Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oct 18: Insurance Director and the Flu Pandemic

Director Brace. J. H. Hawley photo.
On October 18, 1919, Idaho Governor David W. Davis appointed Captain Howard J. Brace to be Director of the state Department of Insurance. He was the tenth person to hold that office. At that time, he was the youngest state official in Idaho and the youngest insurance commissioner in the U.S.

Brace was a young child when the family moved to Colorado. He started work in the mines near Leadville in his early teens, then came to Idaho in 1911, when he was just 19. He spent five years in the fire insurance business in Idaho Falls before enlisting in the Second Idaho Infantry. For a time, his unit served along the Mexican border. At the start of World War I, Brace applied for and received officer training and entered the U.S. Infantry as a First Lieutenant.

He served in France for seventeen months before May 1919, and was promoted to Captain. He saw action in the defense of Champagne-Marne, the Second battle of the Marne, the St. Michel offensive, and the attacks in the Argonne forest. After his discharge, he returned to Idaho, where he received the state Insurance appointment.

Brace took office during a period when the great Influenza Pandemic was sweeping the world -- and Idaho did not escape its wrath. (Over a half million people died in the U.S., and an estimated 25 million worldwide.) In his 1919-1920 Bienniel Report, Brace wrote, “The years 1918 and 1919 were, in our opinion, the most critical in the history of the life insurance companies of the country.  The institution of life insurance was for a time in actual danger due to the ravages of the influenza-pneumonia epidemic.”

Fortunately, they were able to weather the crisis, he reported: “All of the companies doing business in the state have emerged from those extraordinary conditions and are conducting their business safely and soundly.”

References: [Brit], [Hawley]
“Celebrating 100 Years (1901-2001),” 2001 Annual Report, Idaho Department of Insurance (October 2002).

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