In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to take a look at the history of women’s homeownership and financial independence to meditate on the great strides that have been taken in the past few centuries.
Although it isn’t clear who was the first woman to get a mortgage, many notable events have contributed to where we are today.
A Brief History of Finances and Homeownership
In 2022, most women in the United States probably don’t question their right to buy a home or open a bank account. However, these rights—along with many others—had to be earned.
The history of women and money can be traced back to ancient Egypt, but for the sake of understanding the topic within the U.S., we will be starting a few centuries back. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, but rather one that provides highlights of the topic:
An act passed in Pennsylvania allowed married women whose husbands were at war to act as single women. This essentially gave married women similar rights to men. Women could own and manage property if their husbands were incapacitated.
In New York, an act was passed that required men to receive consent from their wives if they wished to sell a piece of property that the woman brought into the marriage. The act also required a judge to meet with the woman privately to ensure that the signature was not forged and the agreement was not coerced.
Mississippi became the first state to allow married women to own property in their own names.
In Maine, married women gained access to separate economy and trade licenses, allowing them to retain their income for personal use.
In New York, the Married Women's Property Act was passed, allowing women to serve as sole property owners, regardless of their status as married or unmarried.
The Homestead Act offered up to 160 acres of free federal land to single, divorced, widowed, or deserted women, which they could claim under their name.
Coverture—a common law that stated women were subordinate to their husbands—was outlawed in the United States.
The First Woman’s Bank of Tennessee opened in Clarksville, providing resources and opportunities for women to become financially independent.
The Fair Housing Act was passed, protecting homebuyers, owners, and renters from discrimination based on race, gender, sex, religion, national origin, and disabilities.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in the U.S., granting women the right to obtain their own credit cards. Until then, banks required single, widowed, or divorced women to have a man cosign any credit application, regardless of the woman’s income.
Kirchberg v. Feenstra, a U.S. Supreme Court case stated that women are not subordinate to their husbands when it comes to property ownership and control.
Thanks to tightening wage gaps and other factors, both single and married women have increased their presence in the housing market over the last 30 years. Here are a few highlights from the past few decades:
- According to a survey from the National Association of Realtors, 21 percent of homebuyers were women in 2003. In 1995, only 14 percent of women were homebuyers.
- Between 1990-2019, the number of single women serving as heads of households increased from 17.6 percent to 22.6 percent.
- According to the U.S. Census Bureau, single women have outpaced men in homeownership since 1986.
Although there has been a great deal of progress over the years, women still earn 80 cents to every dollar men make, and there is still a gender gap in investing. Although there aren't solutions for these issues yet, the second point can be mediated when more women invest in property.
Start Your Journey to Homeownership with radius
Everyone deserves the home of their dreams. No matter who you are, radius can guide you through your home-buying journey. Whether you are buying your first home or purchasing an additional piece of property to expand your portfolio, one of our Loan Officers would be honored to discuss your financial situation and pair you with the best opportunity.
Want to learn more about the home-buying process before speaking with someone? Check out our guide, Home Buying 101: Your Roadmap to Homeownership.