Blue plaque commemorates first woman chartered accountant

One hundred years after Mary Harris Smith became the first woman to join the ICAEW and the world’s first female chartered accountant, a blue plaque has been placed on the offices in London where she worked

Of the 182 blue plaques in the City of London, used to mark buildings where historic events took place, this is only the third to commemorate an individual woman (there are 35 commemorating individual men, including William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Pepys, Benjamin Disraeli and Dr Samuel Johnson).

It is the second blue plaque for accountancy: the first commemorates Edwin Waterhouse, of PwC, on Frederick Place. The other two women with blue plaques are reformer Elizabeth Fry and influential Methodist Susanna Annesley.

The completion of the plaque was announced on 5 May 2020, exactly 100 years to the day since Harris Smith became a member of ICAEW.

It is placed on the City of London Magistrates' Court, very near to the site of Harris Smith’s office (since demolished), on the corner of Queen Victoria Street and Bucklersbury.

Blue plaques are difficult to get signed off and can take up to five years to get approved and made, and the ICAEW said its campaign had been driven by centenary project manager Julia Root-Gutteridge.

Fiona Wilkinson, ICAEW president, said: ‘I am delighted that Mary’s achievements will be honoured with this blue plaque. It is a lasting tribute to her tenacity and resilience and comes at a time when stories of overcoming adversity are more important than ever.

‘This campaign has engaged thousands of members across the globe, from younger women who have been hugely inspired by the story of Mary Harris Smith, to the 170+ members aged 65 and over who have written to us to share their own career stories.’

Harris Smith set up her own accounting practice in 1887 and practised until the 1920s. She applied on several occasions to be a member of ICAEW and was unsuccessful but did not give up.

After Parliament passed the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in December 1919, which opened up access to many professions for women, she applied again to ICAEW and in May 1920 was admitted.

ICAEW’s 100 years of women in accountancy booklet

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