As the profession of accounting becomes increasingly diverse and benefits from that variety of perspectives, it is important to recognize the individuals who paved the way for inclusion. Mary T. Washington Wylie is not only known for becoming the first African American female CPA, but for her dedication to training future generations of African American CPAs.
Becoming an Accountant
Born in 1906, Mary Washington was raised in Chicago, Illinois by her grandparents. She showed interest in math from a young age and excelled in math at her high school. After high school, Washington worked at the prominent black-owned Binga State Bank. Always ambitious, Washington rose to the position of assistant to the bank’s vice president, Arthur J. Wilson, the country’s second black CPA.
Under Wilson’s mentorship, Washington attended the accounting program at Northwestern University and opened her own small accounting business. After graduating from Northwestern in 1941 and fulfilling a two-year apprenticeship with Wilson, she passed the Illinois CPA exam in 1943 and became the first African American woman to receive the CPA designation.
Building a Community
Washington’s firm continued to grow and thrive as small black-owned businesses sought her services. Her firm grew along with these business and helped develop Chicago’s highly successful African American business community.
With her high-profile practice and commitment to supporting the community, Mary T. Washington and Co. became an “accounting underground railroad” where aspiring black accountants from across the country sought employment and apprenticeship as a point-of-entry to the world of accounting. Going into the 1960s, Chicago had the country’s highest concentration of African American CPAs—in large part due to Washington’s work.
Mary T. Washington died in 2005 but is still remembered and celebrated. In Chicago, September 30 has been officially declared “Mary T. Washington Wylie Day” to honor her contributions to the African American business community. The Illinois CPA Society continues her work of empowering aspiring African American accountants with the “Mary T. Washington Wylie Opportunity Fund.”
Her legacy and efforts also live on in the always-growing number of black-owned and women-owned accounting firms, the latter of which SDC CPAs and its founder Dee Studler are proud to represent.