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Mrs. Jarrett, a University of Michigan Law School graduate who grew up in Chicago, first came to know the Obama family through future first lady Michelle Obama when she and Mr. Obama were engaged.

Mrs. Jarrett, who had become a trusted aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley, hired then-Michelle Robinson to work for her in 1991. Mrs. Jarrett then took the future first lady with her to the city planning commission.

In 1995, Mrs. Jarrett went to work for the Habitat Co., a Chicago-based real estate development and apartment management company.

In January 2007, she became president and chief executive officer of Habitat after 11 years as executive vice president. Habitat has developed more than 17,000 housing units and manages more than 20,000 units, the Obama transition office said.

Mrs. Jarrett was not available to be interviewed, the Obama transition office said.

There is a sentiment among some working black women, however, that while Mrs. Jarrett’s emergence is remarkable, it is not necessarily unprecedented.

Miss Cooper said the double glass ceiling of race and sex is being hammered by a few women in addition to Mrs. Jarrett.

[Secretary of State Condoleezza] “Rice broke it. Valerie Jarrett is going to break it,” Miss Cooper said. “It is being broken in a lot of different pieces by a lot of different women.”

“Michelle Obama will break it,” Miss Cooper said of the future first lady. “What she will do with that role will be groundbreaking.”

Miss Hughes went further, stating that Mrs. Jarrett’s advancement would not be noticed by most people who do not pay attention to politics. Mrs. Jarrett, she said, is “only known to people who follow politics.”

Black professionals who follow politics have seen one of their own in the White House before, when Alexis Herman served under President Clinton as director of the public liaison office, Miss Hughes said.

Nonetheless, Miss Hughes, who also raised a son as a single mother, said, “I’m so happy for her, and I’m happy for him, because he has a strong black woman who he listens to in addition to Michelle.”