Women’s History Month: Celebrating Women in Accounting


Not too long ago in the accounting news, Deloitte was a major headliner across the industry when they announced Cathy Engelbert as the next CEO of Deloitte LLP. This wasnt just a huge update in the transitions to come for one of the Big 4, but it was also a historical event as Engelbert became the first female CEO in Big 4 history. And, by extension, Engelbert also became the first woman to lead any of the countrys big professional service firms.

We know. Its pretty neat stuff. We couldn’t think of a better way to transition into March and National Womens History Month than with this news.

Back in 1980, the National Womens History Project (NWHP) was founded by five women in Santa Rosa, California looking to bring recognition to womens historical achievements and its effectiveness today. While they began by lobbying to congress to designate March as National Womens History Month (and with success), they are known today as an organization that helps perpetuate information and education regarding the significance of womens contributions to the United States and to rewrite women back into history.

And so, we’d like to take a few moments to do the same. Here are some of the accounting industry’s best and brightest women who paved the road for many others while delivering great influence in an otherwise male dominated profession.

Christine Ross

The first woman to attain CPA licensure in the United States, Christine Ross passed the CPA exam in June of 1898. However, it took a year and a half to receive her certificate when the New York Board of Regents finally decided to allow women to be granted one on December 21, 1899. She practiced from her New York City office early in the 20th century; her clients included people working in the business and fashion industries, as well as wealthy women.

Mary Harris Smith

Established in England and Wales in 1800, the Institute of Chartered Accountants is a prestigious organization that provides its members with the utmost knowledge and guidance based on ethical standards delivered to businesses and the public interest. Female membership a hundred years ago was laughable; however, Smith eventually forced her way in, opening the door for many other women to follow her and break down the barriers deterring female applicants. She was the first female chartered accountant in the world.

Mary T. Washington 

You may already be familiar with Mary T. Washington from our Salute to African American CPAs post, but she bears mentioning again. The first female African American to earn her CPA, Washington is also most known for founding one of the largest African American-owned accounting firms in the United States: Washington, Pittman & McKeever. Starting out as an assistant at Binga State Bank, Washington would gain mentor-ship from her employer and strive on to not only gain CPA licensure, but also spend the rest of her life dedicated to working at her firm and further influencing the profession.

Dorothy G. Willard

Having been an active member of NASBA for several years including serving as treasurer, Dorothy G. Willard made history when she became the first female President of the organization in 1967. During a time when women were rare in public accounting, Willard was also a partner in the Boston firm of Charles F. Rittenhouse & Company.

Mary E. Murphy

From teaching abroad to publishing and collaborating on more than 20 books and 100 journal articles, Murphy was truly a force of nature for her time. Being only the second woman in the United States to earn her doctorate in accountancy, Murphy also became the first woman to earn her CPA in the state of Iowa in 1930. Earning numerous opportunities to become chair, director, and assistant professor in many prestigious universities and organizations, Murphy paved the way for many women to prosper in the accounting industry and beyond.

Where women accountants in the early 20th century were few, women now account for more than 50% of accounting graduates entering the profession in the last 20 years. While this is a great indication of how times have certainly changed, the percentage in which women make up the partners in accounting firms nationwide is still quite small: 19%. Recognizing this type of discrepancy is the AICPA Womens Initiatives Executive Committee (WIEC) which aids in various activities and programs to help women in the accounting industry succeed. Focusing on higher levels of leadership in their careers and helping organizations engage men and women equally, the WIEC hopes to continue to increase the visibility and advancement of women in the profession, influence cultures of firms and organizations to support the advancement of women, and provide credible statistics regarding the issues that impact women in the profession.

With the help of predecessors that came before as well as the current leaders rallying for continued progress of leadership advancement for women in the accounting industry, we hope you take some time this month to pay homage to the great women in your life and the amazing feats they have accomplished for themselves and others!

(Source: AICPA: Most Important Issues for Women)

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