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Centennial Honors First Black Female CPA

The Black CPA Centennial is honoring Mary T. Washington Wylie, who became the first female Black CPA in 1943. The Centennial this year is a collaborative effort of the AICPA, Diverse Organization of Firms, Illinois CPA Society, National Association of Black Accountants, and National Society of Black CPAs.

 Washington Wiley (1906–2005) was born in Mississippi but was taken to live with her grandparents in Chicago, Ill., after her mother’s death. To escape an abusive grandmother, she was about to drop out of high school in her junior year, but was mentored by a caring teacher and stayed in school

After high school, Washington Wiley began working at the Black-owned Binga State Bank, whose VP, Arthur Wilson, became the second Black CPA in the United States in 1923.  He encouraged her to return to school and in 1941 she graduated from Northwestern’s College of Business in 1941, the only woman in her graduating class.

Although she received he license in 1943, Washington Wiley started a practice in her own basement because no other firm would hire her.

There were 14 Black CPAs in the United States at the end of World War II, half of them in Chicago with Black accountants serving other Black professionals as Southern Blacks moved to the area after the war. Washington Wylie dedicated herself to making her firm a gateway into the profession, hiring her first full-time employee, Hiram Pittman, after she read in a Black-owned newspaper that he had passed his CPA exam. Similarly, she hired Lester McKeever, who could not find work at any other CPA firms.

Most of the firm’ clients were small Black-owned businesses and not-for-profits, along with numerous large Black-owned companies, including the Fuller Products Company. Owner Samuel B. Fuller, offered Washington Wylie’s firm office space in his company’s building, subsidized half of Pittman’s pay for six months when he was hired, and kept the firm on retainer for 35 years.

Eventually, Pittman and McKeever became partners in the firm and McKeever became managing partner as well as chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and a member of the Finance Transition Committee under Chicago’s Mayors Washington and Daley.

Washington Wylie retired at the age of 75.

Washington, Pittman & McKeever became one of the nation’s largest Black-owned firms. The U.S.' largest minority-controlled accounting firm, New York-based Mitchell Titus, acquired most of her firm in 2018 and a division of Washington, Pittman & McKeever continues to operate.

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