05 March 2021

A key to Zura’s sales success was her consultative selling approach, a technique championed by Lincoln sales professionals to this day.

"Boiled down, my success is simply co-operating with women for their future good."

The 1920s were a decade of great progress for women – beginning with the passage of the 19th Amendment and extending into society, politics and the working world. In popular culture, women of the 1920s are often depicted as flappers, decked out in short dresses, dark make-up and bobbed hair, dancing the Charleston and smoking cigarettes. While flappers were certainly a reality of the time, a profound cultural shift presented women with increased opportunities to work outside the home.

Still, their numbers were small. In 1920, just over eight million women were gainfully employed, according to the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. Women of color made up a disproportionate percentage of working women, as employment was often a financial necessity.

Not surprisingly, most women were employed in professions like teaching, clerical, nursing, cooking, waitressing and domestic duties. Increasingly, however, women were making their way into jobs previously reserved for men – retail, manufacturing and professional positions, for example. For the most part, they were single, with married women making up less than one-quarter (23 percent) of working women. For the majority of women, work was viewed as a gateway between school and marriage.

A True Trailblazer

At Lincoln, women were already making their mark, not just in the secretarial pool, but as high-performing salespeople within Lincoln’s established culture of sales excellence. One of the earliest and most successful was Z. Z. Brown (later Zura Ziegler Brown Dohm), who joined the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in 1922 and stayed until 1982, just two years before her death at age 91. In 1929, Zura became the first Lincoln National agent to earn the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation, as well as the first woman west of the Allegheny Mountains to attain the coveted designation – one of the oldest and most respected credentials in financial services, reserved for experts in life insurance and estate planning.

Born Zura Shumaker in Butler, Indiana in 1892, she became “keenly aware of the uncertainties of life and fortune at a very early age,” according to a profile of the enterprising young saleswoman published in the October 1929 issue of Lincoln’s monthly newsletter, The Emancipator. A voracious reader, budding pianist and enthusiastic tennis player, Zura set her sights on becoming a teacher. After just one year in the classroom, however, 20-year-old Zura settled comfortably into life as a wife and mother.

Five years later, Zura was suddenly widowed and needed to support herself and her two young sons. She took classes in shorthand and typewriting and ultimately took a job at a local mill. One day, a chance run-in with an old hometown friend, Roy Oberlein, who spoke effusively of his employer, Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, changed Zura’s life.

Playing to Her Strengths

Zura Ziegler BrownAs her boys, and their needs, grew, Zura needed more income. Over the next two years, she continued working at the mill, while studying the insurance business and embarking on a part-time insurance career. On February 1, 1924, Zura left the mill and signed a full-time agency contract with Lincoln. Working out of the home office in Fort Wayne, Zura was said to have “lived insurance.” She consistently placed among the top women agents and was often featured among the top 10 Leading Lincoln Life Producers. Known as a specialist in annuities and retirement income plans, Zura was particularly successful selling to women because she tailored her sales pitch to appeal to their needs.

“To what do I attribute my success with women? A simple thing, really,” she said. “I understand them, their problems, needs and ambitions. This success has to do primarily, I know, with my feeling for women.”

A key to Zura’s selling success was her consultative selling approach, a technique championed by Lincoln sales professionals to this day.

"I meet women on their own social status, too. My work has taken me into all sorts of factories, offices, schools, and I meet every woman on her own basis and talk her language. I show every woman that I am interested in her welfare, and if she has a family, or people dependent upon her whom she loves, I am interested in them and in what she wants to do for them.”

"Boiled down, my success is simply co-operating with women for their future good."

A Lifetime of Sales Achievement

Throughout her 60-year career, Zura received many honors, qualifying for Lincoln’s prestigious sales awards including the Emancipator Club, Circuit Rider Club and Minute Men’s Club numerous times. She published numerous articles in Life Insurance Selling, including the aptly titled, “Smiles from the Experience of a Lady Underwriter.” Zura served as secretary-treasurer of the Fort Wayne Chapter of Chartered Life Underwriters and president of the Fort Wayne Chapter of CLU, which established the Zura Ziegler Brown Dohm Scholarship in 1980 to assist local CLU members with fees for the annual Chicago CLU Spring seminar.

Zura was a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Organization (BPW), a global organization that promoted full participation in the workforce as well as economic self-sufficiency for women. Even into her 80s, Zura was encouraging other women employees at Lincoln to join and advance in the workplace.

Acknowledging her 20th anniversary with Lincoln in 1942, The Emancipator wrote, “Mrs. Brown’s record stands as irrefutable proof that women can earn success in the life underwriting field.”

Zura’s story is the first in a series called “Women of the 20s,” featured this month to commemorate Women’s History Month. Our next three profiles will feature women sales leaders of today – the 2020s – representing Lincoln Financial Distributors’ Retirement Solutions Distribution, Life & Executive Benefits and MoneyGuard businesses.