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Celebrating Women Pioneers in Housing + Finance

In honor of Women’s History Month, we shine a spotlight on three remarkable pioneers in housing and finance whose legacies continue to inspire progress and equality. 

Catherine Bauer Wurster

Catherine Bauer Wurster was the primary author of the Housing Act of 1937, which provided subsidized residences for low-income citizens for the first time. She was a leading member of the “housers,” a group of planners who advocated for affordable housing for families, and had a dramatic impact on social housing practice and law in the United States. 

Bauer Wurster authored Modern Housing – a classic in the planning field – and advised five presidents on housing and urban planning strategies. 

Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris would rise from humble beginnings in Illinois to achieve many firsts, including being the first Black woman to sit on the board of a Fortune 500 company (IBM, 1971) and the first Black woman to sit on a Presidential Cabinet when Jimmy Carter appointed her Secretary of HUD in 1977.   

As HUD Secretary, Harris was dramatically effective in bringing aid and business back to deteriorating neighborhoods, revitalizing impoverished areas instead of tearing them down, as many had done in the past. In a retrospective of her reforms, The Washington Post noted: “After two years as Secretary, the agency had changed from a mere extension of the nation’s housing industry to an advocate for saving inner cities.” 

Janet Yellen

As an economist and policymaker, Janet Yellen has made significant contributions to both academia and government. One of her most notable achievements was her historic appointment as the first woman to serve as Chair of the Federal Reserve (2014-2018). Yellen steered the Fed through challenging times, keeping the economy’s gradual recovery on track in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, while supporting policies aimed at reducing income inequality, promoting full employment, and ensuring financial stability for all segments of society. 

In 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Yellen for U.S. Treasury Secretary, noting that she had “…spent her career focused on unemployment and the dignity of work.” Yellen became the first woman to hold the Treasury Secretary post and under her leadership, the department made significant strides in shaping the recovery from the pandemic, reducing unemployment and surpassing pre-pandemic GDP levels.