Book Reviews: Mary E. Murphy's Contributions to Accountancy
Oakes, Leslie S., The Accounting Historians Journal
Margaret Hoskins, Mary E. Murphy's Contributions to Accountancy (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994, 374 pp., $63).
Reviewed by Leslie S. Oakes University of Alberta
Margaret Hoskins' biography of Mary E. Murphy provides a comprehensive review of Murphy's contributions to accounting as both a profession and an area of academic interest. There is no doubt that Mary Murphy warrants such a biography. As Hoskins notes:
During her career,
published over 100 journal articles, authored or collaborated on at least twenty books, and wrote several book reviews. During the years 1946 through 1965 she published more articles in the Accounting Review than any other author. During the year 1926 through 1985 she was the fourth most published author in this journal exceeded only by A.C. Littleton, Harold Bierman, and Robert Mautz
In addition, Murphy was the first Fullbright Professor of Accounting. Her writings on international accounting and accounting history foreshadowed much of the work being done today. She recognized the important interactions between business organizations and their cultural, political, and legal environments, and she studied these interactions holistically. Not coincidentally, Murphy was also the first female CPA in Iowa, and when she completed her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics she became the second female Ph.D. in Accounting in the United States.
As with most biographies, it is just this characterization of Murphy as "unique" that creates the book's tension and interest. In addition to the inherent difficulty of understanding the contributions of individuals to history, Margaret Hoskins must deal with the issues of gender and identity which raise inevitable questions about Murphy's life and contributions.
The question that most permeates this book concerns Murphy's relative obscurity as an accounting authority. Why do we know so little about one of the most published accounting scholars of this century? Furthermore, why did such a prolific researcher spend most of her career at California State University (then College), a relatively small and unknown school? Hoskins deals with these questions in several ways. First, she acknowledges the unequal status of women in both accounting and academia, and she explores the impact of these inequalities on Murphy's professional life. Hoskins notes that women were largely discouraged from becoming accountants during the first half of the century, and there were few University teaching positions for women outside women's colleges. The book includes explicitly biased comments from colleagues including one that begins "Whilst I personally share your preference for a man, Dr. Mary E. Murphy is no mean scholar"
. There are also subtle reminders that men and women were judged by different standards. Murphy is described both by acquaintances and by the author as being "agreeable," "pleasing and charming," and as being "helpful"
. One colleague wrote critically that "she tended to 'adopt' the accounting faculty both from a professional as well as a personal point of view"
. One wonders if these terms would have been used to describe a male colleague, and whether these terms would have carried the same evaluative connotation for a man.
Hoskins also deals with Murphy's obscurity by attempting to carefully evaluate the substance of her writings. Hoskins quantifies the topics of Murphy's research and notes where each article was published. Each area of research is summarized and diagrammed. These efforts seem to be an attempt to objectively evaluate Murphy's work, and there is an anxiety that underlies this portion of the book. …