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University of Hartford Receives $2.3 Million from Prominent Hartford Businesswoman’s Estate

Posted 12/28/2012
Posted by David Isgur

The University of Hartford is the beneficiary of a $2.3 million dollar gift from the estate of Marion Bills, a longtime Aetna employee who became the first woman officer of a Hartford insurance company. Bills’s gift will form an endowment to fund scholarships for students at the University. It will also help support the existing John G. Martin Scholarship, which sends one University graduate to Hertford College of Oxford University each year.

“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) has a legacy with the University that dates back several decades. She was a trustee of Hillyer College, one of the three institutions that became the University of Hartford, from 1937 to 1954 and received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the 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 Experimental Psychology from Bryn Mawr 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 in Hartford as a consultant in 1925 after her division, the Life Insurance Sales Research Bureau, broke away from the Carnegie Institute of Technology and immediately began breaking down barriers. Until she arrived, women were not allowed to walk through the front doors at Aetna, a practice common among companies during that era. She became an officer in 1926, the first woman to do so at any Hartford insurance company. She retired as Aetna assistant secretary in 1955 after a distinguished career in personnel research and administration, leaving an indelible positive mark on the insurance industry.