Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:797 1844-1999 N532

New England Mutual Life Insurance Company records


Policy application records, financial papers and documents of Boston, Massachusetts based New England Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1844-1999.


  • 1844-1999

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Some materials may be stored offsite; access requires advance notice. Contact for more information.


400 linear feet (523 volumes, 39 boxes)

The records of the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company consist of life insurance policy applications, policy records, financial records, company communications and administrative material relating to the 19th and 20th century Boston based insurance firm. The collection is broken into five series, policy and agent records; financial records; administrative records; Walter C. Wright papers; and communications. The bulk of the material in the collection consists of insurance policy applications and policy records dating from 1844 to the early 1900s. The applications and records are contained in large bound volumes and organized by policy number and date of entry. The financial records contain ledgers, cash books, real estate records, and valuations on insurance policies and include material dating from 1844 to 1943. The bulk of the administrative records consists of annual statements to the insurance commissioner of the state of Massachusetts. There are also agency data books and personnel books located in this series. Also included are volumes of company communication materials and newsletters published by the firm for employees during the 20th century. The material consists of multiple runs of company publications that were eventually merged together. This material is arranged chronologically. Walter C. Wright's papers consist of scrapbooks compiled by Wright about the insurance business and New England Mutual Life Insurance company.

Historical Note:

The New England Mutual Life Insurance Company was founded in Boston, Massachusetts by lawyer Willard Phillips. The New England Mutual Life Insurance Company was granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on April 1, 1835. The charter required the new company to raise $100,000 in capital, half of which was to be paid in cash, before it could operate. The ninety-eight subscribers who the raised capital elected a Board of Directors in 1843. The Board appointed Boston, Massachusetts judge, former lawyer and founder Willard Phillips as the president of the firm and Jonathan Amory, the first secretary. On February 1, 1844, the new company issued thirteen life insurance policies. The mutual life insurance concept was new to the United States, and New England Life became very popular. The first annual report of the firm stated that the company's "object is equality among the members, and a participation of the advantages of the Company." Judge Phillips believed in principle over profit and established policies including the right to waive forfeiture of a policy which had lapsed through nonpayment of a premium and the right of a policyholder to surrender his policy and receive an equitable cash settlement. The basic concepts of mutuality and equity among members was a different approach. By 1858 the total insured policies passed $10 million dollars.

New England Mutual Life's individual life insurance premiums were first calculated by Harvard College mathematics professors Benjamin Pierce and James Hayward. Judge Phillips sought a more concrete system for defining the value of individual premiums and sent young mathematician Elizur Wright to London, England in 1844 to learn more about the English practices. Wright had served in a consultant role to New England Mutual for some years prior to his journey to London. After witnessing insurance policy auctions, Elizur Wright returned to the United States with a desire to establish fair and equitable practices in the insurance business. In 1853, Wright created his first actuary tables establishing a scientific basis of the cash value of an individual insurance policy. Wright believed that life insurance policies were very similar to sinking-fund bonds and that insurance companies like municipal treasuries that issued those bonds, should be subject to oversight. In 1858, the Massachusetts Legislature adopted Wright's Net Valuation Law and three years later the Non-Forfeiture Act. These laws put legal reserve requirements on a mathematical basis and established rules of cash surrender values. To enforce the new law, Massachusetts Gov. Nathaniel Banks appointed Elizur Wright as the first commissioner of the state insurance department, a position he held for eight years.

Harnessing coastwise shipping and clipper ship activity cruising out of Boston, New England Mutual Life expanded their business issuing policies in New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston in 1844, San Francisco in 1849 and Oregon and the Hawaiian Islands in 1852. During the Civil War, many policy holders residing in Southern states did not pay premiums resulting in lapsed policies. After the war, New England Mutual reinstated the policy holders without the required medical examination, stipulating only that they had to pay the accumulated overdue premiums. This was another departure from the normal business practices of insurance companies of the day and cemented New England Mutual as a favorable company. Willard Phillips retired in 1865 and Benjamin F. Stevens was elected as the second president. Stevens had served as secretary since 1848 and was a natural choice to succeed the founder. Benjamin Stevens oversaw the growth of the company when he organized the general agency system with insurance agents established in major cities across the country. The general insurance agents were then organized into state or regional groups. The new organization set into motion by Stevens resulted in a large expansion of the company across the country. Stevens also oversaw the construction of the new home office building built in 1875 at 87 Milk Street in Boston.

During the late 19th century and early 20th century, New England Mutual Life kept expanding and issuing more policies. The company made new features available to policy applicants and adjusted the requirements for insurance coverage. Some of the major changes included lowering the minimum age required of a policy holder, an increased amount of the policy limit ceiling and the addition of new types of policies including premium benefits. With an economic decline and lapse after World War I and into the 1930s, New England Mutual stayed strong paying out premiums to policy holders while banks and other financial institutions folded. George Smith, who served as president of the firm from 1928 to 1951 wisely purchased treasury bonds, which helped secure New England Mutual's financial health. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, however, contained legislation that required New England Mutual to rethink its business model. Instead of selling directly to individuals, group insurance and group annuities was the wave of the future. The products offered by New England Mutual Life again were transformed due to market forces.

In 1947 O. Kelley Anderson became the president of the firm. Anderson was previously in the investment banking field and sought ways to introduce equity creation products. The company shifted from offering the traditional products that provided income replacement due to disability or death to products that created capital and enhanced already present capital. An emphasis was placed on annuities, mutual funds, pension products and investment products in addition to the group insurance plans. In 1968, New England Mutual bought a majority stake in the investment counseling firm, Loomis, Sayles & Co. and entered the real estate investment trust market in the 1970s. The company continued expanding into different markets in order to offer more products to it's customers as well as diversify holdings. In 1985, the firm posted it's first net loss, but quickly recovered the next year.

New England Mutual Life Insurance company transformed from only offering individual life insurance policies in 1844 to a full fledged financial services firm offering life insurance, health insurance, property insurance, disability, wealth management, investments, and mortgages in the 20th century. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of New York purchased New England Mutual Life in 1996. New England Mutual Life continues as a subsidiary of Met Life.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Policy and agent records, 1844-1984
  2. Series II. Financial records, 1844-1943
  3. Series III. Administrative records, 1850-1999
  4. Series IV. Walter C. Wright papers, 1867-1930
  5. Series V. Communications, 1881-1999
  6. Series VI. Photographs, 1922-1967

Physical Location



Gift of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 2005, 2006

Related Materials

Baker Library also holds the Elizur Wright business papers.

Processing Information

Processed: March 2013

By: Benjamin Johnson

Researchers should note that there are gaps within the numbering scheme for volumes included in this collection. Where there are gaps in the consecutive numbering scheme, these volumes have been put in boxes for better care and handling.

New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. New England Mutual Life Insurance Company Records, 1844-1999: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections and Archives, Harvard Business School Repository

Baker Library Special Collections and Archives holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

Baker Library | Bloomberg Center
Soldiers Field Road
Boston MA 01263 USA
(617) 495-6411