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Women’s History in Accounting

As Women’s History Month is coming to a close, it is important to reflect on why we celebrate this time. Without the powerful and courageous women in history that set the pace for generations to come, our world would look very different. Women in accounting have been breaking the barriers since the 1800s and the number of women in the profession is still climbing. In the past 35 years, the number of female accountants has risen almost 20%. From our interns to our partners, SME CPAs would lack in so many ways without the hard working women that we call our own. We are thankful for the women who have shaped the accounting field to be a place of inclusion—and here are just a few of them.

Christine Ross – The First Female CPA

Christine Ross was born in Nova Scotia in the early 1870s. She later moved to New York to become the first female certified public accountant in the United States. In June of 1898, just two years after New York gave its first CPA exam, Ross passed and placed in the top three scores in her testing group. Because of her gender, her certification was withheld for close to 18 months. In late 1899, she received her certificate no. 143 and she went on to work with clients that included successful women in business and the fashion industry.

Mary T. Washington – The First African American Female CPA

Born in 1906, Mary T. Washington was the first African-American woman to be declared a certified public accountant in the USA. After her mother passed away when she was 6, she moved from Mississippi to be raised by her grandparents in Chicago. After graduating college, she founded her own accounting firm in 1939 and was able to train a generation of younger African-American CPAs. Mary T. Washington impacted Chicago so deeply that they now hold September 30th as a day in her honor.

Mary Harris Smith – The World’s First Female Chartered Accountant

Even though Mary Harris Smith studied accounting from the age of 16, she experienced rejection solely because of her gender in the professional world. After founding her own practice in 1888, she applied to join the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors but was denied membership over and over because she was female. After years of law changes and Smith continuing her practice, she was accepted as the first female Chartered Accountant in the organization at 72 years old.

Today, the number of women in the accounting field is still growing. In 1940, only 1% of CPAs were women. In 2013, 40% of all CPAs were women. As women continue to push through the boundaries of the corporate world and create opportunities that were never easily handed to them, it is essential to reflect on the strong women of the past and the present. SME CPAs is eternally grateful for the women that have shaped our firm and created the success that we build on daily.

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