Mary T. Washington Wylie, the first black woman to be a certified public accountant

October 16, 2020

Black History Month is a time to truly appreciate black culture and the amazing individuals who otherwise may not receive the recognition they deserve.

Here at EMA we think everyone deserves acknowledgment and gratitude, whether it be for a small success or a big one! Our next few blogs will be shedding some light on some of these remarkable people.

In the 1930’s it was rarely even considered for a firm to hire a woman, let alone a woman of colour. With Wylie not being prepared to accept this, she opened her own firm from her basement in Chicago, Illinois. She then went on to start at the Northwestern’s College of Business, and regardless of being the only woman in her class, Wylie achieved a bachelor’s degree in 1941.

Alone, becoming the first black woman CPA is incredible; to do so, Wylie had to push against the stereotypes of being a black woman. According to stereotypes in the 1930’s, black women were often put beneath one of two labels, which both could be known by the term ‘Jezebel’. One being that black women were over sexualised, this rooted from slavery; figures of naked or near naked black women were put on functionable items. The other being that black women were physically unattractive, unintelligent, and uncivilised, this idea was again portrayed on functionable day to day items, which would reinforce these stereotypes every time they were used.

To put it abruptly, Wylie’s choice to pursue and overcome these stereotypes, is truly remarkable. By pushing and succeeding in this career choice, Wylie opened up infinite doors for the black community. She was able to provide services that otherwise may not have been offered and by challenging the stereotype, Wylie blazed the trail for other black women to follow in her footsteps.

Wylie’s leadership, persistence, and strength has been recognised by Illinois CPA Society and the City of Chicago declared September 30th, Mary T. Washington Wylie Day. It’s a day to not only commemorate Mary T. Washington Wylie, but a day to remember that barriers can be torn down, hurdles are there to be leaped over, and the colour of your skin should never be what stops you getting the career you want.

Here at EMA, we look forward to celebrating more days which commend those who are an inspiration. It is so important to know black history and to understand why it’s so important.

Black history may not be taught in schools to the extent which it should be, but it is no excuse to not educate ourselves about the remarkable black figures in our history.