William Huston, AIF®, AIFA®

History of Women in Real Estate in the US

William Huston, AIF®, AIFA®

William Huston, AIF®, AIFA®

History of Women in Real Estate in the US

In America today, a majority of the real estate agents are women. According to NAR, the National Association of Realtors, 65% of all realtors are women.

Woman real estate agent handing house keys to her client

However, this hasn't always been the case. Historically, the real estate industry was largely male-dominated until the early 1900s, when more women started becoming agents and brokers.

As much as women dominate the real estate industry today, they are still underrepresented in leadership positions and in specific sectors like commercial real estate, where women make up only 36.75% of the workforce.

In this article, we explore the history of women in real estate in the U.S. and how things have transformed from then till now.

Key Points
  • Historically, the real estate industry was largely male-dominated and women only started becoming agents and brokers in the early 1900s
  • The inception of the real estate industry dates back to the 19th century, but the industry began taking shape in the early 1900s
  • Corrine Simpson, a broker from Seattle, Washington, was the first female member to join NAR in 1910
  • In 1952, Dorcas Helfant-Browing become the first woman President of NAR
  • Some of the early female pioneers in the real estate industry include Abby Hamlin, Bridget "Biddy" Mason and Dorcas Helfant
  • Today, women make up 65% of all realtors in the U.S.

The contents of this article are for educational purposes only. They are not intended to be a source of professional financial advice. You will find experts on financial planning, financial management, and real estate here. More on disclaimers here.

Inception of the Real Estate Industry

A wooden house

The inception of the real estate industry dates back to the early 19th century but the industry didn't begin to take shape until the early 1900s.

In the beginning, women played crucial roles but were greatly overlooked as the industry was perceived to be a male-dominated field. At this time, women were mostly allocated administrative and supportive roles and then the more lucrative opportunities were allocated to men.

Important Facts About the History of Women in Real Estate in the U.S.

A woman writing real estate facts on a board

As the real estate industry began taking shape in the early 1800s, women mostly performed administrative and support roles. Male real estate professionals were the ones at the forefront of the industry. It was not until the late 1800s that more women started shifting from admin and support roles to leading roles such as agents and brokers nationally.

Home ownership

With regard to home ownership, women who wanted to purchase and own their homes before the 1970s could not do so as they weren't allowed to finance their own purchases until the 1970s.

Taking Mortgages

On the issue of financing, women were not permitted by the law before 1974 to obtain a mortgage without a male cosigner.

Early Pioneers

There are several women who played key roles in shaping the real estate landscape as far as women were concerned. One of the earliest female pioneers in real estate was a Seattle broker Corrine Simpson, who became the first woman to join NAR as a member in 1910.

Formation of the National Association of Realtors (NAR)

Founded in 1908 with all members being male, the first female member Corrine Simpson, a broker from Seattle, Washington, was allowed to join in 1910 despite the fact that 3,000 women worked as brokers in the U.S.

Over the next 40 years, women continued to fight for their right to serve in real estate boards. In as much as NAR didn't outrightly ban women from joining these boards, women did require local board membership, and those boards did explicitly ban women from becoming members.

Formation of the Women’s Council of Realtors

As a result of the discrimination that women faced, they decided to form their own professional organizations. In 1938, the Women’s Council of Realtors was formed as a parallel organization to NAR.

Women's Council of Realtors

Gender restrictions in boards were still there until the early 1950 when they were dropped by most boards. It was not until 1992 that Dorcas Helfant-Browing became the first female president of the NAR.

The Current State of Women in Real Estate

Women Realtors

From 1978, women have made up the majority of the membership in the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In the real estate industry today, there are more women real estate professionals as compared to men. According to NAR, women make up approximately 65% of all realtors.

An important element of real estate that makes it an attractive industry for many women include flexibility in work schedule and the opportunity to earn a higher income.


It is reported that single women are two times more likely to buy homes than single men.

According to Lending Tree, single women own about 2.64 million more homes than single men in the 50 states. Single women own about 10.76 million homes, while single men own about 8.12 million. Basically, single women own an average of 12.90% of the owner-occupied homes in the 50 states, while single men own 10.06%.

NAR Membership

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2021 member profile report, women made up 65% of all NAR members, while men made up 35%. This is a significant shift from previous decades, when men represented a larger percentage of NAR membership.

Early Female Pioneers in the Real Estate Industry

In as much as women real estate agents and professionals were discriminated against in the past, here are some female trailblazers who have significantly contributed to the real estate industry.

Abby Hamlin
Abby Hamlin

Abby Hamlin is a prominent real estate developer and founder of Hamlin Ventures, a New York City-based real estate development firm. She was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1951 and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her MBA from Columbia University.

Hamlin began her career in real estate working for the Related Companies, a major real estate development firm in New York City. She later founded Hamlin Ventures in 1996 and has since overseen the development of numerous high-profile projects in New York City, including luxury residential buildings, hotels, and mixed-use properties.

Hamlin is known for her commitment to sustainable and environmentally responsible development practices, and many of her projects have received LEED certification for their energy efficiency and sustainability. She is also a vocal advocate for affordable housing and has worked to incorporate affordable units into many of her developments.

In addition to her work in real estate, Hamlin is involved in various philanthropic efforts, including serving on the board of the New York City Parks Foundation and supporting organizations focused on education and the arts. She is widely recognized as a leading figure in the real estate industry and a pioneer in sustainable development practices.

Bridget "Biddy" Mason
Bridget Mason

Bridget "Biddy" Mason was an African American nurse and midwife who became one of the wealthiest women in Los Angeles during the late 19th century. She was born into slavery in Georgia in 1818 and was later brought to California by her slave owner. After years of being denied her freedom, she successfully sued for her freedom in 1856.

After gaining her freedom, Mason worked as a nurse and midwife and eventually saved enough money to invest in real estate. She bought several properties in Los Angeles, which increased in value as the city grew. She also used her wealth to support charitable causes, including founding the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.

Mason's real estate investments made her one of the wealthiest women in the city, with an estimated net worth of over $300,000 at the time of her death in 1891. Her legacy continues to be celebrated today, with a park in downtown Los Angeles named after her and a statue put up in her honor. Mason is remembered as a pioneer for African Americans and women in the field of real estate and a philanthropist who used her wealth to benefit her community.

Debra Cafaro
Debra Cafaro

Debra Cafaro is an American businesswoman and the current Chairperson and CEO of Ventas, Inc., a publicly-traded real estate investment trust (REIT) that specializes in healthcare properties. She has been with the company since 1999 and has served as CEO since 1999 and Chairperson since 2013.

Under Cafaro's leadership, Ventas has grown to become one of the largest REITs in the United States, with a market capitalization of $19.06 billion as of March 2023. She has been recognized for her contributions to the industry and has been named one of the "100 Most Powerful Women in Business" by Forbes magazine multiple times.

Prior to joining Ventas, Cafaro was an attorney and worked in investment banking. She holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame.

Dorcas Helfant
Dorcas Helfant

Dorcas Helfant is a well-known figure in the real estate industry, particularly in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she has been a prominent real estate broker and community leader for many years. She was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945 and attended Brooklyn College.

Helfant began her real estate career in 1972 and quickly rose to become a leader in the industry, serving as the president of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) from 1992 to 1993. During her tenure, she was instrumental in shaping policies related to fair housing and homeownership. She was also a strong advocate for the use of technology in the real estate industry and helped establish NAR's online property listing service, Realtor.com.

In addition to her work in real estate, Helfant has been active in her community, serving on numerous boards and committees focused on education, economic development and the arts. She has also been recognized for her contributions to the real estate industry, receiving numerous awards and honors throughout her career. Today, Helfant is retired from her active role in real estate but remains a respected voice in the industry and continues to be involved in her community.

Ebby Halliday
Ebby Halliday

Ebby Halliday was a prominent American businesswoman and real estate broker who founded the Ebby Halliday Realtors in 1945 in Dallas, Texas. She was born in 1911 in Leslie, Arkansas and grew up in rural poverty during the Great Depression. She started her career in sales at WFAA radio station and eventually found her calling in real estate.

Ebby Halliday quickly became a trailblazer in the industry, breaking down barriers for women and minorities. She was known for her commitment to professionalism, integrity and exceptional customer service. Her company grew to become one of the largest and most respected real estate brokerages in Texas, with over 30 offices and more than 1,800 sales associates.

In addition to her successful career in real estate, Ebby Halliday was also known for her philanthropic work, including supporting the arts, education, and healthcare. She passed away in 2015 at the age of 104, leaving behind a lasting legacy as a pioneer in the real estate industry and a beloved member of the Dallas community.

Are you looking to work with a qualified female real estate agent?

If you're considering working with a certified and experienced female real estate agent who specializes in the residential real estate industry, then get in touch with Ila here.

Bay Street Capital Holdings

Logo - Bay Street Capital Holdings

Bay Street Capital Holdings is a Black-owned, independent investment advisory, wealth management and financial planning firm headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. The company was founded by William Huston after 13 years of supporting the United States' largest retirement plan ($650B) Thrift Savings Plan.

With $480 million in AUM, the firm works on managing portfolios with the aim of maximizing returns while managing total risk and volatility.









Let's Talk

Schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our advisors to learn more about Bay Street and how we can help you achieve your goals for your financial future.

form img