Libby Eastman, CPA
Trailblazer and Professional
Andrew D. Sharp
- In 1970, the American Accounting Association (AAA) Committee
on Accounting History encouraged research, asserting that accounting
history should serve intellectual and utilitarian purposes.
Parker authored the article “Research Needs in Accounting
History” (The Accounting Historians Journal, Fall
1977). He included biographies of early accountants as prime examples
of research needed by the profession.
a June 3, 1989, letter to colleagues, President-elect Barbara
D. Merino of the Academy of Accounting Historians introduced the
second edition of Biographies of Notable Accountants,
edited by Abdel M. Agami. This was a joint project of the Academy
of Accounting Historians and Random House. Of the 18 individuals
included in the publication, only one—Jennie M. Palen—was
criticisms of undergraduate and professional education have
centered on the failure of universities to inculcate in students
a sense of identity with their disciplines. For example, the
Carnegie Report (1986:19–20) called for “enriched
majors” that would enable students to respond to three
questions—“what is the history and tradition of
the field to be examined? what are the social and economic implications
to be understood? what are the ethical and moral issues to be
confronted and resolved?” By examining the biographies
in the enclosed monograph, students will gain a better understanding
of the accounting profession and the complex role that the profession
has had in contemporary society.
2001, then–CPA Journal Editor-in-Chief Robert H.
Colson penned an editorial titled “The Past: Prologue for
the Future,” calling for more books and articles that would
reflect the human dimensions of employment in public accounting
firms. Additionally, Colson noted the difficulty in locating publications
that covered the people involved in significant accounting events.
He encouraged members of the profession to take a greater interest
in its history by joining the Academy of Accounting Historians
and reading more publications about accountants. He also encouraged
readers to write for The CPA Journal on understanding
the past as a prologue for the future.
Library of the Accounting Profession, located on the campus of
the University of Mississippi, in Oxford, Miss., is home to the
world’s largest accounting collection. This represents a
treasure trove for scholars performing historical accounting research.
Researchers from around the world travel to this site to conduct
studies using these prestigious collections. Myriad dimensions
of social research can be analyzed using the library’s holdings.
For example, some items relate to the earliest women CPAs.
the Archives and Special Collections area are two binders from
the AICPA collection containing photographs of individuals appearing
in the Journal of Accountancy or at accounting conventions
from 1887 to 1979. Of the 446 individuals featured, eight are
women. One undated photograph shows Ellen Libby Eastman. Why is
she included in this collection of photos of the profession’s
leaders? Who is she, and what contributions did she make to the
Libby Eastman began her career as a clerk in a Maine lumber company,
then steadily progressed to the position of chief accountant there.
She studied for the CPA exam at night and holds the honor as the
first woman CPA in Maine, receiving certificate No. 37, dated
1918. Additionally, she was the first woman to establish a public
accounting practice in New England. Arriving in New York in 1920,
Eastman focused on tax work and audited the accounts of the American
Women’s Hospital in Greece. In 1925, she held membership
in the American Society of Certified Public Accountants (ASCPA).
As of 1940, Eastman was associated with the New York law firm
of Hawkins, Delafield and Longfellow. She was still there in 1947,
at which point the firm was known as Hawkins, Delafield and Wood.
and eloquent characterized Eastman’s views regarding a woman’s
ability to succeed in the accounting profession. In her article
“Speaking of ‘Figgers’ ” (The Certified
Public Accountant, May 1929), Eastman vividly recounted her
adventures as a woman CPA:
be willing and able to endure long and irregular hours, unusual
working arrangements and difficult travel conditions. I have
worked eighteen out of the twenty-four hours of a day with time
for but one meal; I have worked in the office of a bank president
with its mahogany furnishings and oriental rugs and I have worked
in the corner of a grain mill with a grain bin for a desk and
a salt box for a chair; I have been accorded the courtesy of
the private car and chauffeur of my client and have also walked
two miles over the top of a mountain to a lumber camp inaccessible
even with a Ford car. I have ridden from ten to fifteen miles
into the country after leaving the railroad, the only conveyance
being a horse and traverse runners—and this in the severity
of a New England winter. I have done it with a thermometer registering
fourteen degrees below zero and a twenty-five mile per hour
gale blowing. I have chilled my feet and frozen my nose for
the sake of success in a job which I love. I have been snowbound
in railroad stations and have been stranded five miles from
a garage with both rear tires of my car flat. I have ridden
into and out of open culvert ditches with the workmen shouting
warnings to me. And always one must keep the appointment; “how”
is not the client’s concern.
In the same
article, Eastman also explained the relationship between accountants
never lived the perfect certified public accountant, possessing
all of the much-to-be-desired qualities: trustworthiness, fearlessness,
energy, steadfastness, a studious and inquiring turn of mind,
ability to seek the truth and to judge fairly and without prejudice
or personality. Forgive us [our] shortcomings; we are but human.
discussed the concept of truth in accounting:
in order after a passionate love of figures and things mathematical,
comes the ability to seek and to find the truth. One must know
how to translate it with the fewest possible processes and by
the simplest procedure into those figures which all can read,
if not understand. And that is all there is to it—to find
the truth and translate it efficiently into figures.
another of the eight select women in the two AICPA binders, felt
accountants should know who the early practitioners were, what
they stood for, and what they did. Murphy desired accounting history
in college curricula to accomplish this. She thought biographies
of individuals, histories of societies, and discussions of the
development of accounting principles and procedures would supply
indeed a pioneer in the accounting profession, and she deserves
recognition for her contributions, courage, and efforts during
a period when women faced significant obstacles entering a new
field. As of 1933, only a few more than 100 CPA certificates had
been issued to women. By 1946, the number of women licensed as
CPAs stood at 360.
the accounting profession at a high level, paving the way for
other aspiring women accountants to prosper. She was an exemplary
trailblazer for the accounting professionals of the future.
D. Sharp, PhD, CPA, is a professor of accounting and the
Caestecker Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts in the division of
business at Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala.