Magazine article The CPA Journal

The Right to Practice without the Right to Vote

Magazine article The CPA Journal

The Right to Practice without the Right to Vote

Article excerpt

Reflections on the Legacy of the First Women CPAs

The practice of accounting enjoys a remarkable heritage and continues to serve a vital role in society. Through the years, many dedicated professionals have advanced this prestigious profession. Because accounting is the language of business, the nation's economy depends heavily on accountants' work.

As a social science, accounting encompasses history, culture, norms, values, and society.

Pioneers Surmounting Obstacles

Social research in accounting includes the earliest women CPAs-trailblazers like Christine Ross, Ellen Eastman, Jennie Palen, and Myrtle Cerf. They served the profession at a high level and were indeed pioneers in their chosen field. They deserve special attention and recognition for their contributions, courage, and efforts because they succeeded in an era when women faced a number of obstacles to entering the profession. They paved the way for other aspiring women accountants to prosper.

New York holds the honor of being the first state to pass a CPA licensing law, doing so on April 17, 1896. When New York gave its inaugural CPA exam in December 1896, it is possible that the examiners never considered that a woman might seek such certification. Ross became the first woman CPA in the United States, receiving certificate number 143, dated December 27, 1899.

Eastman holds the honor as the first woman CPA in Maine, receiving certificate number 37 in 1918. Additionally, she was the first woman to establish a public accounting practice in New England. Eastman was outspoken and eloquent regarding a woman's ability to succeed in the accounting profession. In her article "Speaking of 'Figgers'" (The Certified Public Accountant, May 1929), she listed the desired qualities of a CPA: "trustworthiness, fearlessness, energy, steadfastness, a studious and inquiring turn of mind, ability to seek the truth and to judge fairly and without prejudice or personality."

Palen received CPA certificate number 1322 from the state of New York, dated July 9, 1923. From 1918 to 1949, she worked for Haskins & Sells in that firm's report department In her article "Women in Accountancy: 1933-1953" (The Accounting Forum, May 1953), Palen vigorously expressed her feelings regarding women entering the accounting profession: "The woman accountant as a staff employee was an exception, truly, but only because the accountant's office was about as hard for her to get into as Fort Knox." She penned additional publications promoting women in accounting, was editor of The Woman CPA, and served for more than 50 years as an active member of the American Woman's Society of CPAs (AWSCPA), chartered on June 21, 1933. She also was its president from 1946 to 1947.

Certified in 1915, Cerf became the first woman CPA in California and one of five women in the state to be issued CPA licenses before they were granted the constitutional right to vote. …

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