Illinois CPA Society honors first African-American female CPA

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The Illinois CPA Society and the city of Chicago are marking the 75th anniversary of when the first African-American woman became a CPA in the U.S.

Mary T. Washington Wylie (1906 – 2005) became a CPA in 1943. To honor the 75th anniversary of her becoming a CPA, Chicago has officially declared Sunday, September 30 as Mary T. Washington Wylie Day throughout the city. The official proclamation was signed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and coincides with the display of lightpost banners along the Chicago Loop in the city’s downtown business district. The banners were provided by the Illinois CPA Society, to mark the occasion and honor Washington Wylie’s legacy.

A native of Chicago, she earned her undergraduate business degree from Northwestern University in 1941. In 1939, when virtually no firms would hire African-Americans or females, she started her own firm in the basement of her home on the South Side of Chicago, inspiriing future generations of African-American accountants to follow in her footsteps.

Her accounting practice, known today as the Chicago firm of Washington, Pittman & McKeever LLC, is now one of the largest black CPA firms in the country. It recently announced plans to combine with Mitchell Titus, another minority-controlled firm, carrying on her legacy (see Mitchell Titus acquires Washington, Pittman & McKeever).

“When we think about how hard it must have been for Mary to break through the barriers she faced and still succeed in becoming an accountant and the first African-American female CPA, we should all celebrate her spirit, drive and determination as a true trailblazer,” said Illinois CPA Society president and CEO Todd Shapiro in a statement. “Her passion and devotion to others’ development serve as a cornerstone for changing the culture and diversity of our profession — and while there is still much work that needs to be done, we are proud to have her as an inspiration and a powerful example to follow.”

As a tribute to Washington Wylie’s legacy, on what would have been her 100th birthday in 2006, Lester H. Mckeever Jr., along with the Illinois CPA Society and the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois established the Mary T. Washington Wylie Opportunity Fund. Donations to the fund support programs and opportunities that promote diversity and strengthen the accounting profession. For more information about Washington Wylie, click here.

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