Author: Jenna Elkins, NASBA Communications and Digital Media Specialist
Posted: March 2, 2018
When you think about the month of March, you may think of – March Madness, Spring Break, St. Patrick’s Day, etc. Did you know March is also known as Women’s History Month? This declaration originated in 1978 when school districts in California, and later throughout the nation, were honoring women’s contributions to society. President Jimmy Carter noticed the growing number of celebrations and in 1980, declared the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The following year, Congress passed a resolution that established this event as a national celebration. Just six years later, in 1987, the United States officially observed the month of March as Women’s History Month.
In observance of Women’s History Month, we’ve highlighted five notable women who pioneered in the accounting profession:
Christine Ross – First Woman CPA
Born in Nova Scotia, Christine Ross eventually made her way to New York by the late 1890s. In June 1898, she took the CPA Exam and received high marks, scoring second or third in her group. Unfortunately, because of her gender, her certificate was delayed for many months by the state regents. About a year and a half later, Dec. 21, 1899, Ross’ CPA requirements were met, and she became the first woman CPA in the United States, receiving certificate no. 143.
Ellen Libby Eastman – First Woman with Established Accounting Practice in New England
Known for two “firsts,” Ellen Libby Eastman became the first woman CPA in Maine when she received certificate, no. 37, in 1918. She was also the first woman to establish a public accounting practice in New England. In the 1920s, Eastman made her way to New York where she focused on tax work and auditing accounts and in 1940, Eastman joined the law firm of Hawkins, Delafield & Longfellow.
Mary T. Washington – First African-American Woman CPA
Mary T. Washington first became interested in accounting in high school. On nights and weekends, she worked as a bookkeeper for Chicago’s Douglas National Bank. After graduating high school, she worked at Binga State Bank where she was an assistant to Arthur J. Wilson who was the first black CPA in Illinois. In 1941, Washington received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s College of Business and just two years later, after completing a required apprenticeship under Wilson, she took the CPA Examination in 1943 and became the first African-American woman CPA.
Larzette Hale-Wilson – First African-American Woman to Receive Ph.D. in Accounting
After completing her undergraduate studies at Langston University in 1937, Larzette Hale-Wilson worked as a secretary to a business manager at the university. In 1943, Hale-Wilson enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied accounting and finance. Hale-Wilson passed the CPA Exam in 1951 and in 1955, she was the first African-American female CPA to hold a Ph.D. in accounting.
Jennie May Palen – Crusader for Advancing Women and Accountant Writing
Although it cannot be confirmed because accounting firms in the 1930s prevented women from performing audits, Jennie May Palen may have become the first woman principal at a large firm, Haskins & Sells, in the United States. Palen was also known for being a crusader for the advancement of women and her writings, which largely focused on accountants communicating effectively. Her largest (600-page document) project was titled, Report Writing for Accountants.