I.I.I. chief actuary James Lynch brings us a timely post on one of the most important female contributors to the history of property/casualty insurance:

Constituting nearly 60 percent of the insurance work force in the United States, women are clearly important to the insurance industry.

March is Women’s History Month and this is the perfect time to honor the importance of women in the industry. Our earlier post on this topic can be read here.

The Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) plays its part, in an indirect way. This month’s Actuarial Review, as part of the organization’s centennial, touches on one of the most important female contributors to the history of property/casualty insurance.

The woman is Crystal Eastman (pictured).

Eastman wasn’t an actuary, and to my knowledge she never worked in insurance. She was a lawyer, a radical in her day, and one of her causes was workers’ rights. Her 1910 publication, Work-accidents and the law, detailed worker injuries in 1907 and 1908 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and the economic toll those injuries took.

In those 12 months, 529 workers died from job-related maladies (see table). Eastman led a team that investigated every death, plus another 509 workers hospitalized between April and June 1908.

About one third of the accidents were unavoidable, the study found, while one third were the fault of the workers themselves and another third resulted from employers failing to provide a safe workplace. The financial burden of the accidents, though, fell overwhelmingly on the victims and their families. They lacked the resources to sue, and common law at the time was stacked against them anyhow.

The solution: workers compensation – insurance covering worker injuries without regard to fault. But early workers comp laws were ruled unconstitutional, typically because they took from employers their right to due process – their day in court. New York’s law, for example, was found unconstitutional on March 24, 1911.

The next day, 146 workers – 123 of them women – died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. The tragedy led to a state commission, headed by Frances Perkins – later the first female Cabinet member – that documented dismal and dangerous working conditions across the state. The result: a workers comp law that passed constitutional muster.

The law addressed the workers problems – now they could be compensated for their injuries. It created an insurance problem: without a court to adjudicate, how does one set a fair compensation for an injury?

It was for this task that, in 1914, the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) was created. So it is not much of a stretch to say that women, both famous and not so famous, are at the fountainhead of the organization.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on workers compensation here and on careers and employment here.