Ever since New York Life was founded in 1845, we've strived to do what’s right. For 175 years we’ve taken action to build better futures - for our employees, our customers, and the thousands of communities where we work and live. Women have played a tremendous part in this work and in shaping the Company as it is today. Here we find out about some of the wonder women of New York Life from our history.
Today, there are around 1.7 million women employed in the insurance sector1, but back in the late 19th century, there were hardly any. Yet, New York Life was an industry pioneer in recruiting women. In 1885, we hired our first female employee, Winifred Supple. Then, in 1889, two years before Marie Owens joined the Chicago Police department to become the country's first policewoman, we hired our first female agent.
Mary “Minnie” Tumbleson was born in Indiana in 1868. Her father died when Minnie was just four years-old, leaving her mother to raise five children on her own. Minnie got a job as a sales representative for the Union Central Insurance Company in Fairmount, Indiana, and in 1889 she joined New York Life’s new branch office in Indianapolis. Soon she was a leading agent, becoming the first woman to appear on the Company’s “Roll of Honor” just two years' later.
Considering this was at a time when even the presence of a woman in a business office was frowned upon, to hire a female agent in the 1890s was breaking the mold. To be a female agent took real bravery.
A policy to make history
We broke the mold for our female customers too. We recognized women as equals even before they were recognized by the US government. In 1894, the women's suffrage movement tried and failed to bring a vote on amending the Constitution despite a 600,000-strong petition. But that year, New York Life became the first US insurance provider to offer life insurance to women at the same cost as men. This was when married women still did not have the right to keep their own wages, or own property in their name.
One of the first women to own an insurance policy was social reformer and avid women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony, who founded the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1869. Several of Susan's family worked as New York Life agents so naturally her policy was with the Company. That policy would one day make history.
Founded in 1850, The University of Rochester was an all-male institution. In the 1880s, women began to petition the university to open its doors to both sexes, a movement that reached its climax in 1900 when the university's board of trustees voted to accept women if they raised $110,000.
It was the day before the deadline. The funding fell short. Susan B. Anthony pledged the cash value of her New York Life policy to secure the final amount. The first female students attended Rochester that fall.
New York Life continues to comemmorate Susan’s work today and honor the Company’s proud historic ties with the Anthony family. For example, New York Life gave a $500,000 challenge grant to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund.
Leaving a legacy
Female trailblazers like Minnie and Susan paved the way for so many women to lead at New York Life. Women like Anna Rusche, who became our first female general manager in 1923, and like Mildred McAfee Horton, appointed our first female director in 1947.
The legacies of our wonder women – women like Minnie, Susan, Anna and Mildred, live on. Their stories have served as inspiration for so many: for the countless women who we have hired, trained and developed as successful agents and managers; for the women who make up 20% of our managing partners; for the four women on our Board of Directors.
Today, the wonder women of New York Life— like those who have played such an important part in our rich heritage— are united by a commitment and desire to succeed, to help other people, and to build a better future. To do right. To do good.
Interested in reading more about this story? Find out about New York Life's first female agents.
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