Five Women that Made It All Possible

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we remember the legacies of the women whose leadership paved the way for respect and mercy. It’s also a time to honor the women in our daily lives whose work and acts of kindness are making the difference for so many. Contemporary affordable housing and social services didn’t happen by chance and mustn’t be taken for granted — it took unprecedented fearlessness to create essential resources for the people that need it most, the low-income families, veterans, and people with special needs that enrich neighborhoods with the strength and power of diversity. We wanted to highlight five women who helped voices to be heard that were once silenced:

Patricia Roberts Harris (1924-1985)

official black and white portrait of Patricia Roberts Harris

The first African-American woman to be appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Patricia Roberts Harris’ career was a robust display of leadership laden with a “blunt and tough” approach while battling housing discrimination. She was also the dean of Howard University’s law school (the first African-American woman in this position) and was a U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. President John F. Kennedy appointed her co-chair of the National Women’s Committee for Civil rights, overseeing roughly 100 women’s organizations.

Catherine Bauer (1905-1964)

black and white photo of Catherine Bauer with a landscape background

One of the nation’s original housing advocates famed for her authorship of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937—the country’s first affordable housing legislation. Catherine Bauer then served as Director of Research and Information for the U.S. Public Housing Authority and was an advisor to an impressive array of local and federal agencies.

Jane Addams (1860-1935)

black and white photo of Jane Addams leaning against a railing with a city-scape in the background

She was the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Throughout her life, Jane Addams felt a profound responsibility to foster positive social change. She was prolific in her expansion of kindergartens and day-cares for working mothers, job training for women, and many other social services for Chicago’s low-income families by founding the famed Hull House. She was active with the women’s suffrage movement and helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Tammy Duckworth (1968- )official government photo of Tammy Duckworth; in full color

As a veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Tammy Duckworth is a stalwart proponent and protector of veterans’ rights and services. While serving as the Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs she collaborated with HUD to end veteran homelessness, while paying special attention to the needs of Native American and female veterans. Today, she often volunteers at food pantries.

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)black and white photo of Jane Jacobs holding papers in the air triumphantly while wearing her famed glasses and pearls

Jane Jacobs’ powerful writing and effective activism laid essential foundations for the preservation of cities’ people-friendly characteristics and the sanctity of parks and other public spaces that are so essential to the vibrancy of neighborhoods. During an era when comparatively few women had broken into architecture and city planning, she pushed the limits of feminism and citizen activism while bolstering the notion that cities should be designed for the benefit of residents, no matter their background.

This is just a short list of the many women who have, and do, make it possible for low-income families, veterans, and people with special needs to find a sense of home. Social services haven’t always been available to people in need. The insight that these women provided came to fruition through the many opportunities, services, agencies, and nonprofits that continue to bring positive social change.

We encourage you to learn more about these incredible women, as they’re an inspiration to our work and a greatly valued source of guidance.

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