Mary T. Washington, the trailblazer who paved the way for future generations of black accountants

Mary T. Washington/Photo credit: @dcs2020Vision on Twitter

In the early 1900s, the racial barriers were so high, many African Americans found pursuing a career in accountancy unattractive. When Mary T. Washington ventured into the profession, she was the 13th African American to have entered the fray. Undaunted by the low numbers, she committed to training more black-certified public accountants to shore up the numbers; not even the potential threat of fierce competition from the young professionals she was training discouraged her pursuit.

Many black-certified accounts had firsthand experience on the job with Mary’s firm – she understood what it meant to make people a priority. This stemmed from her upbringing, her father took a special interest in raising six-year-old Mary when her mother passed away. She was born Mary Thelma Morrison in Vicks-burg, Mississippi, on April 21, 1906. Her father, who was a carpenter, was profoundly proud of his daughter’s academic growth.

At a young age, Mary could read an entire newspaper. Her father was not the only individual that keenly followed her academic progression, but her teachers at Wendell Philips High School. She had an exceptional command of mathematics, and when she graduated from school, she went on to work with the Binga State Bank, one of the black-owned businesses in 1920, according to Encyclopedia.

When the bank folded up, she went ahead to pursue an accounting program at Northwestern University’s School of Business. While schooling, Mary opened an accounting firm from her basement in 1939, and employed the highest number of certified accountants in any other state, an achievement that was even more impressive given the racial prejudices of the time.

White accounting firms in Washington D.C. were unwilling to hire black accountants, leaving many qualified individuals without job opportunities, but Mary recognized this injustice and decided to create her own accounting firm to provide opportunities for black accountants.

Starting with just a small team of accountants, Mary T. Washington’s firm grew in size and reputation. Her team provided quality accounting services to clients, and her firm became known for its integrity, accuracy, and professionalism. As her firm’s reputation grew, so did the demand for her services. Many blacks fell on Mary’s firm for financial services, including the legendary boxer Muhammed Ali. In 1976, her firm became known as Washington, Pittman, and McKeever, after partnering with her protégé.

The firm became a beacon of hope for black accountants, who could now pursue their careers without fear of discrimination. It provided a path to success for many black accountants, who established their own successful accounting firms.

Mary’s legacy lives on today. She is remembered as a trailblazer who overcame discrimination and paved the way for future generations of black accountants. Her courage and determination continue to inspire others to follow in her footsteps and create opportunities for themselves and others. She retired in 1985, at the age of 79, and on July 2, 2005, at 99, she died in a suburban Chicago nursing home.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 11, 2023


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