4 Women in Accounting Who Changed the Industry Forever
Mar 08, 2021 | By John Siegel
In an industry historically dominated by white men, the time is always right to recognize the amazingly talented women in accounting whose contributions to the accounting profession are still felt today, despite the patriarchy’s attempts to stop them.
Last month, we took a look at just a few of the Black accountants who — despite fierce backlash from those in favor of the status quo — helped diversify the finance and accounting function, and will continue to do so.
This month, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting four women in accounting who helped pave the way for future generations of female professionals and usher out a time when being Caucasian and male was a prerequisite to join the profession. Their contributions cannot be celebrated enough.
Mary T. Washington
With few — if any — accounting firms hiring African Americans or women at the time, Mary Washington founded the accounting firm, Washington, Pittman & McKeever from the basement of her Chicago home. In 1943, Washington became the first African American woman to become a certified public accountant, and her firm soon became one of the most prominent Black-owned accounting and consulting firms in the country. One of her early clients was a young boxer best known as Muhammad Ali.
Much like John Cromwell Jr., who became the first Black CPA in 1921 — long after he should have, because of the era’s racist policies — native Nova Scotian Christine Ross’s well-deserved CPA certificate was unfairly delayed. Despite finishing at or near the top of her group, she faced a months-long battle with state regents solely because of her gender. In December 1899, it finally arrived: CPA certificate No. 143.
Ellen Libby Eastman
A truly inspiring woman, Ellen Libby Eastman is perhaps best known as the first woman CPA in Maine and New England. But she was also a fierce and outspoken proponent of women in the profession at a time when such rhetoric could be perilous. Though she started her career as a clerk at a lumber company, she ultimately became the business’s chief accountant before earning her CPA in 1918.
After working for the business manager at her alma mater, Langston University, Larzette Hale-Wilson headed north, enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the midst of World War II to study accounting and finance. In 1951, she earned her CPA, and in 1955, she became the first Black female CPA to hold a Ph.D. in accounting. After relocating with her family to Utah in the 1970s, Hale-Wilson became a professor of accounting at Utah State University and contributed to several accounting education journals. In 1974, she was appointed by the governor of Utah to the State’s Committee on Cultural Awareness.