Margaret Carlson. Photo courtesy of GBREB

What: Margaret Carlson Breaks the Glass Ceiling
When: December 1976
Where: Boston 

Margaret Carlson was already acclaimed as the Greater Boston Real Estate Board’s “Realtor of the Year,” a successful real estate broker-owner in her own right and a prominent industry leader – at a time when few women were – when she prepared to become the GBREB’s president for 1977, the first woman to hold that role. 

But that post meant more than her peers’ recognition when they elected the Framingham Realtor to the role in October 1976. At the time, it also gave her a seat on a powerful committee of local business titans known colloquially as “the Vault.” 

The Boston Coordinating Committee, as it was officially known, was elite Boston’s response to the city’s many crises; from 1959 into the 1980s, it constituted almost a shadow government for a city rocked by economic, social and political turmoil and a succession of mayors regularly sought its backing.  

Carlson’s one-year stint on the committee wasn’t the end of her fame, by a long shot. She went on to inspire the Proposition 2 ½ property tax law, lead the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and become one of the most powerful real estate lobbyists on Beacon Hill, memorialized by MAR in the name of its annual lobby day.  

Carlson died 1987, leaving her husband, Arthur, whose decision in the 1950s to retired from the Army to raise their children gave her a chance at a career, according to a Boston Globe obituary.   

“[A female broker’s husband] must be prepared to get his own dinner, to eat dinner alone, go without clean clothes and not get upset when there’s no food in the refrigerator.”
— Margaret Carlson to the Boston Globe, Jan. 23, 1977 

To celebrate its 150th anniversary, Banker & Tradesman has been highlighting significant moments in the history of Massachusetts’ real estate and banking industries.

This Month in History: Margaret Carlson Breaks the Glass Ceiling

by James Sanna time to read: 1 min