By all accounts, Mary T. Washington Wylie's search for perfection made her a tough, but kind, taskmaster.
It also helped propel her into becoming the first African-American woman in the U.S. certified as a public accountant. And it helped the Chicago accounting company she founded to become one of the largest black-owned CPA firms in the country, while serving as a gateway for dozens of African-Americans into the field.
"Mary was a very driven woman but also very conscious of people and their feelings," said Frederick Ford, vice chairman of the board at Draper and Kramer Inc. He cut his accounting teeth as a staff auditor with her firm in the late 1940s and early '50s. "She was a stickler for details and for getting it right, and, for me anyhow, it was a wonderful place to get a start. I learned how important it was to do as nearly to perfect work as you could."
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Mary T. Washington first became interested in accounting in high school and worked for Douglas National Bank after school and on weekends. At the bank, she was mentored by Arthur J. Wilson, the first black CPA in Illinois and 2nd in the country overall.
While studying for her degree, she opened an accounting firm, Mary T. Washington and Co., in 1939 in a corner of her basement. Most of her clients were small black-owned businesses and non-profit groups. But her firm also came to design and maintain accounting systems for such large black-owned firms as Fuller Products and Seaway National Bank.
Her office became a destination for young black men looking for apprenticeships and jobs in accounting.
During the 1960s, there were more black CPAs in Chicago than elsewhere in the country because of her assistance to them, colleagues said.
Ms. Washington remained the only female black CPA in the United States until 1968.