Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company records, 1909-2009
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (440.25 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Information
  • Biography/History
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Related Material
  • Related Oral Histories

  • Title: Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company records
    Collection number: 1434
    Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 175 linear ft. (156 document boxes, 52 oversize flat boxes, 51 flat boxes, 18 record storage cartons, 11 half document boxes, 9 shoe boxes, 6 tubes, 3 scrapbook/ledger boxes and 1 map folder.)
    Date: 1909-2009
    Abstract: The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company was founded on July 23, 1925 in Los Angeles by William Nickerson Jr., George A. Beavers, Jr., and Norman O. Houston. Their mission was to provide dignified employment for African Americans and to provide them with insurance protection. Golden State Mutual operated for eighty-four years and grew to become one of the largest Black-owned companies in the United States. The collection spans from 1909 to 2009 and consists of minutes books, annual reports, corporate history files, ledgers, public relations and advertising files, correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, plans, reports, agreements, manuals, policy specimens, Certificates of Contribution and Advancement, publications, files about the company's historical murals and Afro-American art collection, architectural drawings, awards, memorabilia, and audiovisual materials.
    Language of Materials: Materials are in English.
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Creator: Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co..

    Restrictions on Access

    Open for research. STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact UCLA Library Special Collections for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to UCLA Library Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company records (Collection 1434). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Ivan J. Houston, 1986. Additional material was received from the Insurance Commissioner of California, 2014.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Kelly Besser with assistance from Kamarin Takahara, Karie Jenkins, and Rebecca Bucher in 2014. Project manager: Megan Hahn Fraser. Processing of this collection was supported by a generous gift from the Haynes Foundation.


    Golden State Mutual founder William Nickerson, Jr. moved to Los Angeles from Texas in 1921 as an official representative of the Texas-based insurance company American Mutual Benefit Association. When he arrived in California, he soon discovered that the state’s existing insurance agencies viewed its 40,000 Black citizens as either uninsurables or extraordinary risks. Black residents were only accepted at discriminatory premium rates, or denied insurance coverage altogether.
    Nickerson struggled for three years, succeeded in insuring more than 2,000 Californians, only to find that the Texas firm would not renew its California license. To fulfill the promise of protection made to the 2,000 policyowners, Nickerson had to set up a new company. He joined forces with Norman O. Houston, a young insurance salesman from Northern California and George A. Beavers, Jr., a Georgia-born Los Angeles businessman and church leader. Together, in 1924, the three began to shape their dream of creating a Black-owned and operated insurance company.
    The state’s insurance code required a thorough knowledge of California law governing corporations in general and insurance companies in particular. Nickerson purchased a set of law books, began to study California insurance law and discovered a soon-to-expire law under which the company could be organized as an assessment company. This required that the organizers secure at least 500 applications for life insurance, with premiums paid in advance and that they deposit $15,000 with the state treasurer as a guarantee fund.
    Nickerson managed the project, Houston raised the $15,000 through the sale of Certificates of Advancement, and Beavers secured 500 paid applications. Twelve hours before the expiration of the old assessment law, Nickerson, Houston and Beavers received a telegram from the California Department of Insurance informing them that a license to operate had been granted to the Golden State Mutual Guarantee Fund Insurance Company of Los Angeles.
    The Company operated out of a 12 by 14 foot second story office at 1435 Central Avenue leased by Board Member and Medical Director Dr. H. H. Towles. The Company was comprised of President William Nickerson, Jr., Secretary and Treasurer Norman O. Houston, Vice-President and Director of Agencies George A. Beavers, Jr., Clerk Helen E. Batiste, and a few agents such as Edgar J. Johnson. After 79 days, the Company moved to a storefront office at 3512 Central Avenue. By the end of 1925, GSM had paid its first death claim and transferred Johnson up north to open and manage its first District Office in Oakland.
    Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Company's first Home Office Building were held on August 7, 1928. This 2-story building was located at 4111 Central Avenue. Between 1926 and 1929, GSM established District Offices in Pasadena, Bakersfield, San Diego, Fresno, El Centro and Sacramento.
    Changing its name from the Golden State Guarantee Fund Insurance Company to Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1931, the firm continued to expand. In July of 1938, GSM extended its services to Illinois for the Company’s first venture across California boundaries.
    During the 1940s, expansion in California saw District Offices established in San Francisco, San Bernardino, Vallejo and Fresno. On January 2, 1942, GSM converted from an assessment company to the more stable status of an old line legal reserve insurer. Out of state expansion carried GSM services to Nickerson’s home state of Texas – to Dallas in 1944 and to Houston a year later. The May 27, 1945 opening of the Houston office was the realization of Nickerson’s 20-year ambition. Less than six months afterwards, founder William Nickerson, Jr. died on November 14, 1945.
    Nickerson’s passing brought organizational change to GSM. Norman O. Houston was elected President after serving 20 years as Corporate Secretary and Treasurer. George A. Beavers, Jr. was elected Chairman of the Board and Edgar J. Johnson, became Corporate Secretary.
    GSM’s continued expansion required that it build a final Home Office in 1948. Designed by architect Paul Revere Williams, this five story structure was completed in the heart of Los Angeles at the intersection of Western Avenue and Adams Boulevard in 1949. The Company’s Historical Murals, depicting the history of the Negro in California by Charles Alston and Hale Woodruff were unveiled during the opening week ceremonies for this new building on August 19, 1949.
    During the 1950s GSM entered three new states: Oregon, Washington and Arizona. In 1954, the Board of Directors formally declared the Golden Rule as the Company’s business philosophy. As a symbolic reminder of this principle, the Company began the practice of presenting to each new employee a marble inscribed with the phrase: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In 1957 the Company adopted a new graphic and coined a new nickname for its field representatives. The Golden State agent was reimagined as the Man With The Golden Pen, a name which emphasized the importance of the field underwriter’s services to families.
    Expansion of services to Michigan and Indiana in 1960 led the Company to enlist a veteran insurance agent from Detroit named Ernest Shell as Assistant Agency Officer. Shell was later to become Senior Vice President, Agency Director and a member of the Company’s Board of Directors. During the same year as the Watts riots, GSM celebrated its 40th anniversary and dedicated the Golden State Mutual Afro-American Art Collection. In 1967, George A. Beavers, Jr. resigned as Chairman of the Board. Houston, President since 1945, was elected Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Edgar J. Johnson, who had served as Executive Vice-President since 1956, was named President and Chief Administrative Officer.
    The onset of the 1970s was marked by major management changes. Norman O. Houston retired from active management but remained in the service of the Company as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Edgar J. Johnson also retired but remained as management consultant, member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Ivan J. Houston was elected President and Chief Executive Officer in 1970 and in 1977 when his father vacated his Board Chairmanship, Ivan J. Houston was elected to fill this role in addition to his other duties. By the end of this decade, the Company was licensed to do business in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
    Between 1980 and the end of 1984, insurance in force with GSM increased to $4,527,611,000, maintaining its rank as the second largest Black life insurer in the United States by this measure. Organizationally, the Company implemented a modified leadership plan in 1980, electing Larkin Teasley as President and Chief Operating Officer of GSM, with Ivan J. Houston assuming the title of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
    The following decade saw the retirement of Ivan J. Houston as CEO on December 31, 1990 and Larkin Teasley’s election as CEO on January 1, 1991. The new millennium brought forth a 75th year anniversary celebration, a time capsule sealed for over 50 years was opened and a new one encapsulated. Ivan J. Houston retired as Chairman of the Board on March 5, 2001 and Larkin Teasley was elected the new Chairman on the same date. Golden State Mutual closed its doors in 2009 after 84 years of operation.

    Scope and Content

    The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company records range in date from 1909-2009. The collection consists of minutes books, annual reports, corporate history files, ledgers, public relations and advertising files, correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, plans, reports, agreements, manuals, policy specimens, Certificates of Contribution and Advancement, publications, historical murals and Afro-American art collection files, architectural drawings, awards, memorabilia, and audiovisual materials.

    Organization and Arrangement

    The collection is arranged in the following series:
    Series 1: Corporate History
    Series 2: Minutes
    Series 3: Annual Statements
    Series 4: Financial Records
    Series 5: Correspondence
    Series 6: Plans, Reports, Agreements and Manuals
    Series 7: Policy Specimens and Certificates of Contribution and Advancement
    Series 8: Advertising and Publicity Files
    Series 9: Historical Murals and Afro-American Art Collection Files
    Series 10: Publications
    Series 11: Architectural Drawings
    Series 12: Awards and Memorabilia

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 1470592 

    Related Material

    Related Oral Histories

    The following oral histories are available through the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research:

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co.--Archives..
    Account books.
    African American business enterprises--California--Los Angeles--Archives.
    African Americans--California--Los Angeles--History.
    African Americans--Civil rights--California--Los Angeles.
    Black-and-white photographs.
    Insurance companies--California--Los Angeles--Archives.