100 years ago the 19th amendment was ratified, giving women the civil right to vote. The year 1920 went down in history as a huge stepping stone for women’s equality and inspired American women to dream big and accomplish more. To commemorate this incredible feat, we want to honor a few of the women in accounting and finance who have come such a long way, and those who continue to fight for women’s rights and representation in the financial field.
Mary Harris Smith – First Female Chartered Accountant in the World
At the age of 16, Mary Harris Smith studied accounting and went on to work as a public accountant. In 1888 (32 years before the 19th amendment was even passed), she established her own practice. In that same year, she applied to join the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors (ICAEW). Despite being rejected multiple times, the Society officially named her an Honorary Fellow in 1919 after the Sex Disqualification Act was passed, making it illegal for the ICAEW to bar women from membership. At the age of 72 she became the world’s first woman Chartered Accountant!
Mary T. Washington – First Black Female CPA in the U.S.
Mary T. Washington raised the bar for so many Black and female accountants during her time in the field. Despite the 19th amendment being passed, many women of color were unable to vote. This left for years of continued civil rights activism that we still see today. Mary T. Washington overcame this challenge and paved the way for a better and brighter future in accounting.
She became the 13th Black CPA in the U.S. and the first Black female CPA in 1943. Her career started as an assistant at Binga State Bank, the nation’s largest Black-owned banks at the time. She later earned a business degree from Northwestern University, and in 1968 she founded Washington, Pittman and McKeever, one of the largest Black-owned accounting firms in the nation!
Nina E. Olson, former United States Taxpayer Advocate
Nina E. Olson served as the National Taxpayer Advocate of the United States, an independent organization within the IRS, from March 2001 to July 2019. In her role she headed almost 2,100 employees and 79 offices across the country. She dedicated her career to assisting taxpayers in resolving their problems with the IRS and making administrative legislative recommendations to mitigate problems systemically.
During her time, Nina submitted 39 annual reports to Congress and testified before congressional committees over 60 times. Even before this role, Nina was committed to taxpayer wellness. She founded and directed The Community Tax Law Project, the first independent Low Income Taxpayer Clinic in the U.S.
Dorothy G. Willard – First Female President of NASBA
Dorothy G. Willard made history by becoming the first female President of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Even in 1967, it was rare to see women in public accounting, and not only did Dorothy serve as President, but she also was a partner at Charles F. Rittenhouse & Company.
Even now, the fight for female representation in the financial field is ongoing. It is important that today and everyday we’re recognizing the challenges women in tax preparation and accounting have overcome and are still battling.