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ICAEW secures women in accountancy centenary blue plaque

5 May 2020: ICAEW is delighted to announce the commissioning of a blue plaque marking where the offices of Mary Harris Smith, ICAEW’s first female member and the world’s first female Chartered Accountant, once stood in London.

The plaque will be 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 notoriously difficult to get signed off and can take up to five years to get approved and made. Therefore ICAEW is particularly proud of this commissioning, driven by centenary project manager Julia Root-Gutteridge.

Of the 182 blue plaques in the City of London, this is only the third to commemorate an individual woman (there are 35 commemorating individual men). 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.

Harris Smith’s plaque joins a notable range of individuals from across the centuries commemorated in the City: William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Pepys, Benjamin Disraeli and Dr Samuel Johnson to name a few.

The completion of the plaque is announced on 5 May 2020, exactly 100 years since the date that Harris Smith became a member of ICAEW. 

Commenting on the news ICAEW President Fiona Wilkinson 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.

“It has been an honour to lead the centenary celebrations throughout my year as President. 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 was a remarkable individual. She 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. In doing so, she became the world’s first female Chartered Accountant and paved the way for more women to enter membership.

ICAEW has run a wide campaign of celebration throughout Fiona Wilkinson’s presidential year. Whilst the COVID-19 outbreak means many event plans are on hold, there are still ways that members can engage with the centenary project:

Booklet

A booklet telling the story of Mary Harris Smith and ICAEW’s first female Council members and Presidents is available digitally here

Archive

We are collating female members’ career stories to build a digital archive, which covers members who qualified in the 1940s through to the 2010s. The archive is still accepting submissions and is available here

You can visit ICAEW’s dedicated centenary hub by clicking here, or engage with the Institute’s coverage on social media via the following hashtag: #icaew100years