5 Female Trailblazers in Real Estate History

According to the National Association of Realtors, the U.S. residential real estate industry is dominated by women with 63 percent of all Realtors are female. In 2011, Trulia found “that there are more women real estate professionals in every state than male real estate professionals.”

‘But women weren’t always dominant in selling homes. According to NAR’s history of women in Real Estate, when the association first started in 1908, its membership was entirely male, despite 3,000 women working as brokers nationally. Their first female member, Corrine Simpson, a broker from Seattle, Washington, wouldn’t join until 1910. And though organizations like NAR didn’t explicitly ban women from joining, organizations did require local real estate board membership, and these boards did explicitly ban women. So, just like so many times in history, women decided to create their own professional organizations.’


Here are 5 women who took a first step that paved the way for many of the women in residential real estate today:

Ebby Halliday

Any woman who started and owned a business in the late 1930’s was almost by definition a trailblazer, but Ebby was not satisfied with owning her own hat boutique. She easily transitioned to residential real estate and dominated the Dallas market for decades. She credited her success to simple hard work and caring about the needs of others.

Ebby died in September 2015, but her real estate firm continues to sell homes. At the time of her death, the firm was the largest independently owned residential real estate services company in Texas and the 10th-largest in the nation. The firm closed 19,200 transactions in North Texas that year with a sales volume of $6.64 billion. Ebby Halliday in 1968 from a retrospective on her life that appeared in the Dallas News.

Dorcas Helfant

Dorcas was the first female president of the National Association of Realtors. She elected to the office in 1992 and was also the first woman to serve as the president of her state association. Her service to others in her profession included a key merger of her own real estate firm with other Caldwell Banker firms that provided “an effective career track for our associates.”

In addition to her leadership in the real estate field, Dorcas is a past chair of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. She served as president of the Virginia Aquarium Foundation and was named Hampton Roads Woman of the Year in 1990. Dorcas currently is vice-chair of the Foundation Board of Virginia’s Community Colleges. Dorcas Helfant

Abby Hamlin

As the founder and president of Hamlin Ventures, Abby has blazed trails where most women and many men fear to go. Her stated goal is to use real estate and urban design to enhance people’s lives.  She has won recognition for her development in Brooklyn for formerly homeless and low-income individual. Her firm remains one of the few successful female-owned development firms.

Abby is a civic leader as well as a noted developer. She has served as a board member of the Van Alen Institute for Public Architecture from 2001-2010 and as the chair for the last 4 years of her tenure. She is currently a Trustee of Art Omi, a board member of Trainor Dance and of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Abby Hamlin

Tracy Dodson

While women have been very successful in residential real estate, commercial real estate has been a much more difficult market. Only 35% of professionals in this sector are women, and virtually all of them work in property management. As vice president of brokerage and development at Lincoln Harris in Charlotte, N.C. Tracy is one of the pioneers in commercial real estate development.

“In this industry, it’s hard in a lot of ways. You have to have a lot of success to work your way up,” Dodson told Bizjournals.“It’s not just the hours. You’ve got to have successful projects and you’ve got to have successful deals.” Tracy Dodson

Debra Cafaro

Debra has blazed a trail of success. She took over the helm at Ventas, a publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)  in 1999, the firm was facing collapse. The sole tenant of the properties was bankrupt and had stopped paying rent. The firm had a market cap of $200 million and $1 billion in debt. In addition, there were claims of Medicare fraud.

Now, Debra is recognized for returning shareholder 3,981.3 % for the 16 years ended December 31, 2015. She is one of only 23 CEOs named by Harvard Business Review for four consecutive years and one of only two women on the 2017 list. This same year Forbes Magazine recognized her as among the 100 most powerful women in the world.


A portion of this article was written by Christian Miller for www.sharestate.com on December 2017. 

Other sources: apartmenttherapy.com