Profiles of Women in Accounting: Mary Harris Smith
In 2019, Fiona Wilkinson, the first female president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), announced she would work to honor the world’s first female chartered accountant. In May 2020, one hundred years after Mary Harris Smith became the first female fellow of the ICAEW, she became the third individual woman to be commemorated by a blue plaque in London. London’s blue plaques are historical markers that commemorate a link between a person or event and that location.
A Lifelong Passion for Accounting
Mary Harris Smith, born in 1844, began her lifelong relationship with accounting as a child, informally taught by her father who worked as a banker. As she grew older, she helped her father with the bookkeeping work he brought home. At age sixteen, Mary Harris Smith studied mathematics and took some of the earliest bookkeeping classes offered specifically to women.
After more than a decade of working as a professional accountant around the City of London, Harris Smith established her own accounting firm in 1887. Her practice was exceptionally dedicated to supporting and providing professional services to women’s organizations seeking suffrage. This work connected her to many influential women who brought their business to Harris Smith’s practice.
A Search for Equal Footing
With her practice established, Harris Smith sought membership to professional organizations, hoping to open “the profession of accounting to women upon the same footing as that of [male] members.” After having her application to the Society of Accountants and Auditors blocked by the organization’s president, she turned her attention to the ICAEW and began a 28- year long campaign to become a charted accountant.
After decades of being denied by the ICAEW, legislation such as the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 renewed Harris Smith’s efforts. In May 1920, at age 72, Mary Harris Smith became a fellow of the ICAEW and the world’s first female chartered accountant. Through her work to advance suffrage and her persistence to be recognized by the ICAEW, Mary Harris Smith paved the way for women in accounting.
SDC CPAs, LLC – founded in 2001 by Dee Studler and Krista Doyle – is proud to follow in Harris Smith’s tradition of women-owned accounting practices.