Catherine Krause Bauer Wurster was a leading member of a small group of idealists who called themselves “housers” because of their commitment to improving housing for low-income families. In her lifetime, she dramatically changes the concept of social housing in the US, and inspired generations of urban activists and public housing proponents. Her influential book book Modern Housing was published in 1934.
After spending one year as an architecture student at Cornell University, she transferred back to Vassar College from which she graduated in 1925.
In the late 1920s, Bauer spent time in Paris where she befriended Fernand Leger, Man Ray, Sylvia Beach. Back in New York, she fell under the spell of American urban critic Lewis Mumford who as a mentor and lover profoundly influenced her life. It was at his urging that she became involved with the architects of change in post-World War I Europe, among them Ernst May, Andrew Lurcat, Walter Gropius. Convinced that good social housing could produce good social architecture, and moved by the visible ravages of the Depression, she became a passionate leader in the fight for housing for the poor.
She co-authored the Housing Act of 1937 and advised five presidents on urban strategies. Her book, Modern Housing, published in 1934, is regarded as a classic. In 1936 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
After her marriage to San Francisco area architect William Wurster, whom she met while teaching at UC Berkeley in 1940, both withstood accusations of disloyalty by the Tenney Committee during the Red Scare Red Scare of the 1950s. Bauer Wurster was also involved in founding the progressive architectural research group Telesis.
She died in a fall during a solo hike on Mount Tamalpais, Marin County, California, on November 21, 1964.
A bust of Catherine Bauer Wurster is located in the Environmental Design Library in Wurster Hall at UC Berkeley. An Oscar Stonorov bust of Wurster adorns the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building’s Main (South) lobby.