As of the year 2020, approximately 42% of the CPAs in the United States are women. As the profession moves toward a more equal gender distribution, it is important to consider the long history of pioneering women in accounting. In the 1950s, there were approximately 600 female CPAs. Approximately sixty years before that came the first female CPA, Christine Ross.
The Earliest CPAs
In the late 19th century, an increasingly wealthy and industrial America needed the services of accountants. Prior to 1887, there were few standards and guidelines for accountants. With an increasing demand for professional, reputable accountants, the American Association of Public Accountants was formed in 1887 to bring stability and consistency to the profession. The American Association of Public Accountants’ solution was to establish professional standards and the designation of “Certified Public Accountant” for accountants who met those standards.
In December of 1896, the New York CPA exam was offered for the first time. Taking this inaugural exam was Christine Ross, age 23 at the time. Ross passed the exam by a wide margin, placing second in her class. Despite her resounding success, the New York Board of Regents was unsure whether a woman should hold the CPA title. This dispute among the board delayed Ross’ certification for nearly 18 months.
Despite these obstacles, Ross was issued her CPA certification in December 1899, making her the first female CPA.
A Career of Empowerment
Ross’ work focused heavily on facilitating opportunities for other women. Her clients included women running businesses and key women in the fashion industry. Working with women in business created a mutually supportive relationship between Ross and her clients: businesswomen seeking women accountants and Ross helping their women-owned businesses succeed.
Wealthy women in New York brought their business to Ross, who could give them financial advice informed by the challenges women faced. Ross’ accounting services helped these women become more financially independent. Ross also used her services to support women’s organizations in New York, including those seeking suffrage for women.
Since Christine Ross’ historic CPA designation, women in accounting have made tremendous strides. The contributions made by trailblazing women in accounting paved the way for today’s women in accounting such Dee Studler and Krista Doyle, founders of SDC CPAs, LLC, formerly known as Studler, Doyle & Co.