Mary Elizabeth Murphy's Contributions to the Development of International Accounting

By Sharp, Andrew D.; Flesher, Dale L. | The CPA Journal, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Mary Elizabeth Murphy's Contributions to the Development of International Accounting


Sharp, Andrew D., Flesher, Dale L., The CPA Journal


In 1981, country music artist Barbara Mandrell recorded the song "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan. Today, country music has evolved into big business, popularized around the world. Similarly, during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, the accounting educator Mary Elizabeth Murphy promoted international accounting standards when such an activity was not "cool." Today, the topic of international accounting standards is garnering plenty of attention worldwide.

Murphy was ahead of her time in advocating for international accounting standards, and her contributions offer lessons for how CPAs can help achieve the goal of a single set of global standards.

The Early Years

From her 1928 employment in the New York office of Lybrand, Ross Brothers and Montgomery (a precursor to PricewaterhouseCoopers) to her retirement in 1973 from the accounting faculty of California State University, Los Angeles, Mary Elizabeth Murphy (1905-1985) practiced, researched, lectured, and taught in the United States and abroad. In 1930, the Iowa native took the CPA exam in her home state and received certificate number 67, becoming the first woman CPA in that state.

In 1938, she received a doctorate in accountancy - only the second woman in the United States to do so - from the London School of Economics. In 1952, she received the first Fulbright professorship in accounting, with assignments in Australia and New Zealand. In 1957, she was appointed as the first director of research of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia.

During Murphy's career, most individuals failed to realize the need for international accounting standards. In this time before international accounting standards obtained acceptance in the accounting profession, Murphy enthusiastically supported their development and educated others on their benefits and how to overcome their impediments.

Murphy's doctoral dissertation compared American and English professional accountancy practices and thoughts. She also prepared case studies for the Harvard University Graduate School of Business on international auditing topics. In addition, Murphy published 31 reviews in the Journal of Accountancy and the Accounting Review. Of these, 90% covered international subjects.

From 1946 to 1965, Murphy was the most frequently published author in the Accounting Review, as well as its leading author on international issues. She published more than 100 articles in various journals in the United States and abroad. Most of them explored the accounting practices and economic and social conditions in other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, England (most frequent), France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Murphy authored or collaborated on more than 20 books. Two of these had a direct international focus. A 1942 project covered the accountancy profession in England. In 1954, she contributed a chapter in a treatise exploring the accountancy profession in Australia.

Murphy thought that the unwillingness of professionals to travel internationally represented a hurdle to the cause of global accounting standards. To overcome it, she urged the American Accounting Association (AAA) to invite educators from institutions in Australia and New Zealand to lecture at colleges and universities in the United States. Murphy believed that travel gave accounting instructors and practitioners a wider perspective and clearer understanding of the issues in the international accounting standards process. She practiced what she preached through her many speeches at foreign universities and international professional conferences on the benefits of international accounting standards.

Murphy realized that the goals of increased conformity and standardization of international accounting practices would not be easy to attain. Two obstacles to international uniformity that she addressed were the inability to study the accounting practices of socialist countries and the parochial attitudes and viewpoints of the accounting profession. …

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