Treadwell and Harry Insurance Company
This Memphis company was the first insurance agency in the United States to be owned and managed by women. In 1910 Mary Harry Treadwell and her sister, Georgia Harry, founded the company after the death of Treadwell’s husband. At the time, insurance was limited to insuring houses, businesses, and property. Most automobile owners did not have insurance on their vehicles, but Treadwell and Harry specialized in automobile insurance as a new and undeveloped area of insurance sales.
When Treadwell and Harry opened, neither woman had any business experience, but they knew many prominent Memphis families socially since their father had been a well-known steamboat captain. Riding the streetcars to the offices of various Memphis businesses, the two women wrote policies to cover a number of construction projects. When J. T. Harshan, president of the company building the second Memphis bridge, refused to consider Treadwell and Harry for insurance covering the bridge project, Harry bought a ticket on the next train to New York and returned with the contract to insure the building of the bridge. In 1917 the two women sold a policy with a $250,000 premium to the contractor engaged in the diversion of a portion of the Holston River. They later obtained a policy for the company rebuilding railroad tracks between Paducah, Kentucky, and Memphis. As their business expanded, Treadwell and Harry purchased other Memphis agencies.
In 1926 Treadwell’s sons persuaded their mother and aunt to turn the business over to them. Building on the reputation established by the two women, Treadwell and Harry became one of the largest insurance agencies in the Mid-South by the mid-1930s. Today, the grandsons and great-grandsons continue to operate the company.