By AFWA National President, Lori Kelley, CPA
In honor of National Women’s History Month, I thought I would celebrate the contributions of a few important women to the accounting profession.
Christine Ross: First woman CPA
New York was the first state to enact licensure legislation in 1896 and gave its first CPA exam in December 1896. Christine Ross sat for the exam in June 1898 and scored second or third in her group. Six to 18 months elapsed while state regents delayed her certificate because of her gender. The publication “Bookkeeper” stated in 1900, “The eleven men who passed the examination at the same time as Christine Ross, got their certificates promptly, but the young woman waited.” She had completed the requirements and ultimately became the first woman CPA in the United States, receiving certificate number 143 on December 21, 1899 (more than 10 years after taking the exam!). Ross had actually been practicing accounting since 1889, working for Manning’s Yacht Agency in New York. Her clients included women’s organizations and wealthy women in fashion and business.
Of course, a woman did not have to be a CPA to work in accounting. In 1870, the US Department of Labor, Women’s Division, reported that women working as bookkeepers, accountants and cashiers totaled 893 or 2.3% of the total. By 1900, their number had risen to 74,895 or 29.1% of the total. In contrast, by 1910 only 13 women were reported to be CPA’s in the US. The movement had begun!
Mary T. Washington: First Black Woman CPA
In 1943, Mary T. Washington became the first black woman to become a CPA and the 13th black CPA in the country. Ms. Washington began her career as an assistant at Binga State Bank in Chicago – one of nation’s largest black-owned banks in the country. She later earned a business degree from Northwestern University in 1941 and in 1968 she founded Washington, Pittman & McKeever, one of the largest black-owned accounting firms in the nation.
Ida S. Broo: Founder of Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance
This piece would not be complete without honoring AFWA’s founder – Ida S. Broo. Born in 1858 and raised on a farm in Seymour, Indiana, Mrs. Broo went to Indianapolis to study piano. She went on to take night courses in accounting. In order to meet the two years of experience necessary to sit for the CPA exam, she worked for a CPA for NO PAY! In 1925, she passed the CPA exam. After holding various accounting positions, she ultimately opened her own office, handling tax and audits, and was the only woman in Indiana to practice under her own name at the time. In 1938, Ida Broo founded the American Society of Women Accountants, with the goal to encourage more women to enter the accounting profession, to increase opportunities in the field and to inform the public of the place women hold in accounting. “Our goal is to be accepted as persons, not women. We have a long road to go, but we’re on the way.” Mrs. Broo is quoted as saying. Today, she would be pleased at our progress, but from what I have read, she would note that we still have a way to go!
And that is why the organization she founded is still so relevant today, 80 years later. AFWA is here to support our members and to help you contribute to your profession, as did the women before us! Join me in celebrating and honoring these women and all women who have forged the way, this month!
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