More than half of all accountants in the United States are women, but it was two pioneering individuals who paved the path for women to earn the designation of certified public accountants (CPA): Christine Ross and Mary T. Washington Wylie. Read about them both below.
[Above: The Illinois CPA Society placed banners along streets in downtown Chicago to honor Mary T. Washington Wylie.]
Born in Nova Scotia in 1873, Christine Ross moved to New York in the late 1890s. She took the CPA exam in June 1898 despite controversy surrounding whether women could become certified public accountants. Her certificate was delayed by more than a year because of her gender, but on December 21, 1899, Ross received her credentials, becoming the first female CPA in the U.S. Ross would go on to serve women’s organizations and fashion and business moguls.
Mary T. Washington Wylie worked at Chicago’s Douglas National Bank on nights and weekends during high school, a foreshadowing of her promising career as an accountant. After graduating, she went on to work for Arthur J. Wilson, the first Black CPA in Illinois. Washington received her bachelor’s degree in business from Northwestern University in 1941. Two years later, she passed the CPA exam, becoming the first Black female accountant in the U.S. She went on to found her own firm, Washington, Pittman, and McKeever LLC, which still operates today.
Kelsey Landis is editor-in-chief of INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article ran in the October 2019 issue.