Women Making History at National Life

What comes to mind when you think of traditional male-dominated professions? Firefighters? Software developers? Financial analysts?

If you considered these jobs, you’re right. According to insider.com, these are three of the ten occupations that are still dominated by men. But this doesn’t mean women aren’t making gains in these fields. As a matter of fact, at National Life, an organization that runs on actuarial tables, spreadsheets, and technology, women have historically led the charge.

Back in 1877, Emma Dimick was the first woman employed by National Life in Montpelier, Vermont. She was hired due to a surge in applications and was paid $1.50 a day. Roughly 15 percent of all women worked outside the home during this time, many of whom worked in factories.1   Compare this to 2019, when almost 60 percent of women were in the labor force.2 

In 1919, Ellen Putnam was contracted as a National Life agent with the Rochester Agency and was one of the first women to take a leadership role in national industry associations. She famously said of her role, “It’s not work. I’m just having fun helping people and taking care of families.”

In 1985, Dr. Pat Woolf of Princeton University, pictured above, became the first woman on the National Life Board of Directors. Dr. Woolf’s research focused on scientific communication and the responsible conduct of research, especially in biological and medical sciences. 

Since Dr. Woolf joined the board in the ‘80s, we’ve had a number of women support the company on our board including Louise McCarren, Kim Goodman and today, Carol Carlson and Yvette Bright.  

In 1993, Eileen von Gal broke the glass ceiling and was appointed as Treasurer at National Life, the first time a female held that position.

In 2019, Sarah VanBeck continued the climb when she was appointed the first female Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer at National Life. When profiled last year and asked how things have changed during her career, Sarah said, “Family leave policies and the opportunity for flexible work schedules have been a big improvement. Where I worked, we weren’t really allowed to wear pants until 1998. We even had a written dress code that said women shouldn’t wear bright colors (when I read that, I wore a red suit the next day).” 

Since Emma Dimick worked for the company, National Life has employed thousands of women, many of whom ran illustrations, worked in the finance and actuarial departments, in sales and marketing and as agents. And the company still relies on the expertise of women in these departments and more today.

For example, Wanda Catoe oversees applications in our IT department. Becky Palmer is the company’s Chief Information Security Officer. Elizabeth MacGowan is the vice president of Strategy and Business Development while her colleague Stephanie Burmester runs the company’s actuarial department.

Darlene Flagg sits on the board of Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS) and in 2019, WIFS named Jen Warfield Woman of the Year. Pam Blalock leads our Affiliated distribution channel and Brittany Russo is the current field lead for the National Life Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN). These are just some of the amazing distribution leaders we currently have. Ellen Putnam would be proud! During Women’s History Month and all year long, we know we sure are.

1 “Women and Work in Early America,” ThoughtCo.; Jone Johnson Lewis, September 11, 2019

2 “Covid-19 is disrupting women’s labor force participation,” Catalyst