Mary Thelma (Morrison) Washington became the first African-American woman to become a Certified Public Accountant. She was born on April 21, 1906, to Daisy and William Morrison who boasted to friends that their young daughter could read the entire newspaper.
At the age of six, Morrison’s mother passed away and she was sent to live with her maternal grandparents. She attended Wendell High School, where she found her love for math. She graduated and went on to take a position working at the Binga State Bank. Only a selected few African-Americans were hired to work at the African-American-owned bank.
Arthur Wilson, the bank’s vice president and Washington’s supervisor, took note of her bookkeeping skills and encouraged Washington to pursue her business degree. Wilson himself was an accomplished CPA, having the notable distinction of being only the second African-American in the United States to earn his CPA license in 1923.
Washington enrolled in Northwestern University’s School of Chicago Business. At the time, she was the only woman–and definitely the only black woman–in the program. However, Washington had one thing going for her; she was extremely light-skinned and could easily pass for white.
Washington earned her degree in 1941 and was able to serve her apprenticeship with Wilson. When Washington sat for the CPA licensing exam, she was the only woman in the room.
In 1943, she became the nation’s 13th African-American CPA, and the first female African-American to attain her license. She became a leader for future generations of accountants. Later, Washington fostered the development of young African-American CPAs who also needed to serve apprenticeships to earn their CPA licenses. Washington passed away in July 2005 at the age of 99.