosity.

Miss Helen Ann Pendergast was a life member of the Women’s Quarter Million Dollar Round Table. She was quoted as saying that women did not normally enter the field before 30 because “you have to be a little bit older to tell a man how to provide for his family. But being a woman is no handicap, partly because men are accustomed to looking to women for advice all their lives about many things.”

Lesla M. Sabin, in 1951, was the only female general agent in Chicago. She had been in the business for 15 years at that time, and was the mother of nine children. She was nominated in 1951 for the Woman of Distinction by the Chicago Women Lie Underwriters in recognition of her leadership.

In 1953, Muriel Bixby Clark owned and operated her own insurance business in Los Angeles, and was the first woman named to the board of directors of the Insurance Association of Los Angeles, serving as Vice President. She said of the life insurance business:

You starve for the first two years…Really it is a wonderful profession for a girl. It requires a willingness to know your product and more than ordinary willingness to be of service…If you know more about your business and are willing to work just a little bit harder than your competitors, more power to you!

Another woman echoed these sentiments. Thelma Davenport, the national chairman of the National Committee of Women Life Underwriters, the distaff side, and life member of the Quarter Million Dollar Round Table, said in 1956:

The life insurance field is one of the real opportunities for career girls here and now…Women want to help people. They are interested in the welfare of the family, the protection of the home, the education of children – and life insurance provides for these things.

The Insurance Women of Los Angeles, one of 200 similar groups across the country in the 1950s, had the express purpose of elevating and expanding the role of women in the insurance industry. The president of the organization said, in 1954:

Women are receiving more and more recognition in the insurance field and are constantly finding new worlds to conquer…Although women do not often reach executive positions, many who start at the bottom do attain high supervisory capacities.

The 1950s were clearly a decade of significant growth for the life insurance industry and for the women in the industry, and the female customers of life insurance.

Up next, the 1960s.

Sources:

Anonymous (1955). “Insurance Notes.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jul 25, pg C7.

Anonymous (1956). “Mutual Life Chooses First Woman Trustee.” New York Times, May 24, pg 44.

Anonymous (1955). “N. Car. Mutual Passes $200 Million Insurance In Force.” Philadelphia Tribune, Mar 26, pg 16.

Anonymous (1955). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct 10, pg. E5.

Anonymous (1959). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 12, pg C4.

Anonymous (1959). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug 3, pg C6.

Anonymous (1951). “Women Buying Insurance.” New York Times, Jun 21, pg 42.

Anonymous (1951). “Women Make Good.” The Baltimore Sun, Aug 26, pg SO26.

Anonymous (1952). “Woman Rises From Clerk to Sec’y of Life Insurance Co.” Pittsburg Courier, Jan 12, pg 20.

Anthony, Julian D. (1952). “Running a Life Insurance Company is Fun.” Journal of Risk and Insurance, (19),1, 40.

Bachrach, Bradford (1950). “First Woman Director of Home Life Insurance.” New York Times, Dec 19, pg 54.

Barnes, Alerne (1954). “Insurance Group to Hold Annual Parley.” Los Angeles Times, May 23, pg D5.

B.M.W. (1953). “Insurance Woman is Philanthropist.” Los Angeles Times, May 10, pg C2.

Burns, Frances (1954). “She Works Just as Hard on Volunteer Jobs.” Daily Boston Globe, Oct 10, pg 69.

Clarke, M.C. (1950). “Insurance Executives Have Faith in Future.” Pittsburg Courier, Aug 19, pg 6.

Elston, James S. (1951). “Part II – Review of the Year: Life Insurance.” Journal of Risk and Insurance, (18), 1, 112.

Ford, Elizabeth (1956). “She Leads Women in Life Insurance.” The Washington Post and Times Herald, Sep 26, pg 28.

Galpin, Stephen (1950). “Women: They’re Grabbing Off a Greater Share of Jobs In Office and Factory.” Wall Street Journal, May 24, pg 1.

Ives, David O. (1956). “Companies Hire More Women, Part-Timers to Ease Office Pinch.” Wall Street Journal, Nov 28, pg 1.

MacKay, Ruth (1951). “Mother of Nine Trades Her Cookbook for Rate Book.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 2, pg A8.

MacKay, Ruth (1952). “Women Turning More to Work Outside Homes.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 7, pg C8.

Olsen, Lief (1953). “Americans Stock Up on Purse Protection with Record Rapidity.” Wall Street Journal, Sep 1, pg 1.

Perham, John C. (1955). “Premium on Competition.” Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly, Jan 10, pg 3.

Stein, Sonia (1950). “Insurance Gives Distaff Side a Big Welcome.” The Washington Post, Jul 7, pg C4.

Wallace, S. Rains Jr. (1954). “Research in Life Insurance.” Journal of Risk and Insurance, 21(1), 22.

Williams, Carroll E. (1957). “More Women Attracted to Insurance.” The Baltimore Sun, Apr 3, pg 25.

A note to those who manage moms (and dads)…

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My kids playing office…in my office.

I recently wrote a post about being a mom and having a career. I found that as I was writing that post, I had to resist the urge to add in comments from the point of view of a manager. The solution – write another post!

The thing about being a manager/leader is that people see you differently. When you speak, you speak on behalf of your organization. I knew a senior manager who would often tell the story of walking into work with a bad headache one day. He had his head in his hand as he walked, and likely had a sour expression on his face. Within (seemingly) moments, he was getting questions like “Did our project go off track?”, or “Did the deal fall through?”

The lesson there – people in the organization take their cues from the management. Managers have to be sure the messages they are sending are accurate reflections of the situation.

This brings me to my first thought on moms. As I have mentioned before, women, no matter how many positive experiences they have had and/or read about, are nearly always scared to tell their bosses they are pregnant. This had me wondering why that would be.

When I went back through my own experiences and the stories that have been shared with me, I saw a glimmer of what might be going on. Here are some real statements that I have collected, all from seemingly well-meaning managers:

“She’s going to be out on maternity leave in July? That’s the worst possible time for us to be short staffed.”

“You will be out the whole month of December? Again?” (I had three kids at the end of the year)

“She is pregnant again? I sure wish I could take three months off.”

I even have one for the men: “He’s taking paternity leave now? In the middle of the project?”

The thing is, as managers, we all probably think this way. Being short-staffed, especially at the busiest time of year can be an enormous burden. I can see how it might look like I wanted out of year-end craziness three different times. Three months off does seem like a vacation. And being off in the middle of a project is never convenient.

One thing I know for sure – kids are rarely convenient.

These statements, made by managers, are dangerous. They send a message that the leadership of the company is not supportive of people in this situation. And that is definitely bad for business and bad for the employees.

We need to watch what we say, and better yet, how we think.

In most instances, we managers have plenty of time to plan for these absences. Usually six months or so at least. That is an incredible amount of time! When a person quits, they give us two weeks notice. When they get sick, they give us two minutes. With six months, we can use that time to work with the employee to develop a plan. We can engage the employee in training exercises and documentation. We can turn something that might have been scary into a developmental exercise that empowers the employee rather than sidelines them.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was a front-line manager. I spent that time developing what I called the “MMP,” or “Melinda’s Maternity Plan.” I empowered myself and my employees to develop a way to cover all of my duties while I was out. My manager was incredibly supportive of this, and in the end, my associates got a chance to develop their leadership skills, and my manager had very little concern over my time out of the office.

This language problem persists after maternity leave. Here are some management quotes that illustrate what this sounds like:

“Her kids are sick again?”

“Doesn’t she have a husband? Can’t he help?”

“He is always leaving early for his kids. Why is he always leaving early for his kids?”

I am not saying we should not hold people accountable. In fact, I think we should do a much better job of holding people accountable than we do today. What I am saying is that words matter. When we say things like this, we show a strong lack of support for families and our employees. This, in turn, will lead to dissatisfied workers, and in the end, a potentially harmful corporate culture.

Here is another thing to watch for – benevolent sexism. Ever hear of this? This is when we think we are doing something nice, but really we are doing something that shows prejudice and/or bias against women. This is always done with good intent, so it can be very hard to detect. It can come from women or men, and it sounds like this:

“With her three young kids, do you think she can handle it?”

“She just got back from maternity leave. I don’t want to overwhelm her.”

“That is going to take some travel – I don’t want to take her away from her kids.”

The very, very important piece that is missing in all of these comments is any discussion with the woman herself. Start with the assumption that she can handle it, she is not overwhelmed, and if it’s going to take some travel, assume she is up to the task. Perhaps she can’t handle it – ask her first. Perhaps she is overwhelmed – check with her first. Perhaps she does not want to travel – discuss this with her to find out, if you have any concerns.

In the end, what we all want is a place to work where we feel supported and valued. As managers, we have the power to make this happen for our associates. Give some thought to how you think and speak about the parents on your team, and be sure your actions show that you support and value them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – leave a comment or send me a message!

As always, keep it positive and smile! TGIF!!

Women in Life Insurance: A History Part 5 (The Depression of the 1930s)

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The 1930s were a difficult time for Americans. After the market crash in 1929, the Great Depression set in and continued throughout the decade. Americans and others throughout the world experienced skyrocketing unemployment, drastic reduction in trade, a significant fall in prices, taxes, and profits, and a widespread failure of businesses across industries. The day-to-day lives of Americans changed dramatically.

By all accounts, the women’s movement, which had gained so much momentum in the first three decades of the century, took a rather significant step backwards during this decade. In general, women who worked outside of the home were seen as ‘stealing’ those jobs from men who needed to support their families. Norman Cousins was quoted as saying:

“Simply fire the women, who shouldn’t be working anyway, and hire the men. Presto! No unemployment. No relief rolls. No depression.”

The employment situation became so dire that nepotism legislation was passed allowing only one spouse to hold a government position. This, in effect, kept wives out of this part of the workforce. In addition, 26 states passed laws prohibiting the employment of married women. Even working women supported this way of thinking, encouraging married women to stay home. One woman who worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, while explaining that married women should not be working, stated:

“Marriage is a business which needs good hard work and much attention if it is to be a success…All girls are old fashioned even now, in their home-loving instincts, and they generally prove it after marriage.”

The first-hand accounts from this time describe a complex web of families trying desperately to make ends meet. Sometimes families could not do this on just one salary. Other accounts show men so distraught over their continued unemployment that their wives were forced to find work to feed the family. Because of the significant prejudice against women holding “men’s” jobs, these women were forced into lower-paying domestic careers such as teaching, nursing, sewing, and cleaning. The further harm done to women was in the fact that even in these “women’s” jobs, women were paid less than men for the same work. This was done to further discourage women from taking these jobs away from men.

As a result, the role of women as homemakers and mothers was emphasized in all aspects of life in the 1930s. Even so, there were prominent women in politics and society doing what they could to support women. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the most prominent, advocating for benefits for women within the New Deal. She helped to create the women’s division within the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and helped to nominate a woman to run it. She also held the White House Conference on the Emergency Needs of Women in 1933, bringing to light the needs of working women during the Depression.

Women, as in the previous decade, continued to control much of the wealth in the US. According to an article written in 1935, women were the beneficiaries of over 80% of all life insurance policies, controlled 65% of all bank accounts, and held 40% of all real estate. In addition, they paid over $5 trillion in taxes each year.

INSURANCE COMPANIES DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION

The life insurance industry weathered the Great Depression better than most other industries, largely due to the requirement of holding more conservative investments and large reserves.

Requests for surrenders and loans were certainly much greater than in decades past, and there were companies that failed. Early in the decade, newspapers were filled with stories of consolidations, failures, scandals, and most unfortunately, some suicides of insurance executives. In addition, fraternals and secret societies died out due largely to men being unable to make their dues payments. Social Security took the place of these organizations.

A report from 1933 showed life insurance in force falling from $109 trillion in force in 1931 to $103 trillion in force in 1932, and from 68,000,000 lives insured in 1931 to 65,000,000 lives insured in 1932. In 1931 one US life insurance company paid over a million dollars more in suicide benefits than in 1926.

The second half of the decade saw the life insurance market begin to improve. The headline in the New York Times in January of 1936 stated “$2,500,000,000 GAIN IN LIFE INSURANCE, Rise, Largest Since 1930, Makes Total in Force $101,000,000,000, Says Ecker. SALES VOLUME UP 1.5%.” The headline in January of 1937 reads, “RECORD YEAR SEEN FOR LIFE INSURANCE, Lincoln says Public’s Faith in Stability of Institution Is Basis of Prediction.” And finally, the headline from January, 1939, “NEW RECORD SET BY LIFE INSURANCE, High Marks in the Average Amount Carried and in Total Coverage Attained in Year.”

Things were looking so good for the industry, William Frederick Biegelow, the Editor of Good Housekeeping, penned a letter in a 1939 edition in high praise of life insurance. He titled his letter “Looking Forward to Tomorrow,” and in it he gives lengthy descriptions of the current statistics around life insurance and then states:

“In other words, the people of this country believe in life insurance. They believe in it because, except in isolated instances, it has not failed them. It is the greatest cooperative enterprise the world has ever known….What is our interest in life insurance? Just the belief that it is one of the things that no man should overlook when he is planning his future…Just the hope that this form of protection, of peace of mind, will soon be the possession of every family in America.”

WOMEN IN INSURANCE IN THE 1930s

Given the economic environment and the societal shift toward women working in the home, it is not unexpected that we find little information on women working in the insurance business during this decade. Where we do read about them, the emphasis is very clearly on clerical work.

Despite the lack of information on women in insurance during this decade, there are references to Women’s Departments buried in the literature. In an article from 1932 on advertising, there is reference to a set of conferences sponsored by the women’s department of the Wisconsin National Bank of Milwaukee. Another article from 1937 announced a radio broadcast “sponsored by a group of insurance women,” that discussed “insurance security for women.” The host of the broadcast was quoted as saying:

“There is no need for any woman to face insecure old age or sickness which she cannot afford. I am profoundly impressed by the stability of insurance companies during the depression, when most other large business institutions were rocked to their very foundations and all too many crumpled and crashed.”

An insurance ad from 1932 reflects the perception of the lack of sophistication of women and finances. The Guardian Trust Company Ad reads:

“It hasn’t been easy for you to build your insurance estate…You’ve shouldered the burden gladly to assure your loved ones peace and comfort if anything should happen to you. Someone must take up the burden when you are gone. Will it be carried by the inexperienced, grief-bowed shoulders of your wife or by the broad, sturdy, experienced shoulders of this great bank?”

Another Trust Company issued a booklet in 1932 entitled “Can Women Learn to Manage Money?” The purpose of the brochure was to educate women on how to best manage their households and avoid the financial mistakes of their parents and overcome their own previous mistakes.

An article on positions in life insurance from 1931 seem to offer hope to women seeking employment:

“The college graduates of 1931 are going to find that the business depression, which we all hope is passing, has seriously interfered with the usual demand for those who are willing to start on a modest salary. Many, therefore, will be glad to learn about openings in the business for which the chief requirements are a good character and the willingness to work. The life insurance companies of America offer college graduates an opportunity to win their way to the front solely on their own ability.”

Unfortunately, later in the article the author refers to “college men” only, and discusses life insurance as necessary “in the greatest emergencies of life – in old age, or when a family has lost its husband and father…” thereby negating any importance women would have in the industry.

If it seems as though I have pieced this all together, I have. As I mentioned above, it was extremely difficult to find any primary sources that spoke of women in the insurance industry during this decade. It seems that the golden era of women’s suffrage in the 1920s was completely snuffed out by the Great Depression. By the end of the decade, the country was emerging from the Depression, but unfortunately, it seems the women’s movement took an enormous step backwards.

Next, we will look at the 1940s and insurance during World War II.

Sources:
Anonymous (1932). “How Banks are Advertising.” Bankers’ Magazine, 124(3), 361.

Anonymous (1937). “Hails Insurance Security for Women Late in Life.” New York Times, May 18, 39.

Anonymous (1931). “‘Mother’ to 13,000 Will retire Jan 1.” New York Times, Dec. 17th, 14.

Bigelow, William Frederick (1939). “Looking Toward Tomorrow,” Good Housekeeping, 8 (5), 4.

Dublin, Louis I., Bunzel, Bessie (1933). “To Be or Not to Be, A Study of Suicide.” The Living Age, 345(4406), 276.

Hirschfeld, Gerhard (1935). “The Facts behind Economics.” America Magazine, June 8, 206.

Lindsay, L. Seton (1931). “Life Insurance.” The North American Review, 231(6), 562.

Moran, Mickey (1988). “1930s America – Feminist Void?” Loyola University of New Orleans Department of History Outstanding Paper for the 1988-1989 academic year.

Patch, B.W. (1933). “Life Insurance in the Depression.” Editorial Research Reports, Vol. 1.

Woolner, David B. (2009). “Feminomics: Breaking New Ground – Women and the New Deal.” Roosevelt Institute, 12/15, http://rooseveltinstitute.org/feminomics-breaking-new-ground-women-and-the-new-deal/. Accessed 6/24/2018.

Women in Insurance, a History, Part 4 The 1920s

votes for women

One of the most significant steps forward in the battle for women’s equality took place on August 20th, 1920, when the 19th amendment to the US Constitution allowing women the right to vote was certified into law by the US Secretary of State. This had been a long time in coming. Women had been fighting for this right for nearly one hundred years through marches, protests, campaigns, and political maneuvering.

Women were making progress in other areas as well. In 1929, women controlled approximately 41% of the individual wealth in the United States. The report by Lawrence Stern and Company included impressive statistics:

  • Women [were] the beneficiaries of 80% of the $95,000,000,000 of life insurance in force in the US
  • Women [paid] taxes on more than $3.25 billion of individual income annually
  • Women millionaires, as indicated by individual income tax returns, [were] as plentiful as men
  • Women to the number of more than 8,500,000 [were] gainfully employed

Women were entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before. That said, women were not generally accepted as equals in the workplace. Blatant sexism was common. In a Forum article from April/May 1920, an argument was put forth that women were, as a rule, incapable of success in business. The author stated “There are more reasons than would fill these pages why women fail in business.” He claimed that women who achieved any level of success did so through pure luck.

One particular statement gave me pause because it may, in fact, be true. Regarding successful women, the author stated:

“And we read about these women over and over again, simply because they are the rare exceptions which prove the rule that women, as a whole, are notoriously unsuccessful in business.”

While I disagree wholeheartedly with the premise of the statement, I worry at the idea that we still read of these singular women today. This, though, is a thought for another post.

In some places knowledge of the nature of the inequality of women was emerging. An interesting 1919 article from the Lancet reads:

“No one has ever denied that a woman is handicapped on account of her potential motherhood, but this handicap is, as a rule, far greater than is necessary… Only in very rare and exceptional cases is it possible to compare with any degree of fairness the ability, both physical and mental, of men and women. Their upbringing has been different and their training and development have been forced along different lines.”

The essay explains that the difference in the responsibilities placed on a young woman at home necessarily puts her behind her male counterparts in terms of education and thereby impedes her abilities to achieve high levels of success throughout life.

WOMEN IN INSURANCE

Women were entering the insurance industry home offices in ever increasing numbers. The vast majority of these women were employed to handle stenography, bookkeeping, and other routine, clerical jobs. Very few women advanced beyond this level. An article from 1924 stated “Men, as a rule, fill the posts requiring extended training, because the majority of women employees take positions only for a limited period between school days and marriage.” According to one report, only 25 officers in the insurance industry were women in 1927.

Although women were insuring their lives at a greater rate than ever before there were still objections to the purchase of life insurance. One woman, describing her own situation, stated that when her husband proposed to buy insurance on his life, her reaction was similar to that of her friends:

“I don’t want my husband to spend money on insurance for me; I think it would be wrong to insure his life; besides, he is in perfect health.”

Not all companies were willing to write business on female lives. Those who did most often included some sort of physical hazard waiver against pregnancy, protecting the companies from a death directly or indirectly related to pregnancy. Some companies included this as a clause covering the first policy year or years. Others outright excluded any deaths related to pregnancy.

One important advancement however, established by the Supreme Court, determined that pregnancy, in and of itself, was not a violation of a warranty of good health. In other words, a woman who is not asked about pregnancy during an application for life insurance, and signs a statement of good health, but then dies shortly thereafter due to complications related to pregnancy cannot be denied benefits.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS

A report from the National Association of Life Underwriters estimated that in 1927 there were approximately 202,000 men and women licensed to sell life insurance in the US, and that 85% of the business was written by 15,000 men. The life insurance business was clearly a man’s business, as exemplified in this quote from a female agent:

“There is a great dovetailing of business. Men give concessions to other men.”

Another woman is quoted as saying:

“Undoubtedly this correlation of business and exchange of patronage does exist. Then, too, men prefer to deal with men when they buy insurance.”

There were certain groups of women who found success in this industry during this decade when they might not have found it elsewhere. Those were women who wished or needed to work part-time, women who were older, and women who were not college educated. Most insurance companies at this time would not employ women under 30, and while college education was desired, it certainly was not required.

Retention of women agents was a concern. Many of the older women recruited into the industry were not able to handle the early lean years almost universal in the industry. Most of the time these women were entering the workforce because of an immediate and acute need for funds that could not be provided in the first few years of an insurance sales career.

Some women were successful. An article from 1927 highlighted several successful women in the life insurance industry. Mrs. Florence Shaal and E. Marie Little are profiled as the only women to head all-female agencies (The Equitable). Mrs. Shaal is credited as the first woman to be elected to office in the National Association of Life Underwriters, and was named the manager of the first ever women’s department in the country.

Emma Ditzler (Connecticut Mutual Life), who wrote policies almost exclusively on women, was “believed to have established a world’s record for her sex in insurance by writing at least one application a week for life insurance for 150 successive weeks.” Sarah Crannell Wells (New York Life) wrote enough insurance to qualify for the Two Hundred Thousand Club, and is credited as one of the most successful insurance women in New York. She is quoted as saying, “I believe women have a special field in family work in insurance…It’s hard work. It means new shoes, or at least new soles every month.”

Another female agent warranted a full page story in a 1924 edition of National Business Woman. Elizabeth Kenney, widowed at a young age, entered the work force as a school teacher in Iowa. She joined the local Business and Professional Women’s Club and became one of the most active members. After attending a national convention of this organization one summer, she was inspired to become an insurance salesperson, working for the Mutual Life Insurance Company in New York. She experienced immediate success, doubling her annual salary in her first six months on the job. Her manager is quoted as saying:

“With practically no experience, she wrote more applications during the third quarter than any other representative in this Agency, comprised of 45 counties, besides having many other duties to engage her attention.”

She was quickly thereafter promoted to district manager over four counties. Her friends said of her:

“Much of her success as a businesswoman rests on the fact that she is so human herself and has such a deep understanding of human nature….[she] gives of herself freely and impartially whenever needed, and brings inspiration to all with whom she comes in contact.”

As in decades past, the life insurance industry has recognized the desire for attracting women both as insurance agents and as policy holders. The industry has not, though, figured out the best way to do this.

Next up, the 1930s. As always, keep it positive and smile!
Sources:
Anonymous (1928). “Insuring the Future.” National business woman, 8(7), 340-341, 380-381.
Anonymous (1929). “Women Control 41 Per Cent of Nation’s Wealth.” Bankers’ Magazine, 118, 5.
Anonymous (1919). “Women in Industry.” The Lancet, July 26, 167-169.
Anonymous (1927). “Women in Insurance.” National business woman, 12(6), 17, 45.
Bruere, Henry (1924). “Number One Madison Avenue.” The Independent, Dec. 27, 113, 3891.
“Excepted Risks in the Law of Life Insurance: Part II.” (1925). The Central Law Journal, 98(20), 350.
Norman, Henry (1920). “The Feminine Failure in Business.” Forum, April/May, 455.
Ravlin, Bernice (1924). “Elizabeth Kenney Insurance Underwriter.” National business woman, 2(8), 11.
Wallace, Eugenia (1927). “Business, Altruism and Insurance.” National business woman, 12(6), 14-16.

Women in Life Insurance, A History (A difficult chapter)

juneteenthIn my series of posts on the history of women in life insurance, I have worked our way up to the1920s. I realize now, however, I have skipped over an important topic that deserves its own space. It is a topic that is extremely uncomfortable and downright despicable for the industry and for me. I share this information purely as education into some of the dark early days of this industry. The subject matter does not pertain solely to women in the industry and yet I feel compelled to include it. The topic at hand: slave insurance.

I came across two excellent papers written on this subject. The first is entitled “Securing Human Property; Slavery, Life Insurance, and Industrialization in the Upper South,” written by Sharon Ann Murphy, a professor at Providence College. The paper was published in 2005 in the Journal of the Early Republic. The second paper is titled “Actuarial Issues in Insurance on Slaves in the United States South,” written by Cheryl Rhan-Hsin Chen and Gary Simon, and published in the Journal of African American History in 2004. Much of the information I will share can be found in those two papers.


In the 1830s, the Baltimore Life Insurance Company was one of the most successful life insurance companies operating in the United States South. The company’s intent was to write “white lives,” exactly as their competitor companies were doing in the North. The demand in the South, however, was not the same, and in looking for ways to diversify earning, they landed on the insurance of “negro lives.” This insurance, however, only partially mirrored the life insurance offered on “white lives.”

Slave insurance might actually be better described as “property insurance”. Chen and Simon make these distinctions: “(1) the beneficiary upon the death of the slave was never the slave’s family; (2) the face amount of the policy was directly linked to the market value of the slave; (3) the term of the policy was short,” with most policies on record for a year or less, with the maximum being seven years.

Many times, slave owners would purchase insurance on slaves they rented out for dangerous work, such as railroad building or working on the steamboats. Or else they purchased insurance on skilled artisans and house workers. Still other times they purchased the insurance as a means to fund the manumission, or freeing, of the slave. Records indicate this was often done as a means to keep families together when a slave was otherwise to be sold away to the Lower South.

There were difficulties with slave insurance. First, there was the concern that an owner might find more value in the insurance than in the life of the slave. For this reason, companies would limit the amount of insurance to 2/3 of the market value of the slave, and would write policies for short periods of time, allowing them to examine the slave more often should there be a request for a renewal. Records show that in the early days, policies were never written above $800 for males, $500 for females, and the amounts did not go up until the 1850’s when competition was stronger for these policies and the value of slaves had grown.

Closely related to this was the concern that a slave’s owner or overseer would mistreat a slave, thereby diminishing the market value of the slave. This, as above, could result in a situation where once again the slave is worth more dead than alive. In many instances, the insurance company would be underwriting the slave owner as much as the slave him/herself in order to ensure the slave would be treated well.

The third difficulty was in the pricing of the insurance. There were virtually no records on the mortality rates of slaves, so the insurance companies had to simply guess when developing their premium tables. In most instances, they simply doubled the rates charged for white lives of the same age. They would also include risk charges for slaves who were engaged in dangerous employment, and a ‘climate premium’ for slaves traveling south of the border of Virginia or Kentucky.

While the Baltimore Life Insurance Company was the first on the scene selling this type of insurance, many competitors joined the space in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Reflecting the ‘property insurance’ nature of slave insurance, many Fire Insurance companies began to sell these policies. Also, life insurance companies from the North thought they saw an opportunity here as well. According to Murphy, among the companies selling this insurance were New York Life, North Carolina Mutual Life, Aetna Life of Hartford, Hartford Life, Richmond Fire Associate of Virginia, Asheville Mutual Insurance Company of North Carolina, and Georgia Insurance and Trust Company of Baltimore, among others.

We do not have full statistics on how many policies were written, nor how many claims were paid. Murphy reports that the Richmond Fire Association wrote over 1,700 slave policies in Virginia, and that by the late 1850s over 3/4 of the business written by North Carolina Mutual was written on slaves. In addition, of the first 1,000 policies written by New York Life (then known as Nautilus Insurance Company), 339 of them were written on slaves.

Emancipation, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on this date in 1862 rendered all of these policies void, and many of the southern insurance companies that relied on these sales were forced out of business.

In 2002, the state of California passed a law that required companies to disclose any profits they made through participation in the slave trade. Only three companies in existence today came forward, all of them expressing deep regret for their participation in this market. New York Life was able to produce evidence of 610 policies, Aetna of Hartford produced 19 policies, and AIG produced 173 policies. The analysis Chen and Simon did on these three sets of policies, given the extremely limited information they had, seemed to indicate that these companies did not profit from this business, but in fact likely lost money on these policies.

This was indeed a horrible chapter in the history of life insurance. I felt the need to include it in my history of women in life insurance because of the obvious fact that some of the slaves were women. But also because I feel it is important to recognize all of our history as an industry and as a nation. It helps us understand more about where we are today, and if we use the information right, it will  help us to avoid ever making the same mistakes again.

Thanks for reading, happy Juneteenth, keep it positive, and smile!

 

 

 

 

Women in Life Insurance, a History: Part 3 (1890-1913)

1910-Fashion

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!

Sources:

“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.

 

 

 

 

Women from the history of Life Insurance, Part 1

 

I have been doing quite a bit of reading on the history of the life insurance industry in the US. This is due in large part to the fact that I work in this industry, but also because I find that it is fascinating story filled with countless inspiring individuals. I think we can find heroes anywhere if we just simply look, and the life insurance industry is no exception.

A few quick points on the early history of the industry to help orient you:

  • The concept of life insurance can be traced back to ancient Babylon where it is found in the Code of Hammurabi – the family of merchants killed by brigands were awarded silver1
  • 1583 – The first recoded life insurance policy, a 1-year term policy that paid out a 400 pound sterling benefit2
  • 1759 – The first life insurance company in the US is established in Philadelphia: The Corporation for Relief of the Poor and Distressed Presbyterian Ministers and the Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers
  • 1839-1840 – States pass the Married Women’s Property Act which allows, among other things, life insurance proceeds to be passed to a widow without being subject to the demands of the husband’s debtors3

Women have played an important role in this industry from nearly the start. In this post, I’d like to share two important women from the early years of life insurance in the US.

The first is Bina West Miller.

Bina West Miller (1867-1954) was an incredible pioneer and entrepreneur. She saw a problem, understood how to fix it, and put her plan into action. She did this so well that the company she founded is still here today.

Bina began her career as a young school teacher in Michigan. Through her work, she witnessed first hand the struggles a family went through when the mother of two children passed away while the children were still young. The father carried life insurance on himself, but at that time, no company would cover women – in large part due to maternal fatality rates during childbirth. The father, left with no means to care for his children was forced to send his children to foster homes where they were sent out to work.

Bina saw the injustice in this situation and took bold steps to address it. In 1892, Bina founded the Women’s Benefit Society in 1892. Her objective was to be “The Largest, Strongest, and Most Progressive Fraternal Benefit Society for Women in the World. Offers more opportunities to women than any other fraternal insurance society.”5 Her organization offered women more than life insurance; it offered women a support network and a way to connect to their communities.

Bina successfully served as the CEO of her company for over 56 years. In 1996 the organization was renamed Woman’s Life Insurance Society, (I have linked to the company page on their history) and remains in business today. There is quite a bit of research out there on Bina West – I will list a few sources at the end of the article and I highly recommend you take a look.

The second woman I would like to introduce to you is Minnie Geddings Cox. Minnie’s story is rather different than Bina’s, but like Bina, she was a pioneer, an entrepreneur, and an important leader in the history of the life insurance industry. Much of what Minnie is known for revolves around what is known as the Indianola Affair. Minnie, serving as the first African-American postmistress in Mississippi (serving in Indianola), was forced to flee her city due to racial tensions and personal threats. When she attempted to resign from her post, President Roosevelt refused to accept it, and instead closed the post office for more than a year. Eventually, Minnie did return to Indianola.

Minnie was born in Mississippi in 1869 to former slaves. She attended Fisk University, and initially set out to be a school teacher. After her return to Indianola in 1904, she and her husband opened a bank, the Delta Penny Savings Bank, only the second African-American owned bank in Mississippi.

Shortly thereafter (1908), Minnie and her husband started the Mississippi Beneficial Life Insurance Company, the first African-American owned life insurance company in Mississippi. This life insurance company and the bank were described by Minnie’s husband as “monuments of protest to the injustices inflicted upon him and his wife.”6

When Minnie’s husband passed away in 1916, Minnie immediately stepped into the leadership role of the bank and the insurance company, and began improving the company. She expanded the company to nearby states, added training programs, and organized and held district meetings for her agents. Despite significant hurdles, Minnie was a rousing success. She passed away in 1933. The company no longer exists today, but was swept away in a variety of acquisitions by larger insurance companies.

There is an excellent paper written by Shennette Garrett-Scott on the story of Minnie Geddings Cox and her life insurance company, and I am linking it here. I encourage everyone to give this a read – you will not be disappointed.

To know that in 1892, a woman started her own life insurance company, and in 1916, an African-American woman was running her own life insurance company, should give us considerable hope for the future. We need to talk about these women, celebrate these women and recognize all of the female role models we have in this industry.

As always, keep it positive and smile!

1: Anonymous. “Life Insurance – It Goes Back a Long Way.” Nation’s Business, Jan 1975, p. 24

2: Walford, Cornelius FIA (1885). History of Life Assurance in the United Kingdom. History of Life Assurance, Jan, 114-133

3: Jones, Bernie D. (2013). Revisiting the Married Women’s Property Acts. Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 22(1), 1-57

4: Anonymous. “Bina West: Founder of the Woman’s Life Insurance Society.” http://www.historyswomen.com/socialreformer/binawest.html Accessed 3 May 2018.

5: https://fee.org/articles/bina-west-miller-pioneer/

6: From the Mississippi Historical Society: http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/421/minnie-geddings-cox-and-the-indianola-affair

Additional source on Bina West Miller:

From the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org/Images/Miller,%20Bina%20West.pdf

Additional source on Minnie Geddings Cox:

From blackpast.org: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/cox-minnie-m-1869-1933