Voluntary Organizations Pioneer Life Insurance

  • Prosperity
  • 1868

Along with medical benefits and aid for orphaned children (see 1842 entry), another important socioeconomic protection provided to American workers by voluntary organizations was life insurance. For instance, the fraternal group known as the Ancient Order of United Workmen was founded in 1868 and offered life insurance to help attract members. It guaranteed a death benefit of $1,000, later increased to $2,000, which was funded by a $1 assessment on every member of the group. Membership expanded rapidly and by early in the twentieth century nearly half a million brothers were protecting each others’ families with life-insurance coverage. Hundreds of other fraternal organizations followed suit, and by 1908 the top 200 lodges had paid out more than $1 billion in death benefits. At that point, voluntary fraternal life-insurance societies had 8.5 million members, and they provided more protection than all commercial policies put together.

  • David Beito, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State (University of North Carolina, 2000) pp. 12-16.