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University Receives $2.3 Million From Estate of Pioneering Businesswoman
The University of Hartford is the beneficiary of a $2.3 million gift from the estate of Marion A. Bills, a longtime Aetna executive who was the first woman officer at a Hartford insurance company.
Bills's gift will create an endowment to fund need-based scholarships for University of Hartford students. It also will help support the existing John G. Martin Scholarship, which each year sends one new graduate of the University of Hartford to study at Oxford University's Hertford College in England.
“Through her wonderful bequest, Marion Bills has left a legacy that reflects her distinguished career as one of the earliest women leaders of the insurance industry in Hartford,” said University President Walter Harrison. “The Marion Bills Scholarships that her gift has created will help provide a University of Hartford education to deserving students for years and years to come. We are very grateful.”
Bills (1890-1970) worked at Aetna from 1925 to 1955, serving as assistant secretary and director of personnel research. An industrial psychologist, Bills is credited with groundbreaking work in the area of personnel management and with significantly advancing the role of women in the insurance industry.
Bills, who never married, arranged for the University of Hartford to receive any undistributed income from her estate that was left after the death of her nephews.
Bills had a history with the University that dates back many decades. From 1937 to 1954, she was a trustee of Hillyer College, one of the three institutions that ultimately merged to form the University of Hartford. Bills also received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Hillyer College in 1954. Scholarships bearing her name were given to University students in the 1960s.
Bills was born in Allegan, Mich., and graduated from high school there in 1905. She went on to earn a degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1908 and a doctorate in psychology from Bryn Mawr College in 1917. She taught psychology for three years at the college level and then joined the Bureau of Personnel Research at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh in 1918.
Bills came to Aetna as a consultant in 1925. At the time, Aetna's new president, Morgan Brainard, was looking for a new, scientific approach to personnel management. By 1926, Bills had so distinguished herself at Aetna that she was elected an assistant secretary, becoming the first woman officer at any Hartford insurance company. She broke down barriers in many other ways as well. Until her arrival, women were not allowed to walk through the front doors at Aetna, a practice common among companies during that era. Bills was the first woman to walk through the front doors at Aetna, and in turn she enabled other women to do the same.
During her 30 years at Aetna, Bills redesigned the company's personnel policies and developed important innovations in the areas of personnel management and employee productivity. In addition, she worked to increase the employment of female supervisors and to institute a policy of hiring college-educated women at salaries equal to those of men. She retired in 1955, leaving an indelible mark on the insurance industry and on the role of women in that industry. Bills' legacy will now continue through her gift to the University of Hartford.