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Women and life insurance

Do you know that at one time it was illegal in the United States for a woman to purchase an insurance policy? Let’s look at how life used to be for women and how things have changed for the better.
March 2, 2022
3 min read
A brief history of women and life insurance

When husbands owned everything

Years ago, a husband was the only one in the marriage who could buy a policy. Wives couldn’t take out policies on their husbands because it was illegal for a woman to sign a legal contract. They couldn’t even purchase a plan to insure themselves.

Until the middle of the 1800s, when a woman married, everything that she owned became the property of her husband. So, if a husband died owing money, the court could order that the money from his life insurance policy be used to pay the people he owed. After everyone else received their money, there might not be any left for the widow.


Women gain the right to own property and life insurance

From 1839 to 1895, states began passing laws that said that married women shared ownership of property. Other laws gave women the right for the first time to buy insurance policies. The new rules also prevented courts from using all of a deceased husband’s insurance policy to pay his remaining bills.

Insurance companies figured that getting rid of the old laws would be good for their business. After all, if women could now buy life insurance policies, insurance companies would have more customers.

They were right. Once states began passing laws that allowed women more freedom, the number of life insurance policies multiplied. For example, in 1839, Americans had only about $4 million of life insurance, but by 1865 that figure was close to $600 million1

Soon, women not only purchased life insurance policies but got jobs as insurance agents. And some even built their own insurance companies.


Trailblazing women in the life insurance industry

Bina West Miller was a 25-year-old Michigan schoolteacher. In her day, teaching school was one of the few career options that intelligent and talented women had available to them. But Bina wanted more. In 1892, she started an insurance company for women called the Women’s Benefit Association.

Her organization not only sold life insurance, but it also worked as a support network for women struggling to make ends meet. By 1906, the association had over 150,000 members. Miller served as the head of the organization for an incredible 56 years.

Meanwhile, another teacher, Minnie Geddings Cox, and her husband launched the Mississippi Beneficial Life Insurance Company in 1908, which was Mississippi’s first life insurance company owned by African Americans. Mr. and Mrs. Cox were no ordinary couple. They had already founded a bank, the second African-American-owned bank in the state. 

Eight years later, when her husband passed away, Minnie assumed full control of both businesses. By 1923, she had grown her insurance company into the third-largest life insurance company with African-American ownership in the entire U.S.


Women are still in need of life insurance

Today, although women have earned the legal right to purchase life insurance policies, many women have either no life insurance at all or too little insurance.

Only 47% of women have a life insurance policy, but 58% of men have life insurance2. And according to the same survey, when women buy policies, they purchase smaller policies than men. They choose to insure their lives for only about half the amount that men insure their lives.

TruStage® Insurance knows the benefits of a life insurance policy can help ease the burden of loved ones equally for men and women.

Contact us today to learn how to get the life insurance you need to provide for your family’s future.

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