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Author: Cassandra Gray, NASBA Communications Manager
Posted: March 29, 2012


As March comes to a close, so comes an end to our observation of Women's History Month. In this last feature, we wanted to keep in line with this year's theme, "Women's Education – Women's Empowerment," by highlighting a few "Female Firsts" in accounting.

Below you will read about some remarkable women whose impact on the accounting profession is profound and unmistakable.


Christine Ross – First Female CPA in the U.S.

Originally born around 1873 in Nova Scotia, Canada, Christine Ross took New York's inaugural CPA Exam in December 1896. Following a 6-18 month delay in releasing her scores, due to her gender, Ross' score placed her in the top two or three in her group. In December 1899, she was issued certificate no. 143, becoming the first female Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the United States. Among Ross' clients included wealthy women and persons working in the business and fashion industries.

Mary T. Washington – First Black Female CPA in the U.S.

In 1943, Mary T. Washington became the first black female to become a CPA and the 13th black CPA in the country. The Chicago native began her career as an assistant at Binga State Bank, one of the nation's largest black-owned banks and later earned a business degree from Northwestern University in 1941. In 1968, she founded Washington, Pittman & McKeever, one of the largest black-owned accounting firms in the nation.


Mary Harris Smith – First Female Chartered Accountant in the World

Having studied accounting from the age of 16, Mary Harris Smith worked as a public accountant and established her own practice in 1888. During this same year, she applied to join the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors. After being rejected multiple times because she was a woman, the Society finally named her an Honorary Fellow. In 1919, The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed making it illegal for the ICAEW to bar women from membership. Mary Harris Smith renewed her application and became the world's first woman Chartered Accountant at the age of 72.

Dorothy G. Willard – First Female President of NASBA

As a partner in the Boston firm of Charles F. Rittenhouse & Company, Dorothy G. Willard made history when she became the first woman to serve as president of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), from 1967-68. Prior to acceding to the role of president, Willard served as NASBA's treasurer.

Margaret Downes – First Female Member and President of ICA

Margaret Downes is recognized as a woman of many firsts. The first female member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Downes was also elected to serve as the Institute's first female president. Downes also became the first female partner in Coopers and Lybrand, and the first female director of Bank of Ireland Management Limited.




Teresa S. (Terri) Polley – First CEO of FAF

In 2010, Terri Polley was named as President and CEO of the Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF), an independent, private sector organization responsible for the oversight, administration and finances of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), and its Advisory Councils. Polley is the first person to hold the title of CEO in the FAF's 38-year history.

Other Suggested Reading


Eight Special Women in Accounting

The Right to Practice Without the Right to Vote: Reflections on the Legacy of the First Women CPAs

A History of Determination: Minority CPAs have come a long way, but true diversity has yet to be achieved.

Mary T. Washington, First Black Woman to Earn C.P.A. Credential, Is Dead at 99

First Among Unequals: 15 women who made a breakthrough