Painters and insurance clerks

The insurance business in the 19th century was a male domain. It didn't matter whether they were bookkeepers, civil servants, farmers, pensioners, soap manufacturers or goldsmiths. Painters, mayors, private secretaries and road construction supervisors were also welcome. All of the above, as well as almost 5,000 other men, were employed as agents at Magdeburger Feuerversicherungs-Gesellschaft in 1892. And then there were the widows of five businessmen who had taken over the running of the agencies from their late husbands. These women were the absolute exception, although the value of women from an acquisition perspective had been identified early on.


Around 1900, insurance offices were a male domain and places where everything was done by hand.

The newspaper "Sonntags-Zeitung für Deutschlands Frauen" (Sunday newspaper for German women), for example, featured an article entitled "A mission for women, too" in 1905: "If a woman has sufficient skill, discretion, drive and sense of caution, she can work as a life insurance policy broker to earn a nice little bit of extra income in addition to her housekeeping allowance. But the idea of women running agencies themselves, this is something that we would advise against in general, as it requires considerable specialist knowledge that cannot be obtained at the drop of a hat and also consumes a great deal of time." So the article painted a clear picture of the opportunities open to women and the limits on what they could actually do.

Meanwhile, in the non-sales offices of insurance companies, insurance clerks were managing handwritten policies and corresponding with business partners. In addition to underwriting expertise, calligraphy skills were also part of day-to-day working life for the employees. At the end of the 19th century, the first wave of modernization washed across the offices and bureaus of the "Belle Époque". Typewriters, calculating machines and, only a little later, accounting machines made employees' work easier, but also changed the nature of the work performed. It was no longer all about nice handwriting and proofreading documents, but about an employee's speed in typing up standard documents, work that carried far less prestige than in the past.

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