Remembering the First Black Woman CPA: Mary T. Washington Wylie

Mary T. Washington Wylie was the first black female CPA in the United States and the 13th black CPA overall. There would not be another black female CPA for 25 years, making her milestone all the more significant.

Born in Mississippi in 1906, Wiley moved to Chicago at the age of 6 to live with her grandparents after her mother died. She quickly developed a love for math and, while in high school, worked as a bookkeeper on afternoons and weekends. After graduation, she began working at Binga State Bank of Chicago as assistant to Arthur J. Wilson—the country’s second black CPA. Wilson encouraged Wiley to pursue accounting and became her mentor.

In 1939, Wylie opened her own accounting firm in her basement. Two years later, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern College of Business and was the only woman in her graduating class. She then completed her apprenticeship under Wilson to meet the experience requirement to sit for the CPA exam, which she passed in 1943. She quickly gained success with black, Jewish, and not-for-profit organizations.

Wiley made it her mission to support young black CPAs, hiring and training the next generation. Since the tax profession was still largely inaccessible to the black community, Wiley’s firm became the best opportunity for accountants to get their foot in the door. As a result, accountants flocked to Chicago, allowing Wiley’s firm to grow. She eventually hired one of her protégés as a partner, becoming Washington & Pittman in 1968. With the addition of a third partner in 1976, the firm became known as Washington, Pittman, & McKeever.

In 2005, Wiley passed away at the age of 99, leaving behind five children and nine grandchildren. In 2018, the City of Chicago declared September 30 as Mary T. Washington Wylie Day. Today, a division of her firm still operates under Mitchell Titus and the Mary T. Washington Wylie Opportunity Fund continues to provide scholarships and internships to young, underrepresented accountants.