Bonnie R. Cohen was educated at Smith College, receiving a B.A. in 1964; at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, receiving an Ed.M. in 1965; and at Harvard Business School, receiving an M.B.A. in 1967. Cohen spent the next quarter century in the private sector. She would eventually become an investment consultant to the Stanford University endowment; treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America's Health and Retirement Funds; and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 1992, President of the United States Bill Clinton nominated Cohen as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Policy, Management and Budget, serving under United States Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. She served in the United States Department of the Interior until 1996, when President Clinton nominated her as Under Secretary of State for Management; she subsequently held this office from August 20, 1997 until January 20, 2001, serving under United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Upon leaving the United States Department of State, Cohen formed a consulting firm, B. R. Cohen and Associates. She has also served on the boards of Cohen & Steers, an investment firm specializing in REIT funds, and the Perini Corporation, a large general contractor. She has also served on the boards of several non-profits, including the Washington National Opera and the Posse Foundation.