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Three Historic Trailblazing Women in Accounting

March 10, 2021

In the year 2020, approximately 42% of the United States’ CPAs are women and nearly 62% of all accountants and auditors in the United States are women. As the profession moves toward a more equal gender distribution, it is important to celebrate the pioneering women who have made it possible for women to achieve success in accountancy.

Without the courage and advocacy of these trailblazers, women-owned firms like SDC CPAs would likely be a rarity, rather than a pillar of the profession.

Mary T. Washington

Mary T. Washington was a prodigious math student from a young age. After excelling in math though high school, Washington worked at the prominent black-owned Binga State bank where she was mentored by Arthur J. Wilson, the country’s second black CPA. Washington went on attain an accounting degree at Northwestern University, found her own firm, and become the first African American woman to receive the CPA designation.

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.

Mary Harris Smith

In 1887, Mary Harris Smith founded her own accounting firm in London dedicated largely to serving women’s’ organizations seeking suffrage and helping influential women retain their financial independence. With her well-established practice, Harris Smith sought to open “the profession of accounting to women upon the same footing as that of [male] members,” by becoming a member of a profession organization.

After nearly 28 years of being denied membership on the grounds of her sex, legislation such as the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 forced the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to review and fairly judge her application. Mary Harris Smith became the world’s first female chartered accountant and the first female fellow of the ICAEW in 1920.

Christine Ross

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.

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.

SDC CPAs, LLC – founded in 2001 by Dee Studler and Krista Doyle – is proud to be a woman-owned accounting practice following the tradition of these trailblazers who earned their place in the profession of accountancy.

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